Honorary historic district status comes with no strings attached

By Tom Chillemi

Portions of the village of Saluda could be getting “honorary” historic designation from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR).

On March 5 the Middlesex Board of Supervisors (BOS) allocated $6,000 to match funds from the DHR to conduct a survey of Saluda’s historic structures. After the survey, Saluda could be eligible to be considered by DHR for “honorary designation.”

According to the DHR, listing a historic district in the Virginia Landmarks Register and or the National Register of Historic Places “does not restrict owners use of his or her property in any way as long as private non-governmental funds are used. It does not prohibit any owner from altering or demolishing any building nor d oes it restrict subdivision or sale. Register listing does not require a property to be open to the public.”

The DHR website’s summary states that historic district designation:

• Increases public awareness of a community’s historic resources and encourages preservation.

• Does not restrict in any way the private property owner using private funds.

• Mitigates the negative impact of federal government funded projects.

• Provides financial benefits mainly in the form of tax incentives and easements.

Marilyn South, executi ve director of the Middlesex County Museum and Historical Society, told the BOS at its December 2018 meeting that in 2016 the DHR completed an architectural survey in Middlesex that recommended Saluda be further studied as a possible historic district. The 2016 survey identified Middlesex as one of seven counties in Virginia that is under represented with regard to architectural resources.

Elizabeth Hoge Lipford of DHR said that listing the Saluda historic district would be a priority due to the earlier architectural survey of Middlesex that cost DHR $67,000. Lipford noted there are no restrictions placed on structures in historic districts and they can be altered or demolished.

Dave Kretz, Middlesex Planning Director, said a “honorary” historic designation will not be accompanied by new zoning rules or county ordinances governing historic distri cts.

During the public hearing at the March 5 meeting, Saluda resident Tom Foley spoke against the proposal indicating it could restrict the use of his property and that economic benefits are not substantial and have red tape.

Zani Autry, who owns property on Gloucester Road in Saluda, spoke against the proposal.

Local historical author Larry Chowning spoke in favor of the proposal saying “Saluda has an amazing history” and the $6,000 for the survey is a small price to pay for many benefits.

Marilyn South said the honorary historic designation “opens up tremendous grant opportunities.”

Middlesex Museum president Robert Montague of Urbanna said he has lived in two historic districts and has not found them to be a hardship. Monta gue noted that U.S. Marine Lt. General “Chesty” Puller’s house is in Saluda. “He alone justifies Saluda becoming a historic district.”

Hallie Holmes spoke in favor of the proposal and noted that Antioch Baptist Church, which is in the proposed historic district, was founded in 1866. “There is a lot of history here.”

The proposed historic district generally includes structures along Route 33 from the curve entering Saluda to Middlesex High School; and Business Route 17 from about 100 yards east of the Hardee’s to the stoplight. Antioch Baptist Church and an old wooden school behind it would be included.

This article originally appeared in the Southside Sentinel and is republished here with their permission.