currents National Park Service
Virginius Island
Historic Overview
Existing Conditions
Assessment & Analysis
Preservation Philosophy
Implementation & Management
Outreach & Education

Portion of "Existing Conditions" Map, 1992


assessment & analysis
A team consisting of landscape architects (with experience in historic preservation) and a landscape historian conducted the assessment and analysis needed to complete the cultural landscape report for Virginius Island. The initial phase focused on investigation into the historical record as well as documentation of existing conditions. Primary and secondary sources were consulted, including selected reports and data from Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (NHP) files. The Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) had conducted the most recent study (1988), documenting the historic waterpower system with measured drawings and a narrative report. Although useful for understanding industrial history, most of these reports did not address the overall landscape history, the physical changes over time, or the incremental development on the island. To identify the physical and functional character of the landscape from the eighteenth into the twentieth century, the project team subsequently examined historic photographs, earlier newspaper accounts, maps, manuscripts and artist's renderings. Primary source materials from the National Archives, the Jefferson County Courthouse, and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum also proved particularly useful in determining the type of physical change taking place on Virginius Island during this time.


Existing Conditions Map (1992)

Historic Base Maps (1890-1944)

In addition, all Harpers Ferry NHP planning documents and archeological reports were reviewed. The archeological reports and a topographic map produced by the park's archeology staff were used to identify historic landscape features while documenting existing landscape conditions. For example, vegetation patterns, sign locations, and trail alignments were added to the topographic map. The one to one hundred-foot scale site map developed during this phase was used as the primary scale base map throughout the project.

Based on a comparison of the research findings with information gathered from the existing conditions site survey, a narrative landscape history was prepared and historic base maps were drawn to depict the island through five periods of development. Beginning with the time of early settlement (1750-1820), the first period was one of relatively undocumented history. This era was followed by a period of rapid change (1820-1855), when waterways, canals, and a railroad, the construction of several mills and workshops, and the establishment of a small residential neighborhood reshaped the island. In the next period (1855-1890), the properties on the island were united under single ownership that was disrupted by the havoc of military occupation during the Civil War and the disaster of subsequent floods. A different kind of physical change occurred during the fourth period (1890-1944), when the remaining properties were consolidated for a single industrial purpose under the ownership of a distant corporation. The abandonment of the island, the gradual development of a forested habitat, and the installation of a National Park Service interpretive program marked the more recent years (1944-1992).

Concurrent with the first phase of this study, project historians prepared a social history of Virginius Island to provide the necessary historic context. In addition, a team of archeologists excavated areas associated with the rear yards of worker's residences and two mill sites. These simultaneous investigations not only provided additional information and expanded the scope of research for the individual projects, but also enhanced the interdisciplinary nature of this effort, and inspired camaraderie among all the professionals involved.

The analysis phase of the cultural landscape report involved documenting in both narrative and graphic form, character-defining landscape features in spatial and visual relationships and tracing their development over time. Among these features were circulation, remnants of structures and constructed water features, and vegetation. As a result of this research, the period of significance for Virginius Island was determined to be from 1750 to 1890 based on the extant resources and significance.

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