Preservation Bath makes awards

Earlier this month, on Sunday the 8th, Preservation Bath presented its annual Preservation Awards for 2017. A long established local lodging and dining business was the recipient of the Legacy Award—the Inn at Gristmill Square. Rick Armstrong, Executive Director of the Bath County Historical Society, and author of ten books on the Civil War in Bath County received the Preservation Activist Award.

A third award, the Heritage Award, was presented to The Wilderness.

This historic Bath County property, known as The Wilderness since the 1700s, was purchased by Robert and Roberta Koontz in 2002.  The property includes approximately 1000 acres, a large 1816 Georgian brick dwelling and carriage house, one circa 1900 dwelling, an 1890s sheep barn and two circa 1950 barns.

The 1000 acres are protected by two Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) easements that were obtained to help preserve and protect the historic property.   In addition to the VOF restrictions, the Koontz added numerous other restrictions related to acreage of subdivided parcels, size and number of dwellings & outbuildings, protection of the historic structure, commercial & agricultural activities and more.  These restrictions were designed to help preserve and protect the property, which has been in continuous cultivation since the early 1700s.

The Wilderness was designated as a Virginia Historic Landmark in June and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in August.  These important registrations should help protect and preserve the historic property for future generations to understand and enjoy. Over the past fifteen years, Mr. and Mrs. Koontz went to extraordinary efforts to restore the property.  The home and structures had been neglected for many years.  The goal was to restore the dwelling and structures to modern standards, while preserving their character.  The Koontz’ architectural historian noted that, if the original owners of The Wilderness were to stand in front of the home today, they would immediately recognize the structure as their own.

No effort was spared in researching the history of the property, restoring physical structures and improving the natural resources of the property.  The Koontz repaired and upgraded the karst spring, which has provided water for 200+ years. They also dedicated 100 acres across the farm for a wildlife habitat, planting trees and bushes as well as warm season grasses.  Thousands of trees and bushes were planted with a focus on native plants, protection of wildlife and food for wildlife.  Each year, they plant several acres with food such as clover, turnips and corn to support the wildlife. The Koontz’ actions to preserve this unique property are commendable and deserving of Preservation Bath’s 2017 Heritage Award.

Preservation Bath made another statement recently when local official chose to close the Warm Springs Pools owned by the Omni Homestead. A spokesperson said: “We think that the County did the right thing.  The Bath Houses are unsafe—and have been for many years.  The question is what happens next and the answer is in the hands of the folks at Omni’s headquarters in Dallas.” For more information on the rest of the Preservation Bath 2017 award winners, visit .


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.

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