Project Updates

Rockbridge County Awarded Department of Historic Resources Grant


The Virginia Department of Historic Resources recently awarded a Cost Share Survey and Planning Grant to Rockbridge County to fund an inventory and assessment of the historic, cultural, architectural and archaeological resources at Natural Bridge.  While the entire 1,600 acre property will be considered in the study, the main emphasis will be on the tourist resort complex which developed and evolved to support visitation to the National Historic Landmark Natural Bridge.

natural bridge complex

The reconnaissance survey and background research will provide support for determination of the Natural Bridge property’s eligibility as an historic district, either in part or whole, for National Register of Historic Places and Virginia Landmarks Register designation.  Achieving the designation would not only identify and protect the sites for future generations, and enhance interpretation of the complex for future visitors to –what will become — the Natural Bridge State Park but also allow historic rehabilitative tax credits to be earned for the current renovations.

An inquiry directed to Kurt Russ, Executive Director of the Mountain Valley Preservation Alliance, by local municipal leaders including Spencer Suter, Rockbridge County Administrator, regarding the Virginia Department of Historic Resources announcement of the availability of cost share funding for survey and planning resulted in Russ suggesting the idea of a study of the Natural Bridge Property.  With enthusiastic response from Suter, the Mountain Valley Preservation Alliance, Inc. (MVPA) approached Tom Clarke, CEO of Kissito and Natural Bridge Park and Historic Hotel (NBPHH), and Jeff Waldon, Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund (VCLF) Executive Director about the idea of pursuing a Cost Share Survey and Planning grant from DHR in cooperation with the Rockbridge County.  As a result, MVPA in collaboration with VCLF formed a consortium to undertake a historic and cultural resource inventory that will benefit the VCLF and the NBPHH by facilitating future preservation planning decisions.  Consortium members, in addition to these organizations, include Natural Bridge Park and Historic Hotel, Rockbridge County, and Friends of Natural Bridge (FNB).  A proposal and application for funding was drafted by Kurt Russ (MVPA & FNB), Arthur Bartenstein (ABL Landscape Architecture & FNB) and Alakanandra Mohanty (Kissito/NBPHH), signed by Suter and Waldon, and subsequently submitted to DHR.

Spencer Suter, Rockbridge County administrator, commented that “Rockbridge County is excited to be a partner in the Natural Bridge historic resources inventory project. We are eager to join the Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund (VCLF) and the Mountain Valley Preservation Alliance (MVPA) in ensuring that historic resources on the Natural Bridge property will be properly catalogued for the enjoyment of future generations.”

Jeff Waldon, Executive Director of the Conservation Legacy Fund, described the work as “critically important to move us forward and expand the depth and breadth of our understanding of the site.  This work will not only help with the historic district designation, but will also support our history interpretation program for visitors here at Natural Bridge.”

Applauding the role of Kurt Russ, Executive Director of the Mountain Valley Preservation Alliance, in conceiving the idea of bringing these groups together to apply for a grant from the Department of Historic Resources to survey the previously undocumented historic and cultural resources within the Natural Bridge property, Peggy Crosson (MVPA President) commented that “the Board of Directors of Mountain Valley Preservation Alliance, Inc. is honored to be part of this historic occasion to preserve and protect a most precious Virginia attraction and natural asset – the beautiful and historic Natural Bridge Park & Historic Hotel and its associated resources.”

In thanking all of the groups and individuals who came together and worked tirelessly to make this grant a reality for Rockbridge County and Natural Bridge, Kurt Russ commented that “the data collected from this survey and resource inventory will not only be used for a historic district National Register nomination, but will be a critical first step in creating a management and preservation plan for this historic tourist resort complex.”  He added that “with over 250 years of history as a renowned landmark and tourist destination, the proper documentation of the Natural Bridge resort components will serve as a basis for future study and exploration of the complex’s evolution from Thomas Jefferson’s ownership to the present.  This effort will help highlight the importance of these significant and complex arrays of resources, both archaeological and architectural, that supported and sustained Natural Bridge – arguably the longest-lived, most important tourist resort complex in the nation!”

Matching funds in support of the project were contributed by the Mountain Valley Preservation Alliance ($1,000.00) allocated by a donation received from and with enthusiastic endorsement from the Bank of Botetourt, their leading corporate sponsor in 2014, and by the Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund ($2,750.00).  Although most of the annual survey and planning grants awarded by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources are based on a 50% match, because of the importance of this project the state accepted the proposal to provide 75% (or $11,250.00) of the $15,000.00 projected project costs.

In response to a request for proposals to complete the work, the DHR has recently received several proposals from consulting firms which are currently being evaluated.  Upon selection of the consultant the work will commence and be completed prior to the end of 2015. For more information on this project contact Kurt C. Russ (540-958-8534) who is working with the Department of Historic Resources, Natural Bridge, and the Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund as the county’s representative.

Read more in a Roanoke Times article about the grant award.