Our Past: My Experience

A long time ago there was a building boom -houses and businesses were put up as fast as they could be built. Years afterwards when I was in 7th grade, the mayor, with the best intentions, lectured my class that all these shabby buildings should be bulldozed to make room for nice new construction.

One of my first jobs was 'fixing up' some of these 'shabby' buildings. They could be bought cheaply and were fundamentally sound. It took some effort to bring them up to code, but it was cheaper than demolition and a new structure.

Now, almost 30 years later, those "shabby buildings" are the centerpiece of a tourist attraction that rivals anything in the Valley; and every Valley government is looking how to do the same thing.

The boom was the Victorian Era, and private preservation efforts in Staunton earned recognition by the National Trust for their dedication to historic preservation. My lesson learned was that governments have abominable taste; Staunton would be another featureless mall except for private preservation efforts.

To keep things in perspective, the city Council did belatedly get on board. The removal of overhead powerlines, installation of appropriate lightposts, and brick sidewalks wouldn't have been possible without government backing. But the 'urban renewal' of a three-block area, now a row of banks and fast-food, was a government action that can't be undone and is regretted by all.

Just like the ill-conceived and disastrous Urban Renewal program, government's purchase of historical sites will be disastrous. Now that some bureaucrats have seen the revenue side of historic preservation, they want to expand it themselves. We cannot commit to historical preservation solely for tourism or economic gain. It cheapens our legacy and our history into a commodity.

We should remain true to history, to all facets of it. If tourism and a better economy results, that's good. If tourism threatens historical sites, as it has with the unethical rip-off of the Zirkle Mill, do what is right and act to protect our legacy. Virginia rejected Disney's version of the Civil War once; we don't need second-rate Disneyfication run by state or local officials.

Preservation Links


Zirkle Mill Foundation

No other local organizations have websites


Virginia Historical Society

Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities

Virginia Genealogical Society

Preservation Alliance of Virginia merged with APVA


National Trust for Historic Preservation

Government Links:

Virginia Department of Historic Resources

National Register