Friday Roundup: Indices, Trees, Photos and Fun!

Friday RoundupOne of the research resources we have at PHW that has been long neglected is a thick stack of photocopies of Mutual Assurance Society records. PHW volunteers obtained these copies in the 1970s as we were preparing for the 1976 Architectural Inventory. These insurance policies are very useful in seeing how early buildings grew and expanded, even giving details about the uses of certain wings, additions, or outbuildings. These are helpful for dating buildings that predate the Sanborn maps.

Thinking these records had already been sorted and it would be easy to find a policy for a quick fact check, it was quite a surprise to find that was not the case at all. After an afternoon of painstakingly deciphering names, it seemed more efficient to see if anyone had indexed these records already. Indeed, such a resource exists! The University of Mary Washington Department of Historic Preservation has a publicly searchable index of policies with a variety of search field options. In the case of these photocopies, the policy number is often the most legible identifying information. The document images are not available from this search, so this resource may not be of use to all researchers. However, you may want to experiment with the owner name search to see if a previous owner may have had a policy. For example, we know that George Norton had a Mutual Assurance Society policy on his home. By searching for his name, it brings up his Amherst St. home, as well as two other policies he took out at the same time. However, be careful! As with all old records, spelling can be haphazard and transcribers may not be able to make modernizations to help researchers. In Norton’s policies, we have creative street names like Piccadilla, Boscowan, and Loudon. If you find a record, don’t forget to consult the list of abbreviations to find out what was insured on the property and its construction materials.

Many of us have never seen, but heard the tales of the American chestnut tree. With the ongoing efforts to revive the species through blight-resistant hybridization, the question arose as to how large the trees really were. You can read and listen to a recent NPR interview of Roanoke College Biologist Rachel Collins, who warns us to temper our expectations of the mature chestnut hybrids reaching the massive proportions reported in historic documents due to some simple math confusion between diameter and circumference. If you are interested in learning more about the history and efforts to restore the American chestnut, visit the American Chestnut Foundation at www.acf.org.

Of course, it would not be Friday without some photos. This week’s upload has pushed us over 10,000 photos milestone in our Flickr collection! (“Only” 9,500 are publicly viewable, with the remaining 500 mostly historic photos or artwork we do not have rights to share.) About 50 older photos were identified, added to albums, and made public for searchers. We also added 36 photos of 518 and 401-403 South Kent Street, both Revolving Fund properties, again at the beginning of the rehabilitation. Catch them at the top of the Flickr photostream.

Clean Up Day, Blues House

Lastly, mark these dates on your calendars for upcoming PHW events! (Times may be subject to change.)

May 19, 2 PM: National Preservation Month walking tour, highlighting Winchester historic plaque and Jennings Revolving Fund properties in the Potato Hill neighborhood. Volunteers are still needed as tour guides! Contact PHW at phwinc.org@gmail.com or 540-667-3577 to add your name to the guide list.

June 24, 3 PM: PHW’s Annual Meeting and Preservation Awards, planned for the Hexagon House rear yard.

Around the Internet: FSA Photos, State Budget Worries, and Historic Plaques

Around the InternetHappy Friday! If you survived the wind with your power intact, we have a few things for you to explore and read around the internet:

1. The Shorpy photo archive featured the Texaco station at 819 S. Braddock St. with some great vintage road signs, gas pumps, and cars, and the Handley High School lawn and the smokestack in the background. Many more images from the Farm Security Administration (FSA) are available. Try starting with this narrowed search link at the Library of Congress to explore Winchester circa 1940. I am fond of the image taken at Orndoff’s marble yard, at the intersection of Loudoun and Boscawen Streets.

2. The Valley Conservation Council has put together a list of some land conservation and historic preservation-adjacent items to watch and act against in the state budget. Part of the proposed cut of mitigation funds is aimed at reducing mercury in the Shenandoah River. There is also concern over the Land Preservation Tax Credit. As stated by VCC, “Landowners put their property under easement in 2017 with the understanding that the limit would go back to $50k​ – to change the rules on them now after they have permanently preserved their land is unfair.”​ If you are similarly worried about these and other proposed budget cuts, VCC has compiled the historic data and the contact information for you to reach out and state how important conservation funding is to our area.

3. Similarly, Preservation Virginia has highlighted some additional concerns of budget cuts facing the Department of Historic Resources.

4. We also forgot to congratulate Tom and Deanna Stouffer for 125 E. Clifford becoming one of now 154 houses in the Winchester Historic District to receive the oval plaque. If you were not able to visit them at Holiday House Tour time, you truly missed a special home. You can get a little taste of that in our Flickr album.

