Among seven places approved for listing on the Virginia Landmarks Register in December are two churches integral to Reconstruction-era Black settlements, the houses of a James River canal lock builder and that of a one-time railroad company treasurer, and a 1920s subdivision tied to the College of William & Mary.
The commonwealth’s Board of Historic Resources approved the Virginia Landmarks Register (VLR) listings during its quarterly public meeting December 10, which the Department of Historic Resources hosted but convened virtually due to the covid pandemic. The VLR is the commonwealth’s official list of places of historic, architectural, archaeological, and cultural significance.
The history of Mecklenburg County’s Averett School and Wharton Memorial Church and Wharton Cemetery site—together known as the Wharton Memorial Church complex—involves the tireless energy and vision of the Reverend George Douglas Wharton (1862-1932). After graduating from Hampton Institute in 1880, Wharton came to Averett to lead a small congregation that met in a two-room log dwelling.
During the next 50 years, Wharton boosted the community and church’s growth by founding a school (in the log dwelling), operating a country store, and starting a land company to allow African-Americans to purchase property. His efforts led to Averett’s emergence as a relatively self-sufficient Black crossroads hamlet, representative of similar communities that arose throughout Virginia and the South during Reconstruction. Today’s church complex is central to that story. In 1882, Wharton led construction of a new church for the congregation of Beautiful Plain Baptist Church. The congregation replaced that building in 1897 when it constructed its second church in a late Gothic Revival style. Renamed “Wharton Memorial Baptist Church” in 1922, that building burned in 1940 and the current church arose that same year on the same footprint and in a similar Gothic Revival style.
The site’s extant Averett School, constructed 1910, replaced the log dwelling that housed the school. The new building served as the local primary school until 1940. The building was expanded in 1959, when it transitioned to a community gathering space and home for Averett Union Masonic Lodge. The Wharton Cemetery, formally organized in 1894, contains at least 240 marked graves, and may hold numerous unmarked graves. [See nomination]
With a congregation tracing to 1877, Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, near Gainesville in Prince William County, has offered a gathering place, safe haven, and served as an integral part of the social and religious aspects of the Black community known as The Settlement, which arose during the 1870s on two large agricultural tracts formerly associated with a mid-19th century plantation. In 1882, church trustees relocated a log church building to the current church property. After a fire—possibly due to arson—destroyed that building, the congregation erected a new church in 1889, and replaced that church in 1928.
Although there have been several additions appended to the rear of the current church during the 20th century, the 1928 portion remains mostly unaltered—and even survived arson in 2012 when a fire severely damaged a majority of the building but left the main block fairly unscathed, save for smoke damage and several broken window panes. The church’s renovations—including those after 2012—reflect the growth and progress of The Settlement community. The Mount Pleasant Baptist Church cemetery contains an estimated 230 graves with a variety of headstones and includes veterans who served in every major conflict from the World Wars through the Vietnam War. [See nomination.]
Glencoe, located in Botetourt County, is a two-story brick house with Italianate and other stylistic affinities completed in 1871-72 for James Madison Spiller and his wife, Caroline Kyle Spiller. As a canal contractor before the Civil War, James Spiller oversaw partial completion of the Cabell Lock and Dam on the Botetourt section of the James River & Kanawha Canal. As a lock builder, Spiller was well aware of the properties of water and damp, which may explain notable architectural features of the house: a raised limestone foundation encircled on three sides by a narrow dry moat with stone retaining walls.
Spiller’s chief carpenter for Glencoe was Schuyler White Smith, the builder of the 1848 Botetourt County Courthouse. Notable on Glencoe’s well-preserved interior is a built-in punched-tin dining room cupboard and extensive faux-grained woodwork. Behind the house stands a two-story brick smokehouse (ca. 1871), and two slatted corncribs (ca. late 19th and early 20th century), one of which reused boards with graffiti associated with the adjacent Castle Mills. [See nomination.]
When he was treasurer of the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad Company as it developed Ashland, C.W. Macmurdo had a two-story, three-bay, frame house built on a ten-acre lot in 1858 to serve his extended family. The Macmurdo House, centrally located in historic Ashland, remains one of the best examples of Greek Revival architecture—and one of the least altered mid-19th century dwellings—in the town. Among the earliest homes built in the new village, the Macmurdo House is one of the few Greek Revival residences standing in Ashland and Hanover County that was not “updated” with Italianate details after the Civil War.
In 1937, the Macmurdo family sold the by-then two-thirds-of-an-acre property. The original house, along with its late-19th century rear addition, a 1920s garage, and sensitive additions of modern mechanical systems, represent several generations of the Macmurdo family, who actively developed the Ashland, witnessed the Civil War at their doorstep, and transitioned to the postwar Reconstruction Era and early 20-century modernization. [See nomination.]
Prominent Virginia architect Charles M. Robinson (1867-1932), designer of numerous public schools and college buildings throughout the commonwealth, planned Williamsburg’s College Terrace Historic District during his tenure, from 1921 to 1931, as William & Mary’s college architect. Robinson, who developed W&M’s influential 20th-century Georgian Revival campus, began work on College Terrace after W&M purchased 1,474 acres and part of the former Bright Farm by 1925 to accommodate burgeoning student enrollment. The college planned to offer housing for faculty and students adjacent to the campus.
In 1928, Robinson prepared the plat for College Terrace, a subdivision of 38 lots for which W&M would be the developer and grantor. By the late 1930s, the college had constructed at least 16 dwellings, primarily to house professors and two fraternities. Robinson designed a model home for the subdivision and a “Dutch Colonial” dwelling. The latter style contributes significantly to the neighborhood’s look and feel. Today, Dutch Revival architecture makes up approximately 24 percent of all styles found in the district.
College Terrace Historic District is also important as a small-scale representation of national trends in the field of landscape architecture. Robinson, who had collaborated with esteemed landscape architect Charles F. Gillette on another project, incorporated into his rectilinear subdivision design City Beautiful elaborations such as landscaped median parks as well as design elements inspired by Frederick Law Olmsted’s ideas. [See nomination.]
The Virginia Board of Historic Resources also approved to other VLRs during its quarterly meeting on Dec. 10:
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 property owners may do with their property. The designation is foremost an invitation to learn about and experience authentic and significant places in Virginia’s history.
Designating a property to the state or national registers—either individually or as a contributing building in a historic district—provides an owner the opportunity to pursue historic rehabilitation tax credit improvements to the building. Tax credit projects must comply with the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation.
Virginia is a national leader among states in listing historic sites and districts on the National Register of Historic Places. The state is also a national leader for the number of federal tax credit rehabilitation projects proposed and completed each year.
Originally posted: December 10, 2020
Updated: March 18, 2021