Natural, Historic & Cultural Resources

Historic Resources

Virginia has some of the richest and most diverse historic resources in the nation, ranging from 16,000 year-old Native American sites to buildings associated with the exploration of space.

Why is This Important?

Historic resources are vital assets that support economic development, community revitalization, education and civic pride. In the last decade certified rehabilitation projects reinvested over $1 billion in over 1000 historic buildings to revitalize Virginia's cities and towns. Reusing historic infrastructure reduces traffic congestion and costs for local governments. Families and corporations alike are drawn to the beauty and quality of life found in communities rich in history and architectural character. Historic attractions are the principal reason that visitors come to Virginia -- visitors who stay longer and spend more, contributing to Virginia's $16 billion tourism industry. Historic sites teach young people the lessons of history and geography and connect them to both past and future.

How is Virginia Doing?

Historic Districts and Listings, 2005. See text for explanation.

Virginia leads the nation not only in the richness of historic assets, but also in putting these assets to work for the communities. Virginia ranks first in the nation for registering historic districts and is second nationally in listing historic properties overall. In 2005, Virginia's total number of historic districts (28) was more than four times the national average (6.3) and exceeded North Carolina (16), Maryland (12) and Tennessee (6). Virginia's listings of historic resources (79) for 2005 are more than double the national average (29.59). New York has the most listings at 159. North Carolina has 72, Maryland has 26 and Tennessee has 25.

In addition to its consistently high national ranking in listing historic properties on the National Register of Historic Places, Virginia excels in completing projects that rehabilitate historic buildings to meet 21st century needs, and for placing historic resources under protective easements, ranking second in the nation for these measures as well. The number of projects reinvesting in historic infrastructure has more than tripled over the past decade. The number of property owners and local communities seeking to register historic properties and districts has more than doubled. The number of historic properties protected through preservation easements has increased by roughly 60 percent.

What Influences Historic Resources?

Citizens care about the landmarks that define and anchor their communities. It is their appreciation and understanding of how to make the most of these resources that have the greatest influence over whether Virginia's historic resources are preserved and used or lost forever.

The pressures on historic resources continue to grow with the increase of suburban development. Rapid development into rural areas threatens historic battlefields, cemeteries, archaeological sites, and agricultural buildings and landscapes.

A growing number of localities use comprehensive plans, local historic district zoning and property tax abatements to shape development of historic areas. State and federal rehabilitation tax credits encourage sensitive reuse of buildings in the urban core, while conservation tax credits encourage long-term protection. Historic resources are also influenced by the actions of federal agencies that own property in Virginia, or that fund, license or permit actions that can affect historic resources -- actions that are covered by federal historic preservation law.

What is the State's Role?

Virginia's approach to historic preservation has traditionally been one of partnership between the public and private sector. By far the largest number of historic resources are owned and controlled by private individuals, families, corporations or non-profit organizations. The state's role in this partnership is two-fold: to provide information, education, guidance and incentives to encourage and support private sector stewardship, and to provide leadership by example in the care of historic properties owned by agencies of the Commonwealth.

Data Definitions and Sources

For more information on Virginia's historic resources and the state and federal programs administered by the Department of Historic Resources, including historic properties listed as Virginia Historic Landmarks, preservation tools and incentives available to local governments, private property owners and organizations, information on Virginia preservation laws and related programs, historical highway markers, educational materials and links to other historic preservation websites go to the DHR website at

Information on the National Register of Historic Places can be found at


Major State Programs

The Virginia Department of Historic Resources administers several major programs aimed at helping Virginia's citizens, communities, and public agencies put history to work for the benefit of future generations. Many of these programs operate under both state and federal mandates under the National Historic Preservation Act and are designed to provide information, advice, and encouragement for public and private stewardship efforts.

Through its Survey and Planning Cost Share Program the Department partners with local governments to conduct surveys to identify potential historic properties, provide background for local comprehensive planning, assess the potential for archaeological sites, and develop the documentation necessary to list key properties and historic districts as Virginia historic landmarks. survey/Survey1.htm

The Virginia Landmarks Register (and the comparable National Register of Historic Places) provides criteria and a process to evaluate buildings, sites, objects, structures, and districts, resulting in a list of those properties that are officially recognized by the Virginia Board of Historic Resources as among Virginia's principal historic, architectural, archaeological, and cultural resources. Listing on the Virginia Landmarks Register or the comparable National Register of Historic Places imposes no restrictions on private property owners, but rather encourages owners and communities to take pride in and take care of these irreplaceable resources. Registration is a pre-requisite for properties to qualify for rehabilitation tax credits, historic preservation easement donation, and certain state and federal grant programs. registers/register.htm

The Historic Preservation Easement Program establishes a permanent partnership between the Department and willing owners who donate a perpetual interest in the historic character of their buildings and/or land to the Commonwealth. Restrictions vary depending on the nature of the historic property for which the easement is donated and usually require approval from the Department and the Board of Historic Resources for any activity that might change the historic character of the property. easement/easement.htm Conservation easements held by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (many of them jointly held with the Department of Historic Resources) may also protect historic buildings, landscapes, and archaeological sites. Funds for land and easement acquisition for conservation and preservation purposes are also available through the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation.

Both state and federal tax credits are available for major rehabilitation projects that meet specific professional standards, thus protecting the historic character of registered landmarks while updating a property to meet the needs of 21st century businesses and families. The Department of Historic Resources works closely with property owners and developers involved in major rehabilitation projects to help ensure that those projects meet the Secretary of the Interior's standards and thus helping the project sponsors to qualify for tax credits. tax_credit.htm

The Certified Local Government program administered by the Department of Historic Resources encourages and rewards localities whose local historic preservation ordinances and programs meet statewide and national standards. Virginia currently has 29 local governments certified to receive grants and other benefits. clg/clg.htm

The Virginia Main Street Program administered by the Department of Housing and Community Development provides a combination of technical assistance and funding to promote commercial redevelopment of downtowns in small communities across Virginia.