Friday Round Up: Historic Buildings, Tax Credits, and Demolition

Preservation has been in the news lately. First, you may have seen the Winchester Star article on the latest Historic Tax Credit studies. You can watch the accompanying video interview on YouTube or below:

If you are up for a little light reading on historic tax credits and their impact in Virginia, you can read the full 94 page Preserving the Past, Building the Future or the four-page Executive Summary to hit the highlights. You may also want to read the similar economic analysis Virginia’s Historic Tax Credit Program prepared by Baker Tilly. Both studies back up the assertion of Historic Preservation Tax Credits paying for themselves over time and positively impacting not just buildings but entire communities.

You may also want to read the Winchester Star article on the approval of the demolition of a property on Sharp Street at the Board of Architectural Review last night. PHW President Bruce Downing was present to voice our concerns about the demolition of this property essentially by neglect. Sharp Street as a whole is a very architecturally and historically significant, if often overlooked, area of our Historic District. We hope the proposed changes and new construction, which are scheduled to return at a future meeting, will continue to honor and reflect the unique character of that block.

Preserve Early America in Virginia, Part One

To go with our post last week, a second typed manuscript fell free of a scrapbook during moving. This is a partial transcription of the article “Preserve Early America in Virginia,” written by Lucille Lozier and Chi-Chi Kerns in 1968. The manuscript was sent to six magazines for potential publication. It was divided into three sections, so only the first portion which forms the most cohesive narrative is included today. We may revisit the next two sections in a future blog post.

Preserve Early America in Virginia

“We set out early, then traveled up to Frederick Town,” wrote George Washington in March, 1748, then a lad of 16. “We cleaned ourselves (to get rid of the game we had catched the night before), took a review of the town and thence returned to our lodgings where we had a good dinner…and a good feather bed with clean sheets, which was a very agreeable regale.”

This was the beginning of George Washington’s association with Winchester, then called Frederick Town.

The property on which this same inn rested, which was conveyed by Lord Fairfax to William Cocke, owner of the inn, was designated for preservation October 15, 1967. A fine old stone house, built in 1792, now stands there. This house is the first building in Winchester to be marked for preservation. A bronze plaque was placed on this home at the dedication ceremony, indicating it will be preserved, and the home is so listed by Preservation of Historic Winchester, Inc.

At the time of Washington’s coming here, Winchester was the principal frontier post in the Shenandoah Valley. Washington, whose brother, Lawrence, married a cousin of Lord Fairfax, was sent here by the latter to survey Lord Fairfax’s vast estate of over 5,000,000 acres of unsettled land. He spent the next four years in this activity, and his headquarters attracts many tourists today.
George Washington's Office Museum

There seems to be an almost overwhelming urge, in the name of progress, to demolish and destroy relics of our country’s history and early cultural development. The era of concrete is upon the land, and ruthlessly, buildings of period architecture and antique beauty fall prey to the bulldozer. Feelings of pride in our past heritage seem to be swept aside in pursuit of the almighty dollar.

In the fall of 1963, a group of concerned citizens in Winchester, distressed and alarmed by the demolition of an increasingly large number of antique buildings in the area, assembled with a common desire to find some way to prevent the continuous destruction of their heritage. Winchester is one of the most historical cities of our nation and the oldest town west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a distinction of which they feel every citizen in the community should be justly proud.

Out of such concern grew an organization, the members of which were determined to preserve as many as possible of the old homes and buildings in Winchester which are historically important and architecturally interesting. These citizens formed an active group dedicated to providing a qualified and responsible organization capable of carrying out their objectives.

Those who belong to the organization have been successful in having the City Council pass an ordinance which enables them to proceed with their business of preservation. The name of the organization is “Preservation of Historic Winchester, Inc.”

The members of PHW, Inc. have undertaken a project which will bring to a halt the impetuous tearing down of their historically invaluable buildings which, once gone, can never be replaced. They are trying to preserve as many as possible of the important buildings in Old Winchester which were built before 1860. Under their plan, the owner of a building may request its preservation. If the building qualifies, an attractive bronze marker, or plaque, specially designed, is placed on the structure to indicate that it will always remain a part of Old Winchester.

In recent years there has been some interest among members of garden clubs and other citizens of Winchester in improving the appearance of certain local historic buildings by beautifying their surroundings with appropriate planting of trees, shrubs, flowers, vines and ground covers. Since the preservation of an old building is not authentic without the restoration of the gardens and lawn which enhanced it, the Historic Winchester group would hope to work hand in hand with all those who wish the picture to be complete. It is anticipated that out of growing concern for saving these buildings will develop also a strong desire on the part of Winchester’s citizens to make their town more attractive with beautiful landscape architecture.

