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

Shenandoah Canal channel, 2001. NPS Photo


Virginius Island presents a preservation treatment approach. This philosophy adheres to the park's primary mission and follows the Secretary of Interior's Standards for Preservation. While the standards outline a full range of options from stabilization to reconstruction, the decisions made for Virginius Island reflect the importance of and sensitivity to the unique stone and brick ruins that characterize its landscape.

The approach of "reading the landscape" relied on the expertise of an interdisciplinary cadre of professionals. Among them were a cultural resource team of historians, archeologists, historical architects and landscape architects, who documented and analyzed the history of the island and its features. From the Harpers Ferry NHP maintenance staff and the Historic Preservation Training Center (HPTC), craftsmen (masons, carpenters, groundskeepers, and a horticulturist) contributed their knowledge and skills to preserve and maintain the trails, vegetation and structures. Interpretative rangers also devised programs to inform the public about the rediscovered history. Additionally, the park natural resource staff developed strategies to protect the native plants and animals so often impacted by the variable level of the Shenandoah River on the island.

Given the long history of the tenuous position of Virginius Island's location in the Shenandoah River, park managers decided to preserve its sensitive resources by accounting for and incorporating the constant threat of flooding and potential loss in its plan for the repair of the island. As a result, the new work used materials and methods that can easily be adapted or replaced if damaged by another 100-year flood.

Missing from the post flood decision-making, however, was the renewal of the connection between the industrial history and the more transitory history of the island community that had been uncovered and vividly described by professionals working between 1991 and 1994. Although the cultural landscape report outlines many ways to reinforce this connection, the park has placed little emphasis on continuing to convey this information to the public. The subtle undulations of buried house foundations and low mounds of rubble cannot evoke the vibrancy of life on the island without the support of interpretation with vintage photographs, oral history, and physical artifacts. When these interpretive tools are used together to read the landscape and all its features, then the history of Virginius Island comes alive once again.

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