Fieldale historic status is sought

October 28, 2005

Foundation supported initiative yields results

Martinsville Bulletin Staff Writer

The Virginia Department of Historic Resources will try to register Fieldale as a state and national landmark since buildings and homes in and near the mill village generally have been preserved well.

The former Fieldale Elementary School on Marshall Way is a prime example, according to Mike Pulice, an architectural historian for the Roanoke Regional Office of the historic resources department.

It has "wonderful integrity," Pulice said. "It really hasn't changed a lot over the years. That's what we like to see."

Several historic preservationists made similar remarks about other Fieldale structures, including the old Virginia Home and Rock Run School, during a roundtable discussion Thursday night at the former elementary school.

"We really have high hopes" for Rock Run, Pulice said. "I think we can do a nice restoration for not a lot of money."

The old school, built around 1880, is decaying but pretty much intact. Its current owner, Frank Agnew, said he wants to make it a community center.

"A lot of people who went to that school are still living" and he wants them to see it restored and used again, Agnew said.

To be considered for landmark status, structures must be at least 50 years old and have some historical significance, officials indicated.

What really matters is that older structures remain virtually like they were when they were built, said Robert Nieweg, director of the

Southern Field Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Kathleen Kilpatrick, director of the historic resources department, said the department will do a two-phase study of about 200 structures -- including homes and buildings -- in the mill village and surrounding area.

Each phase will cost about $10,000, Kilpatrick said. Expenses for the first phase are being covered by The Harvest Foundation, the national trust and her department.

Preservationists should determine by June if the village is worthy of being placed on the National Register of Historic Places and Virginia Landmarks Register. If it is found worthy, the state department will spend 6-9 months preparing applications that will be sent to the registers, Kilpatrick said.

Kilpatrick did not know how long it will take the registers to consider the applications -- it depends on their work loads, she said. But she estimated that it will be between 30 days and several months.

She and Nieweg both indicated they think Fieldale is a shoo-in for inclusion on the registers.

Nieweg said that when he first visited the village about two years ago, he "immediately" realized it was worth preserving.

Just because structures are on the national or state historic registers does not mean their owners automatically must comply with any rules or maintain sites based on predetermined standards, Kilpatrick said.

However, being on a register may qualify property owners for federal and state grants and/or tax credits to help them maintain their structures, she said. Then they would have to comply with rules or standards involving those grants or credits, she added.

"Tax credits (and grants) come with strings attached," Pulice said. "Registration does not."

Property owners can seek grants and tax credits through the state historic resources department or the national trust, Kilpatrick said.

"This is the start of a partnership" between the organizations and Fieldale residents, she said.

Historic preservation is important because it "strengthens the very spirit of the community," said Kilpatrick. "History is not just what we see in museums and under glass."

"We are part of a continuing story," she said. Fieldale's story is one of labor and industry and their impacts on a village, "and we feel this story needs to be told."

During a question-and-answer session, Walter Hairston of the Martinsville-Henry County Rivers and Trails Group asked if the iron bridge over the Smith River could be saved if a new bridge is installed. He said that many people associate Fieldale with the iron bridge.

Nieweg pledged that the national trust will participate in any effort needed to keep the bridge in place.

Still, Fieldale Sanitary Board Chairman Wade Nelson said that about 5,000 cars pass over the narrow bridge each day, and a wider bridge is needed.

Dr. Mervyn King, who is developing property in uptown Martinsville, said he would like to see the nearby former railroad station preserved, perhaps as a biking or fishing center.

A similar roundtable discussion pertaining to historic preservation efforts planned along Starling Avenue and East Church Street in Martinsville will be held at noon today at Piedmont Arts Association.


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