Members of the newly-formed organization look forward to the future with great excitement. They expect, as a body, which will be fully qualified for the activity, to solicit and accept money and property in the form of endowments and bequests. These gifts will be classified as charitable and may be listed as such on income tax forms of all donors.

The people of Historic Winchester wish to spread the news of their thrilling adventure to all Virginians, and, indeed, throughout the nation. Anyone interested in the organization can contact us at 540-667-3577, phwinc.org@gmail.com, or at our office Monday-Friday at the Hexagon House, 530 Amherst Street, Winchester, VA 22601.

Around the Internet: Deadly Wallpaper

With the repainting and interior spruce up at the Hexagon House, wallpaper has been a decorating topic of speculation. The quick and low-tech paint analysis revealed very few paint layers in most rooms, further fueling the suspicions the Hexagon House was likely wallpapered in almost every room for most of its history – as you would expect from a house built during the wallpaper boom of the 1870s. While having a bit of fun daydreaming about what patterns might have adorned the walls once upon a time, an article on a deadly book of wallpaper samples, appropriately titled Shadows from the Walls of Death popped up in my news feed.

This beguiling pattern would be right at home in the Hexagon House – but it could kill you.

The wallpaper samples are all genuine papers that were printed in the 1870s, and their deadly reputation comes from the arsenic used to produce the green hues in the patterns. The arsenic would flake off when brushed or be released when the paper became damp and spread microscopic amounts of the poison into the home. Healthy adults may not have noticed any ill-effects, but children could be killed from even a small amount of the particulate. Many people of the time dismissed the fear over green pigments as hysteria, and the exact cause of the poisoning took well over one hundred years to solve.

You can read more about the origin and spread of the vivid green, arsenic-laden paints and dyes from Europe to the United States at Jane Austen’s World blog and Smithsonian.com.

Once you have had your fill of the verified deadly wallpaper, you might also want to page through the trade catalogs on Archive.org to see more wallpaper samples and color plates of suggested room designs from 1900-1960. You may also enjoy some window shopping of other vintage patterns at Designyourwall.com. Those patterns probably won’t kill you, at least from arsenic.

Friday Roundup: Newspapers, Photos, Grants, and More!

Friday Roundup First, an addendum to last week’s post on newspaper archives. We missed one provided through the Handley Library, Advantage Digital Archive. This archive provides OCR searchable text and full page images of some of Winchester’s more obscure historical newspapers, including:
Virginia Gazette (1787-1796)
Winchester Gazette (1798-1824)
Republican Constellation (1814-1814)
Daily Item (1896-1897)
Morning News Item (1906-1907)
Daily Independent (1923-1925).

The search functions are similar to the other newspaper archives covered last week, and browsing is available for those looking for a surprise or coverage on a certain day. We are happy to report a quick test search for “Burgess” turned up a new tidbit on the first owner of the Hexagon House, James W. Burgess, that we had not previously seen. It corroborated other accounts of his furniture business in 1870 (about the time construction started at the Hexagon House.) His furniture was used in the newly built home of John M. Miller near Middletown. The residence in question is likely the Cooley House, referenced in Maral Kalbian’s Frederick County, Virginia: History Through Architecture on page 93.

Virginia Woolen Mill SiteWhile reviewing some of the files being moved around for painting, we found some images that had not been scanned. Sixteen images have been added to Flickr, including eight that were attached to a display board for the Kurtz, possibly in a fundraising or open house event in the early 1990s. The remaining eight photos may include some duplicates of images already scanned from the slide collection on North Loudoun Street, the Virginia Woolen smokestack, and one image of the John Wall House at 11-17 S. Kent during demolition. You can catch the photos right at the top of the photostream.

As we are also working on the files during the office shuffle, we have made a few edits to our online directory of program and event files. While it feels like we started this index just yesterday with two boxes of Kurtz Cultural Center files, we anticipate adding an eighth box to the storage collection of programs and events from the last ten years. Although these files are of limited interest to researchers outside of PHW, this is a bit of a teaser for the next round of indexing we hope to tackle for our themed research files on topics or locations. No precise timeline is available (yet!) but the indexing will likely take place in the spring.

The National Trust has several grant deadlines approaching, including African-American Cultural Heritage Action Fund (Jan. 31), National Trust Preservation Funds (Feb. 1), Cynthia Woods Mitchell Fund for Historic Interiors (Mar. 1), and Johanna Favrot Fund for Historic Preservation (Mar. 1). You can see the full list and details on how to apply and what qualifies for each grant here.

