March 10, 2004 Gazette-Virginian
"Every building has an incredible story to tell," architectural historian and consultant Kim Chen told a rapt Halifax audience yesterday. "Walls can talk."
Chen, who was part of the Halifax County-commissioned historical properties survey, reeled off a series of Halifax County treasures, ranging from one of the oldest structures, circa 1740 and located at The Cove, to the splendid Greek Revival Berry Hill mansion.
"Halifax County has a wonderful legacy of known builders," she said, naming Dabney Cosby Jr. and Sr.
The guest speaker during a joint meeting of the Halifax Woman's Club and the Halifax County Historical Society, Chen shared insight into the county's inventory of historical structures as well as possible avenues to save existing but endangered buildings.
In response to questions, Chen suggested establishing or tapping revolving funds as one strategy to protect structures until appropriate owners can be located.
She also suggested conservation easements to keep structures from being removed from the county or destroyed, and restrictive covenants in deeds to protect properties as two options.
In addition to a series of county homes and dependencies, Chen also identified "an incredible little building" located on North Main Street in the Town of Halifax as one of the county's collective treasures.
Both Chen, in her county survey, and Gordon Lohr, Revolving Fund Director for the Association For ThePreservation of Virginia Antiquities, have identified the 1830s structure as an historic property.
"The property is held by a mortgage company," Halifax Town I Manager Carl Espy told the crowd yesterday. He said the town is pursuing stabilizing the property.
The town manager said the property's identification as an historic property alerted officials to act for its protection and preservation.
Halifax native Em Edmunds, who has been active in historical preservation efforts, also noted the location of an early white brick building on Route 360 leaving Halifax.
The structure once served as an African-American barbershop and is considered "a significant piece of the African-American community" history.
A survey of the county's historic properties "creates a historic context for the community," Chen told the audience.
A second benefit, USGS maps identify all buildings, she explained, and surveyors taking the historic inventory identify structures 50 years old or older.
"It all goes into a database and is an incredible tool for knowledge about resources," said the architectural historian.
Chen also discussed historic districts, the nomination of structures to state and national landmark registers and the cost involved.
Chen said it may cost $3,000- $5,000 to research a single structure.
However, she said homeowners, particularly those whose families have lived in the same house for generations, may already have the needed information and can pursue historic landmark designation themselves.
In response to a question from the audience, Chen also suggested interns from the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University or Mary Washington College might help in community surveys.
"The transition between ideas of architectural history and architectural preservation" were explored by the Richmond-based architectural historian. "Architecture at its best is an art form. Even in simplest construction, " explained Chen.
Architecture evolves, is functional, and is a barometer of its time, she told the crowd.
Chen said that preservation of structures got underway in earnest in the 1920s-1930s, but that concentration was primarily on grand structures and homes.
About 1970, she said a new philosophy developed, which included traditional architecture, "the buildings of the common man."
In the 1990s, the architectural consultant said that historians began "looking at dependencies and smaller buildings."
"They also began looking at the people," she said.
A building is not just about style, or about construction, but about people and their times, Chen explained. "They tell the stories of the people and their work."
What are the 10 historic buildings in Halifax County?
"Every building has its history, but I leave it up to you all," Chen responded with a smile.
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