Education Becomes PHW’s Mission

HABS at Northwestern WorkshopFollowing the breakthrough after meeting with Winchester City Council to propose better cooperation for preservation, PHW could redirect its efforts into new avenues. The September 16, 1970 PHW meeting reflected this change of pace, with Robert Kern, PHW’s president, suggesting educational efforts for prospective preservationists. One of those programs was a series of educational articles by Lewis Barton and Audrey Coleman to run in the Winchester Star, highlighting historic properties with interesting stories and photographs.

Lectures and expert presenters continued, including B. Powell Harrison and his wife Agnes from Leesburg who encouraged PHW in October 1970 to pursue two keys to success: dedicated members and constantly forging ahead with programs. This program was also one of our first introductions to the idea of a revolving fund, which would soon become central to PHW’s activities.(1)(2)

DDC Pedestrian Mall ProposalThe first recorded suggestion of house tours for education and fundraising occurred in June 1970. Nancy Pennypacker offered to conduct a tour of several of the local Hite homes, ending at her home “Spring Hill” for a reception. We can look back with some amusement now at how coolly the suggestion was received: “Some opposition was expressed . . . It was felt that we certainly might enjoy a tour to these homes but that its value as a money-making project was very limited.”

By far the most eye-opening presentations were slideshows presented by Ray Jennings. As a newcomer to Winchester, he could see the charm and value of Winchester’s buildings, as well as identify areas where improvements could be made. His first recorded presentation to the PHW membership was March 25, 1971, focusing on the interesting details of local buildings that a longtime resident may have overlooked, as well as pointing out problems with commercial signage, neon lights, utility poles, and vast expanses of asphalt parking lots in a historic area. As a member of the Downtown Development Committee, he also led the presentations on the proposed pedestrian mall plans with Irvin Shendow in November 1971.

HABS at Lawyer's RowIn 1972, PHW sponsored a team from the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) to document buildings in Winchester. The team researched, measured and produced scale drawings of Lawyers Row on Rouss Avenue and part of Amherst Street, as well as speaking informally with PHW representatives at other renovation projects.(3)(4) HABS, established in 1933, was part of the Works Progress Administration. The program was conceived as a method of providing work for unemployed architects by documenting historic buildings during the Great Depression. HABS and its sister documentation efforts continue to document resources under the auspices of the National Parks Service, providing valuable hands-on experience primarily for college and graduate students in architecture and historic preservation disciplines.

Under all of the educational activities was a sense that PHW needed to do a project to demonstrate how preservation works and benefits the community. Next week, we will investigate the first successful major preservation project spearheaded by the organization.

A Flood of Letters Leads to a Historic Meeting

In February 1969, plans were afoot for PHW to lead the charge against the demolition of the Conrad House by the Winchester Parking Authority. The committee, led by Julian Glass, Jr., focused on circulating petitions and organizing letter-writing campaigns in favor of the “phone or personal contact” which had been previously utilized. The steering committee included J.T. Kremer, Sr., Leonard Sirbaugh, Mrs. J. Pinckney Arthur, Clyde “Chip” Johnson, Betsy Helm, Mrs. Wayne Hogbin, and Dr. Garland Quarles.(1)

Petition drives were held in the George Washington Hotel. At least two angles were used on the petitions. The first concerned the lease executed between the City of Winchester and the Winchester Parking Authority. The petition asked for the City to resume control of the Conrad property and/or to hold a public hearing on the fate of the Conrad property. Reports indicate over 2,000 signatures were gathered and filled several full-page advertisements in the Winchester Star in March of 1969.

Lillian Majally QuoteThe letter writing campaigns included a piece from Dr. Quarles, explaining why the house was historically relevant, invoking some of the activities and important people who had a connection to the house.(2) Others echoed these sentiments, including Lillian Majally, who may have influenced PHW’s slogan with her heartfelt plea to save the best of the area’s past for future generations to discover their visual heritage.(3)

PHW’s President Lucille Lozier spoke of the potential for tourists to appreciate Winchester’s buildings and their palpable connection to early American history and culture.(4) Others, like Anne Williams, suggested new community-minded uses for the Conrad House, like a daycare center.(5) More often, the building was suggested as being incorporated into new government offices, used as a residence for visiting dignitaries to the city, or operated as a museum. Alternative parking options were discussed, such as constructing a double or triple decker parking garage on another site.(6) In an idea which may seem scandalous to propose today, PHW members even pitched the idea to Council to level Rouss City Hall for the parking lot instead (remember that Rouss City Hall was deemed both too young for being constructed after 1860 and infeasible to rehabilitate at the time).