Preservation Virginia is also taking applications for their Most Endangered Historic Places list of 2018. If you know a site worthy of recognition that is imperiled with damage, neglect, or development pressure, you can find the application and instructions here. Nominations are due by March 9.

How to Find Historic Newspaper Articles Online

Around the InternetHappy Friday! We are still deep in the throes of repainting, cleaning, and better organizing our office at the Hexagon House. Instead of us sharing something interesting this week, we want to help you find things that are interesting in your own research projects. Finding unusual historic accounts and articles in newspapers is a goldmine – and a never-ending rabbit hole. Unfortunately, some of the most comprehensive archives are paid subscription only, but for historic accounts, there are still ways to find articles online. If you are researching something a little off the beaten track, here are a few sources where you can start a free newspaper archive search. This can be helpful to find dates for an event you know took place to help narrow down a search range before resorting to paging through microfilm, or to find connections to topics you didn’t know to pursue.

First stop: Chronicling America
The Library of Congress’s historic digitized newspapers collection is a quick barometer on how much information you are likely to find in other online sources. When searching, I often have the best luck with a broad keyword topic, followed by either “Winchester” or “Winchester VA.” In many cases, this will turn up a story from a Winchester newspaper reprinted elsewhere. Commonly, stories have been picked up in Alexandria, Berryville, Charles Town, Richmond, Staunton, Stephens City, Washington D.C., Woodstock, and other nearby localities. Be sure to watch out for other Winchesters when searching – Kentucky is a frequent false hit.

Second stop: Virginia Chronicle
Many of the papers here are duplicated in the Library of Congress holdings, but a few are unique to this collection. Searching here can either turn up the same or nearly identical articles, but on occasion new or more in-depth accounts can be found. The Virginia Chronicle site also allows users to register and correct the OCR (optical character recognition) text files generated from the newspaper scans and aid researchers in future reading and searching.

Third stop: Google News Archive Search
Particularly the newspaper archives. Not quite as easy to use as the first two websites, but it has the advantage that it covers more recent newspapers – at least until the 1970s and possibly even newer than that. The advantage here is that any articles will likely be new and unique finds.

Fourth stop: Archive.org
The pilot program for newspapers is of limited use to Winchester researchers currently, but while you are here, you may also want to check out their other free text collections, which includes patents, fiction and nonfiction books, pamphlets and other ephemera.

Fifth stop: Newspaperarchive.com
If you are looking for something more modern and just need the text, I have had some limited success with this paid subscription site. Newspaperarchive.com provides OCR text transcriptions of the scanned pages, so while a free user won’t be able to load the scan of the newspaper, they will probably be able to get the gist of the text. There are options to browse the site, but for a search to just see what turns up, I often use Google’s advance search options for a string like “preservation of historic winchester” site:newspaperarchive.com. This random search turned up a 1982 newspaper article on our tenth Preservation Week activities, which I had not seen before. If you need to see the original page (for illustrations or to check the OCR text accuracy), you are now armed with a date and page for when you visit the Stewart Bell Jr. Archives or whichever archives is most convenient for you.

Sixth stop: Advantage Digital Archive
This free online archive is provided through the Handley Library. It provides OCR searchable text and full page images of some of Winchester’s more obscure historical newspapers, including:
Virginia Gazette (1787-1796)
Winchester Gazette (1798-1824)
Republican Constellation (1814-1814)
Daily Item (1896-1897)
Morning News Item (1906-1907)
Daily Independent (1923-1925).
The search functions are similar to the other newspaper archives. Don’t be discouraged if the OCR text does not return a hit on the topic you want – text recognition for older newspapers can be tricky. Instead, if you have a date or year range in mind to check an event, you may want to try the browsing option to read the scan yourself.

Happy searching!

Friday Photos: Indian Spring

This week, we added 23 images to our Flickr account of a building known as Indian Spring from the 1988 Holiday House Tour. The site has roots back to the very earliest settlers who came with Yost Hite to the area in 1732, Jacob and Magdalena Chrisman. Much like the story of Abram’s Delight in Winchester, the original, likely log home was replaced in the 1750s by a more substantial limestone structure. The oldest part of the stone house built by Jacob Chrisman dates to 1751, as recorded in the gable. Two log buildings were also extant on the property and noted in the 1988 brochure; one of those may be Chrisman’s original dwelling.

