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

Wernwag Street, 2000. NPS Photo

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existing conditions
The 13 acres that make up Virginius Island are marked by a dense overhead canopy of deciduous trees, patterns of current and former use created by paths, roads, and the still active rail line, wayside exhibits, and distinctive stone and brick ruins. Visitors access the island from three entrances: the footbridge at the end of Hamilton Street in Lower Town; the Shenandoah Street bridge that crosses over the old Shenandoah Canal channel; and at the pulp mill ruins a short distance upstream from the canal crossing. Once on the island, visitors are encouraged to follow the path system, based primarily on historic circulation, that links the various structural ruins.

The many floods that have washed over the island have affected the once open landscape in different ways. While the architecture and the design of the large industrial structures remain discernible, the impact of periodic flooding on these impressive landscape features is starkly evident. Less obvious is the role flooding played in gradual revegetation. Many of the trees species now covering the island were established as a result of flood waters depositing silt filled with seeds and woody plant material. However, the ephemeral, or transitory, nature of nineteenth-century life on an island subject to flooding lies mostly in the piles of brick and stone rubble that partially outline the former sites of workers' houses and the homes of wealthy residents. Today these collections of structural artifacts mark what remains of the streetscape that lined historic Wernwag Street. More recently, Wernwag Street has served as an access road and staging area for vehicles and stockpiles of building materials.

After the 1996 floods, Virginius Island was closed to the public because of concerns about safety and accessibility. Park managers reopened the island in the summer of 2000, keeping a limited portion of the shoreline trail closed due to the still ongoing ruins stabilization work. Many of the interpretive markers that related the history of the island's features were torn loose from their footings and lost in the floods. A few markers remain on the higher ground where the floodwaters were not as destructive. Piles of flood debris have also been deposited in selected locations.

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