As the very public efforts to block the demolition of the Conrad House wore on, the timbre of the letters became more exasperated. Many letters cited how the Council had refused to listen to their constituents on this matter despite over 2,000 signatures on PHW petitions to retain the building, and how the Council seemed to be driven by the wishes of the merchants for parking over the wishes of the citizens for preservation.The existing lots were cited as rarely being at full capacity, so the issue to demolish the house was not the pressing need it was made out to be. Also cited was the “pass the buck” maneuver for the Council to turn the fate of the Conrad House over to the Winchester Parking Authority. Some letters even correctly cited the Kurtz Building would be bought and singled out for demolition for more parking on that site in the future.(7)(8)(9)(10)(11)

Taxpayer! The letter writing and petitions were not the only efforts undertaken by PHW. Efforts had been made for multiple years for PHW to receive authorization from the City or WPA to perform studies on the Conrad House to determine possible future uses for the building.(12) Even though the City refused these offers for studies, PHW still reached out to representatives from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Virginia Landmarks Commission, and other architecture experts for their input on the value of the Conrad House. Offers were made for PHW to raise the funds to fix the house’s leaking roof and to hire engineers and architects for the project. Attempts were made to list the building on the National Register of Historic Places to block the use of Federal funds in the construction of the parking lot. Injunctions were sought for the illegal tree-cutting on the Conrad Hill property, and efforts were made to appeal the Board of Architectural Review being cut out of the process for the Conrad House. As a final attempt, shortly before the demolition PHW ran a series of large advertisements in the Winchester Star alerting taxpayers as to how their money had been used to purchase the Conrad House, and how their money was funding this parking lot against public wishes.

Preservation is good business PHW minutes make mention several times of efforts by PHW to invite City representatives to join in meetings, and while politely received, all offers of cooperation were rebuffed. Minutes from February 17, 1970 make clear why: the WPA had called in an unnamed expert from Williamsburg who told them “there was nothing of value left in the house” and “it was not feasible to restore the place.” The minutes go on to record the PHW board’s “consternation over this information” since any expert that looked at the building and site holistically had expressed delight at the structure’s architectural and historical value and integrity. One of the last letters to the editor from R. Lee Taylor, PHW’s corresponding secretary, called for cooperation between the citizens and City Council, for preservation was good business for everyone.(13)

Although the City was not dissuaded from razing the Conrad House in March of 1970, the outpouring of support and frustration via the letter campaign bore some fruit in the end. On April 22, 1970, the City Council and a committee of PHW members met and began taking some of the first steps toward meaningful preservation efforts. The major concession was the acknowledgement that a Board of Architectural Review with purview over only 16 properties was ineffective and invalid, and Tom Scully was granted permission to overhaul the ordinance and present his ideas to Council. The meeting also proposed a strategy to foster cooperation and understanding between the City and PHW by installing PHW members on various boards and Council members partaking in the historical programming of PHW and the Historical Society. Although it took close to a decade, preservation was gaining acceptance in Winchester.

Next week, we will investigate the educational efforts as PHW moved into an era of preservation not focused on the retention of the Conrad House.

The Winchester Committee for Historic Preservation

Logo The origin of the group that would become PHW had two concurrent strains of activity: a group of private citizens concerned with the demolition of historic structures, and the advocacy efforts spearheaded by Carroll Henkel for Winchester City Council to enact ordinances designed to protect buildings considered worthy of preservation.