Indian Spring

In addition to hosting some of the oldest remaining structures in Frederick County, the original 750 acre tract was also notable for the large spring, which was first called Indian Spring, and later Chrisman’s and Stickley’s Spring as the ownership of the property changed hands. In addition to being an important landmark for the area, the spring was also a hub for early religious gatherings. Bishop Francis Asbury, a famous traveling Methodist minister, was reportedly the first to use the spring for a camp meeting. T.K. Cartmell writes in his Shenandoah Valley Pioneers and Their Descendants (p. 204):

“There was an ideal place [for a primitive Methodist Camp Meeting] near the centre of the Upper Circuit . . . . The place . . . was Chrisman’s Spring . . . . The famous spring and adjacent forests were freely offered by this generous family. The oldest inhabitant to day has no recollection of the first Camp Meeting with the old tent wagons on the ground and roughly improvised annexes to offer shelter to the families who had come well provided with food. The scanty sleeping accommodations were sufficient to induce the Campers to remain on the Grounds for about ten days . . . . Kercheval says, ‘The first Camp Meeting held in the Valley in my memory was at Chrisman’s Spring . . . probably in the month of August 1806.'”

If you are interested in learning more about this important site, more details may be found in Some Old Homes in Frederick County, Virginia by Garland Quarles, p. 67-69. Other images of Indian Spring and the log building thought to be Chrisman’s original home may be found on pages 6 and 7 of Frederick County, Virginia: History Through Architecture by Maral Kalbian. Further historical and genealogical references to Jacob and Magdalena Chrisman may be found at chrisman.org and Shenandoah Valley Pioneers and Their Descendants. Christian History issue 114 is dedicated to Francis Asbury and the history of camp meetings.

Friday Roundup: Patsy Cline, Photos, Tax Credit Updates, and More!

Friday RoundupHappy Friday! There is a lot to cover this holiday weekend. First, the Celebrating Patsy Cline Block Party will be held Saturday, September 2 in front of the Patsy Cline House at 608 S. Kent St. The block party is free but tours of the house are $5. A special exhibit will be presented of an item that has not been on display before at the house. Attendees are asked to bring chairs to the event. For more information, call 540-662-5555 or visit their website.

For Friday Photos this week, we found some reference photos for the house art from Holiday House Tour 2003 and 2004. The houses are primarily on North Braddock Street, Washington Street, and Stewart Street. Check out the the 23 photos at the top of our Flickr photostream.

331 N. Braddock St.

From the National Trust comes the August and early September outlook for the Historic Tax Credit. There is information in the blog post about how to add your business or organization to a letter of support for the historic tax credit, how to check if your representative is a cosponsor for the Historic Tax Credit Improvement Act, and information on how to sign up for a webinar on the historic tax credit September 21 at 2 p.m.

From CityLab comes the article An Architectural Rescue Gone Wrong by Mark Byrnes. In short, it is a familiar story on the struggles of preserving the recent past for “ugly” buildings that don’t seem to mesh well with a “traditional” city. In an even more familiar refrain, in trying to please everyone, it seems no one is completely satisfied with the efforts to save Paul Rudolph’s Brutalist-style Orange County Government Center after decades of deferred maintenance and hurricane-related damage.

Last, A Short History of Fire Marks, The World’s Hottest Insurance-Related Antiques from Atlas Obscura is a five minute introduction of some various crests, why they were used, and resources to identify them in case you find one in your architectural travels.

Happy reading, viewing, and listening this weekend!

Friday Photos: St. Thomas Chapel and Monte Vista

Happy Friday! This week we have started scanning images of the 1988 Holiday House Tour, which took place predominantly in Frederick County. This set of photos poses a bit more of a problem during digitizing than some of our past collections, as the images were placed in a photo book that does not have removable pages for ease of use on a flatbed scanner. On top of that, the pages themselves are of the adhesive variety, and the photos seem to be well and truly stuck in place. While that’s normally not much of a problem with photo editing software, a number of photos in this book were placed overlapping each other.

In order to not lose the overall look of both photos, on a number of the Monte Vista pages we have scanned the entire page without trying to crop them down to individual images. Also, the risk to try to unstick photos from the page (and the plastic cover sheet) to reveal what is beneath is unacceptable due to the likelihood the images would be damaged. The entire album (which is, as you would expect, rather bulky) is held in place with the binding supported during the scan and kept as still as possible, but a few pages do show some anomalies from this technique. The anomalies are an acceptable trade-off to making these images available and for making a digital copy before the adhesive material deteriorates and damages the images. You can view the images of Monte Vista and St. Thomas Chapel at the top of the Flickr photostream, or at the end of the Frederick County album.

St. Thomas Chapel

If you are wondering what to do with an album or scrapbook in a similar state, you may want to read Preservation Basics: Preservation of Scrapbooks and Albums and Preservation Guidelines for Digitizing Library Materials. Each album is unique and will have its own challenges, but these Library of Congress guidelines can give you a good idea of where you might have the most problems and some best techniques to avoid damaging one-of-a-kind artifacts.