Rural historic district proposed in Warren County

By Alex Bridges

Warren County could reap benefits from an historic district in the Rockland area, local historians say.

State and federal agencies plan to consider a proposal to create and designate the Rockland Rural Historic District in the Rockland area of the county. The Department of Historic Resources recently held a public information meeting about the ongoing effort to create such a district and have it included in the Virginia and National Historic Registers.

Clarke County-based architectural historian Maral Kalbian has been working on the extensive project for several years. Kalbian said recently that the district might be designated sometime next year. The proposed district is already designated as eligible for the national register. The area lies adjacent to the Greenway Rural Historic District in Clarke County.

Patrick Farris, executive director of the Warren Heritage Society, voiced support Friday for the district’s creation.

“This just adds to our community’s ability to project to the outside world our preservation of and appreciation of our culture, our landscape and our history,” Farris said.

The county would benefit in several ways with the district. The perception that a historic district within the community gives owners an incentive to better understand their property’s history, Farris said.

“What I’ve noticed, when historic districts are created, usually people within such districts if they don’t know a lot about their property’s history they tend to get motivated to discover it more,” Farris said. “So we tend to see those people do research. Sometimes they want to file nominations for their own individual structures, their own houses or churches to be added to the National Register of Historic Places.”

Property owners also can expect to see their real estate values increase with a historic district designation, Farris said. Designation would then give owners that much more of an incentive to restore their property, especially knowing they lived among like-minded people with a desire to preserve the historic nature of the district, he added.

The designation also creates “a degree of psychological protection and preservation” for people with property in a district who may not have considered the idea of protecting their homes, buildings or land, Farris said. Owners can’t ignore the historic significance of their property if it is in a district, he added.

Designating an historic district does not infringe on property rights, as Kalbian has explained. Owners can still develop their property and even demolish structures, though they still would need to obtain the same permits as required of any owner, Farris noted.

“[I]n the past, there’s often a rhetoric about preservation that preservation may be opposed to or stand in the way of economic development, and that’s just not the case,” Farris said. “Preservation and economic benefits can go hand in hand and this is a perfect example of it.”

The district would cover some of the county’s agricultural area that also comes with historical significance. Warren and Clarke counties were carved out of Frederick and Shenandoah counties, Farris explained. Warren County would have been smaller than it is today, but the Virginia General Assembly intentionally adjusted the boundary lines north of the Shenandoah River to include the Rockland area to increase the county’s tax base, Farris said.

The Rockland area also saw a lot of action during the Civil War as forces on both sides traveled through the region, adding to the potential district’s historical significance, Farris said.

Warren County has more than a dozen sites and areas listed on the state and national historic registers including the Front Royal Historic District in the downtown area, the Millford Battlefield Historic District and the Riverton Historic District. The county also has designated archaeological districts and sites. If approved, Rockland would be the county’s first rural historic district. Farris said designation for Rockland could revive a previous effort to create a historic district in the Browntown area.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com