The exact date of the private citizens coming together to form a grassroots organization is lost in the mists of time, but evidence reveals that the first open meeting of this sort was held in November 1963 at the Handley Library. The oldest recorded minutes in PHW’s possession date from January 20, 1964 and set forth the first leaders: Carroll Henkel, President (elected in absentia); Nancy Pennypacker, Vice President; Miss Robert “Bobbie” Y. Conrad, Secretary; and Emily Kuykendall, Treasurer. Others in attendance include Eve Kennedy, Eleanor Rodman, Mary Henkel, T.G. Scully, and absentee dues submitted by Dorothy Allen and Ben Belchic. Enough dues were raised at the meeting to allow the group to join the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The first item of business undertaken was to prepare for a public meeting on February 19, 1964, hosting Helen Duprey Bullock of the National Trust to speak about preservation and its potential to make residences useful in a business district, as well as discussing the Alexandria Ordinance and the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission and how those could be adapted for Winchester. (1)(2)(3)

Carroll Henkel speaks at City CouncilThe minutes make mention of the similar citizen committee on historic preservation appointed by Mayor Charles B. Smalts, consisting of “Mr. Henkel, Mr. Scully, Mr. Stratton, Irvin O’Connell, and Lewis Barton.” In February 1963, Winchester City Council appointed this committee to make a report on what criteria should be used to determine whether a building was worthy of retention. The group returned to City Council in March with the recommendation to retain all structures that were built prior to 1860 within the original town as laid out by James Wood.*

Minutes from March 3, 1964 indicate the grassroots group, 37 members strong, changed its name to Historic Winchester, Incorporated and began the process of incorporation and seeking non-profit status with the mission being “to preserve the aspect of Winchester as a beautiful city by encouraging the conservation and restoration of such buildings as are historically or architecturally significant.”

Little PHW activity was recorded after March 1964. Although the organization remained in existence, no minutes and few files remain in PHW’s possession to document the group’s activities from late 1964 until 1967. Some work, however, must have occurred. An ordinance similar to those explained by Helen Bullock was considered the top priority for the group to present to the City. Bobbie Conrad volunteered to survey the buildings predating 1860 in conjunction with the committee’s recommendation that all such buildings be preserved.(4)

BAR FormationThe Winchester Board of Architectural Review (BAR) was established in February 1966, shortly before the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act in October 1966.(5) Once again, Carroll Henkel was elected to lead the first Board of Architectural Review.(6) The function of the board seems to be much the same as the BAR of today, with the BAR providing an extra layer of oversight and protection to a select number of historic properties. Mention is made in 1969 of a “voluntary list” of houses under BAR purview, along with an “inventory . . . of historic or architecturally interesting buildings” which was different from the voluntary list.(7) PHW minutes from February 26, 1970 clarified that the BAR had submitted a roster of 110 buildings deemed worthy of preservation, likely compiled from PHW members’ work, but that the City had pared the list down to only 16 buildings which had opted-in through the historic marker program. The Conrad House, of course, had been noted in the first list but had not received a marker through the voluntary list and was thus deemed ineligible for BAR oversight in 1969.

In 1967, the name was changed to the now-familiar Preservation of Historic Winchester, Inc. in an effort to avoid confusion with the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society. The first historic plaque designating a building for protection was erected that same year. PHW was incorporated in 1968, though 501(c)3 non-profit status was not achieved until 1975. The change in name also marked a change in strategy: mobilizing the town in peaceful protest of the impending destruction of the Conrad House.

* Refer to Winchester Evening Star on February 20, 1963 “Name Committee to Preserve Historical Sites” and March 13, 1963 “Save All Pre-1860 Houses, Special Group Asks Council.” The 2011 architectural inventory indicates 274 structures were constructed between 1750-1860 in the current Winchester Historic District.

The Conrad House Versus City Council

Conrad House Artist's Conception By 1962, the pressure to raze the Conrad House was mounting, with the Winchester Retail Merchants Association urging City Council to clear and level the lot. The Association even offered to pay half of the expected costs of demolition and construction – a hefty $45,000.00 (approximately $345,000.00 in today’s inflation) if the City would match the amount. The plan to raze the house for parking was officially endorsed by Winchester-Frederick County Chamber of Commerce in October of 1962.

On the other side, proponents of history, both individuals and organizations including the National Trust for Historic Preservation, were offering alternative sites for a parking lot and other potential uses for the historic building.(1) Petitions and letter campaigns to save the house were circulating, council members were polled in the newspaper on their sentiments, garden clubs and individuals were speaking at public hearings or writing in to City Council against the rising tide of demolitions. The unrest culminated with the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society asking City Council for the Conrad House to be put to the voters in a referendum.

