Preservation Bath broadens its focus (pt.2 in a pair of stories)

Preservation Bath has worked tirelessly towards restoration on the bathhouses at the pools in Warm Springs. Now, because the Omni Homestead (two years in, to being the “new” owners) is supposedly moving forward with plans to do that, Preservation Bath is using their time and talents in other areas too. While the Jefferson Pools remain their top priority, the group also focused on Gibson Cottage, some small, unused churches, and on developing new initiatives.
Phil Deemer, Lee Elliot and Janice McWilliams described what could come next. First, they needed guidance in procedures and methods to preserve historic structures that have been tried and true across the whole country.
How much did you know about resources that are there to help preservation groups?
“Virtually nothing when we started out, “said Phil Deemer, ” We made a trip to Richmond, and with contacts at the Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects, we were introduced to the people at Preservation Virginia, and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, and ultimately the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Collectively they have guided us along the way since then, and continue to provide us with incredibly important support.“
Not all old buildings have to be historically significant to be worth saving. Some are important to a small part of the community, or even just a few families. And some can be given a whole new life with a different purpose. Preservation Bath is learning more in order to share more with owners of these old buildings.
Lee Elliot encourages owners to make sure roofs are intact, and that vegetation is kept cut back away from woodwork and foundations.
“It’s sad to see a church not used for its original religious purpose that it was designed for, but it’s better than loosing the building entirely, and even if they’re not being used, I think sometimes there’s a hope of sometimes utilizing it in some way in the future, so just keeping them from deteriorating further is something to be considered. “
Some have become hunt camps, and others are simply storage sheds, but Preservation Bath would like to create an inventory of unused churches in the county. Janice McWilliams knows of quite a few, and would welcome more information from anyone willing to share it.
“There are forty-eight active churches in the county. Some are actually closed and boarded up, and some are just used on special occasions, but forty-eight are active, which is a lot of churches for a small county, and the ones that we have identified are still privately owned either by the church group or by individuals on their property, and some churches have been torn down. The cemeteries remain, and they’re cared for by individual families some of them. Some have just been abandoned.”
So while keeping a roof in good repair, and cutting back trees before they grow through a porch are a couple aids to preservation, another is to give an historic site such high visibility that it can no longer be ignored. The Jefferson Pools have already been listed on the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, a list compiled by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Little Gibson Cottage, owned by Natural Retreats, could keep these last few structures of the historic and disappearing resort in the limelight. Phil Deemer explained.
“Each year there are 11 new sites added to the list, so we said, if some one wanted to submit a nomination, we’d like to chose a nomination to support, and Ruth Seldom Sturgill of Warm Springs who lives here in Warm Springs wrote a very detailed nomination for the Gibson Cottage, and we were happy to support that. They haven’t made the announcement yet for the Eleven Most for this year, but we know it’s certainly getting serious consideration.”
That announcement is expected on June 7th.

Story By

Bonnie Ralston

Bonnie Ralston is the Assistant Station Coordinator at WVLS and a Highland County news reporter. She began volunteering at Allegheny Mountain Radio in the fall of 2005. In 2006 she became an AMR employee and worked in Bath County for eight years as the WCHG Station Coordinator and then as the news reporter there. She began working in radio while in college and has stayed connected to radio, in one way or another, for more than thirty years. She grew up in Staunton, Virginia, while spending a lot of time on her family’s farm in Deerfield, Virginia. She enjoys spending time outside, watching old TV shows and movies and tending to her chickens.

Current Weather