—New VLR listings are in the counties of Clarke, Isle of Wight (2), King and Queen, Nelson, Westmoreland, and Wise; and the cites of Roanoke and Suffolk—
—Previously listed Third Street Bethel A.M.E. Church in Richmond has updated and expanded nomination—
—VLR listings will be forwarded for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places—
On June 20, the Virginia Board of Historic Resources approved nine sites for listing on the Virginia Landmarks Register. Among them, the house of a former chief of the Rappahannock Indian Tribe, a rural historic district along a portion of the James River where it cuts through the Piedmont, an early Cold War missile defense installation, and places wrought by industries in southwest Virginia.
In King and Queen County, the Chief Otho S. and Susie P. Nelson House connects to an era of revitalization for the Rappahannock Indian Tribe during the 20th century, and the tribe’s decades-long struggle to secure state and federal recognition. Chief Otho Nelson and his wife, Susie, who served as tribal secretary, hosted meetings at their residence for important deliberations over the tribe’s response to many adverse governmental policies including Virginia’s 1924 racial laws that attempted to eliminate Indian identity.
The Nelsons maintained an archive of tribal history at their house, as well as Susie Nelson’s apothecary, an extension of the Nelsons’ medical knowledge based on tribal practices and lore. Between the 1930s and 1950s, the dwelling also served as a grade school for tribal children. The property’s period of significance extends from around 1924 to 1967, the years Otho Nelson was chief of the Rappahannock Indian Tribe. [Click on images to enlarge.]
Encompassing about 3,450 acres along the James River in Nelson County, the Norwood-Wingina Rural Historic District was occupied for thousands of years by the Monacans and their ancestors. Around 1725 Anglo and enslaved African Americans started settling in the area, giving rise to a number of large plantations on bottomlands. By 1794 a tobacco warehouse and a town, now known as Norwood, were established at the confluence of the James and Tye rivers. Navigational improvements along those rivers during the 1800s, most notably the James River & Kanawha Canal, prompted later development of Wingina. After the Civil War, with the arrival of a railroad, the two communities became whistle stops between Richmond and Lynchburg. During the 1900s, the advent of motorized vehicles led to decreased railroad activity, resulting in the Norwood-Wingina district regaining much of its former agricultural character.
Today’s district boasts an array of historic resources including churches and stores, and agricultural- and railroad-related buildings and structures, all recalling the area’s settlement and growth.
During the early Cold War, when the United States began deploying upwards of 200 Nike-Ajax batteries around the nation in 1953, the Army Air Defense Command established Nike-Ajax Launch Site N-75 in Isle of Wight County in 1954. Strategically located, the Nike-Ajax batteries were the nation’s first surface-to-air missile defense program. The Nike-Hercules missile later replaced the Ajax, and in 1961 the military deactivated Launch Site N-75. The Army Signal Corps then adapted the facility for reuse as a radio relay station until 1971, when the military stopped using the property.
One of Virginia’s few intact surface-to-air Nike-Ajax compounds, Launch Site N-75’s historic features include three underground missile magazines, earthen berms, separate Launcher and Administrative areas, and assorted concrete block buildings from the era.
In mountainous southwest Virginia’s Wise County, coal mining gave rise to the Appalachia Commercial Historic District, which comprises the core of the Town of Appalachia, historically the primary retail and entertainment hub for residents of surrounding coal camp communities from the 1890s through the 1950s.
Initially platted in 1897, Appalachia developed along three railroads that ran through the area beginning in 1890. In 1911, the Virginia & Southwestern Railroad moved its shops from Bristol to Appalachia, which triggered additional investment and growth in the young town. In the 1950s, the town experienced a decline after the advent of mechanized coal mining practices and the railroad’s use of diesel rather than steam locomotives. Those technological advances, requiring less manpower, resulted in a dramatic loss of jobs and population in the area.
The Appalachia Commercial Historic District boasts notable examples of early 20th-century commercial architecture executed in Colonial Revival, Art Deco, and later Moderne styles. Exhibiting a unified plan and visual continuity, the district’s layout adapts to the steep terrain of its environs.
Established in 1917 along the Roanoke River, the American Viscose Company plant in Roanoke expanded rapidly in response to the growing use of rayon, known as “artificial silk,” by manufacturers producing hosiery, clothing, upholstery, tires, and other items. By 1928, the plant covered 212 acres and had reportedly become the world’s largest rayon manufacturing complex, with three processing facilities and 5,500 workers, of which at least half were women.
With dining halls, a gymnasium, dispensary, and dormitory for single women, the company’s Roanoke operations thrived during World War II when the facility produced fabric for parachutes, paratrooper suits, and machinery. After the war, competition from more modernized plants and new materials such as nylon resulted in the Roanoke operations closing by 1958. In 1961, local investors purchased the property for an industrial park, as it continues today. The historic district includes a well-preserved collection of 18 industrial buildings that represent functional designs and construction techniques for rayon manufacture in a large industrial plant. Beyond the district, the plant had a significant and lasting impact in the development of surrounding neighborhoods and the general prosperity of Roanoke.
During its June 20 quarterly meeting, the Virginia Board of Historic Resources (VBHR) also approved a second Virginia Landmarks Register (VLR) listing in Isle of Wight County:
Additionally, the VBHR added the following three sites to the VLR:
Also approved by the VBHR, an updated nomination form for the Third Street Bethel A.M.E. Church in Richmond to provide more information about the church’s significance since its listing on the VLR and National Register of Historic Places in 1975:
The Department of Historic Resources will forward the documentation for these newly-listed VLR sites to the National Park Service for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.
Listing a property in the state or national registers is honorary and sets no restrictions on what a property owner may do with his or her property. The designation is first and foremost an invitation to learn about and experience authentic and significant places in Virginia’s history.
Updated: December 23, 2020