Conrad House Quote from the National Trust of Historic Preservation, 1959 The issue reached a spirited climax in the January 1963 City Council meeting with two important items on the agenda. The vote to match the Winchester Retail Merchants Association funds to raze the house was tied at 6-6, with the 13th tie-breaking member of Council out of town and unavailable to cast a vote. It seemed that with the passing of the second important item, a 90 day grace period for preservationists to submit alternative plans for the Conrad House, that the prospects to retain the building were improving. City Council eventually voted the Conrad House off its agenda in September of 1963, seemingly dropping the issue without public fanfare.

The reprieve was to be short-lived. In 1964, City Council created the Winchester Parking Authority (WPA) with the directive to increase off-street parking facilities downtown. One of the City-owned properties leased to the WPA was the Conrad House. The WPA continued to operate the Conrad House as apartments until announcing plans in January 1969 to demolish the Conrad House and create two parking lots on the site.

“The Hill” was not left friendless in this second fight against impending demolition. The same group of determined citizens who stood against the plan in 1963 had continued their association under the name Winchester Committee for Historic Preservation. They were ready to rally the public outcry once again for Winchester’s second oldest building.

Early PHW Letterhead

Synopsis of the timeline of the issue found in May 2, 1969 Winchester Evening Star story “A House, a Hill, and a Controversy” by Pat Robinson, C-8.

Help PHW Document Our Past

LogoAs you’ve seen, PHW is taking a look back at our past fifty years as an organization. Thank you to all those trailblazing preservationists who went before us and to everyone who continues to be fascinated with historic buildings and the story of Winchester, Virginia. We could not have reached this major milestone without your support!

As we are a grassroots organization, much of our historical memory is held by the individuals who have volunteered or worked for the organization. We’d like your help in documenting that portion of our past before it is forever lost. Here’s how you can help:

  • Share your personal recollections of PHW events, activities, or projects from any point in our history
  • Donate or loan for copying any items and/or photographs with a PHW connection. We are particularly interested in documenting PHW’s early years (1964-1976), past scripts for Holiday House Tour docents, and any images and histories of structures in Winchester
  • Assist PHW in identifying unlabelled photographs in our collection
  • Can you think of some other way you can assist us? Let us know at or (540) 667-3577.

The Conrad House, Second Oldest Building in Town

Rear of the Conrad House, with oldest wing visible When discussing Winchester’s historic buildings, several times I’ve been asked, “What’s the second oldest building in town?” In the 1960s, the answer would likely have been the small northern portion to the rear of the Conrad House, with an estimated construction date of early 1750s, making it a contemporary of Abrams Delight and George Washington’s Headquarters. As you can imagine, the house had a long and colorful history with the Conrad family, which will only briefly be touched upon here.

The property, originally consisting of four lots for a total of two and a half acres, has a somewhat complicated deed trail according the local historians Garland Quarles and W. W. Glass. Frederick Conrad, the progenitor of the Conrad line in Winchester, allegedly acquired the property from his father-in-law, Dr. Stephen Ley. The chain of title is, however, unclear, and the possession of the property was disputed several times, but ultimately stayed in the Conrad family’s control. Frederick Conrad’s will from 1794 indicates a building, likely the small northern wing, was existing on the Conrad property at the time of his death, yet his will left instructions for another house to be built on the property.

This task fell to Frederick’s son, Dr. Daniel Conrad. The familiar front façade was constructed reportedly from plans obtained in Scotland, where Daniel Conrad received his medical training. The interior, also, boasted at least three mantels and two doorways hand-carved from Adams Brothers designs and imported from England. (1)(2)(3)

After Dr. Daniel Conrad’s death in 1806, his widow and heirs remained in residence at the mansion for approximately six more years until the upkeep became too onerous. The house was leased to the Farmer’s Bank from 1812-1820, according to William Greenway Russell’s memoirs. By 1836, Daniel’s remaining heirs had consolidated their shares of interest to Robert Y. Conrad. He took up residence in the house with his new bride, and eventually nine children. After Robert’s death in 1875, the house passed to Major Holmes Conrad (1840-1915). Major Conrad had seven children, and in 1928 the heirs decided to sell the property to someone outside of the Conrad family.

