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Virginia Department of Historic Resources

Survey & Planning

Survey: Taking Stock of Historic Resources

Surveying historic resources lies at the heart of a good preservation program. In Virginia, the statewide survey has been underway for 45-plus years. During that time, more than 165,000 architectural and archaeological properties have been recorded and added to the state’s inventory of historic sites.

Developing an accurate and comprehensive inventory is an ongoing process, with thousands of new entries being made each year.

During a survey, each property is photographed and mapped on U.S. Geological Survey topographic maps. Information about a building's style, its construction date, and who built it is accompanied by a detailed architectural description and an evaluation of the relative significance of the property. For archaeological sites, the period from which the site dates, its cultural affiliation, and a detailed description of the attributes of the site and its artifacts are recorded.

Surveys go beyond focusing on traditional "historic landmarks" such as 18th-century plantation houses or grand public buildings, or churches and courthouses. Surveys also include simple vernacular 19th-century dwellings, streetcar suburbs, planned communities, barns and other agricultural structures. They cover bridges, cemeteries, factories, commercial structures, statues, and even carousels, tugboats, and structures associated with space exploration.

This 1918 school house was one of the buildings documented through a Cost Share survey of the Forestville Historic District in Shenandoah Co. Forestville is one of the most well-developed and best-preserved mill villages in the northern Shenandoah Valley.

The Department of Historic Resources receives the great majority of its new surveys from two sources: survey projects that are carried out to fulfill requirements of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (environmental review) and survey projects performed under this department’s  Cost Share Program, which is under DHR's Survey and Register Division.

A unique program, Cost Share is designed to develop a cultural resource database for Virginia’s local governments while concurrently aiding in the expansion of the state’s cultural resource database (VCRIS). Localities compete to participate in the program. DHR provides all the administrative functions for the selected projects: we secure the consultants to do the work, pay the bills, monitor the work, and ensure delivery of the products. The primary products of a survey project are the completed forms, the photographs, and the mapping information. The projects require a written, illustrated report and a scripted slide presentation to expand public education about a locality’s history and resources. Local governments can use this valuable information in their long-range planning activities as well as to develop effective heritage tourism programs.

All collected survey data is housed in the department's electronic computer database, VCRIS.
VCRIS provides ready access to resource information for local governments and professional cultural resource management consultants.

Since the inception in 1991 of the Survey and Planning Cost Share Program, more than 100 communities have joined DHR to conduct 150-plus projects in every region of the Commonwealth. As a result, each year DHR’s inventory of architectural and archaeological historic resources grows with the addition of more than 4,000 newly recorded properties.

For more information regarding the survey program, contact Blake McDonald at (804) 482-6086.

Updated 9.28.17