Conrad Property, 1947 “The Hill,” as the house was also known, was purchased by H.B. McCormack, Sr. He announced plans in the Star on April 23, 1929 that he would convert the mansion to apartments and also cut down the hill facing Cameron Street and erect modern shop and office space, to be connected to the house through the mansion’s existing basement. The plan obviously progressed no farther than converting the mansion to apartments, though no reason was publicly given for the change. In 1959, the City of Winchester purchased the Conrad House and lot from H.B. McCormack’s heirs and continued operating the building as apartments. As one can imagine, the City had no long-term interest in being a landlord; plans were afoot for the demolition of Winchester’s second oldest building for a parking lot. That saga will be chronicled next Friday – stay tuned!

For further reading on the Conrad family:
Daniel Conrad Family Papers at Stewart Bell Jr. Archives Room, Handley Regional Library
Holmes Conrad Papers at Stewart Bell Jr. Archives Room, Handley Regional Library
Holmes Conrad biography on Wikipedia
Three generations of Conrads from Winchester

Before Preservation, Parking Was King in Winchester

LogoWelcome to the first installment of a weekly series on the history of Preservation of Historic Winchester to celebrate our 50th anniversary in 2014. Be sure to visit the PHW blog each Friday for the next installment.

Winchester is a remarkable town for its abundance of historically significant architecture in a relatively small area, highlighting building styles from the late Colonial period to the modern day. The styles are modest for the most part, vernacular adaptations of the high-end construction found in larger cities, though that makes them no less valuable an historic asset. Winchester has been compared architecturally more than once to our southern neighbor Williamsburg, Virginia; however, we have a clear advantage in that much of our building stock has survived and did not require reconstruction to showcase the town’s charms and history. (1) (2)

Prof. Nichols Quote This evolution from Winchester as a rough frontier town to a modern city is easily sensed through our buildings and often commented on with delight by tourists visiting Winchester for the first time. More than one visitor who has stopped in the PHW office has commented with evident enthusiasm, “You have so many old buildings downtown!” But this sense of wonder and value in our historic buildings – and by extension the very history of the city – has only come to be thanks to the untold hours of effort by advocates for historic preservation over the last fifty years.

Historic preservation, or the field of study pertaining to the conservation, interpretation, and reuse of the historic built environment, has its roots in the United States with efforts to preserve sites of national significance in the early 1850s, like Mount Vernon. (3) But these early preservation efforts concentrated almost entirely on landmark properties with national significance, leaving humbler construction, like the majority of Winchester’s buildings, without a strong advocate for retention. There were, after all, so many other old buildings . . . and if a parking lot would work just as well in that location, what was the harm in a little demolition? This need for modernization reached a fever pitch in Winchester around the 1950s. Instead of adapting still useful older buildings to new uses, demolition to provide access and parking for cars was seen as de rigueur.

The hardest-hit street in Winchester is almost undoubtedly North Cameron Street. In the late 1940s through the 1970s, this area was seen as ripe for demolition to add parking lots and drive-through lanes to service the growing population of automobiles descending upon the commercial downtown. An astonishing and horrifying number of architecturally and historically significant properties were carelessly leveled to make way for parking lots or other “car friendly” drive-through services, including:
107-111 North Cameron St., Empire (later Capitol) Theatre (4)
115 North Cameron St., Miss Portia Baker House (5)
118 North Cameron St., Holliday/Robinson House
119 North Cameron St., Baker/Snider House (6)
120 North Cameron St.
121 North Cameron St., Bantz Residence
126 North Cameron St., Barton Residence/Lutheran Parsonage (7)
130 North Cameron St., Harry Miller Residence
133 North Cameron St., Scott Affleck House (8)
200 North Cameron St., The Colonial/Baker-Jolliffe House (9)
218 North Cameron St., Winchester Seed Company
225 North Cameron St., Hart Hotel/Graichen Glove Factory (10)
12 North Cameron St., Conrad House (11)

See some of these, as well as other demolished buildings of Winchester, at our Picasa album:

Vanished Winchester

The Conrad House was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Next week, we will learn more about this house and why its proposed destruction sparked the formation of Preservation of Historic Winchester.