Courtland considering historic district designation

Published 11:33 am Friday, September 15, 2017

Courtland residents interested in having the town be designated a national historic district learned details of the process on Tuesday afternoon in the supervisors’ boardroom. Presenting the information was Elizabeth H. Lipford of the Department of Historic Resources from Richmond.

Early on, she informed them that the town is eligible — though apparently no one’s looked at the issue for 17 years — and that a recommendation could be made as early as next week.

A National Register Historic District is defined as a collection of buildings that share a similar period of development and architectural character, said Lipford, an architectural historian for the Eastern Regional Preservation Office. Boundaries can be physical in nature, such as a river, hills, lakes or valleys, or made by people, such as roads and highways; political borders can also be considered.

For a property to be placed on the list, must meet at least one of the four following criteria:

First, it must have a history and have made contributions to broad patterns of history. Second, significant persons must be associated with the place. Third, historic architecture and design — including landscaping — are included; and fourth, if archaeological sites are present, research could be done to see what can be learned. She added that a lot of sites on the register are based on the last point.

The town comes under the first and third qualifications, and Lipford noted there are 250 buildings within a qualifying area. One of, if not the most notable places is the courthouse, dating to 1752. She noted that Southampton is one of the few counties in which the courthouse has always been in the same place.

“For state and national levels, it’s an honorary designation,” said Lipford. “Changing out windows is OK, for example. We don’t get involved, but we’ll make recommendations about sensitive preservation treatment.

She noted that there is a state review board and board of Historic Resources, the latter of which appointed by the governor. They have the authority to put things and places on the state register.

The same criteria and forms apply for both national and state designations. To be on the former, though, doesn’t not automatically include the latter.

To inventory places and determine what qualifies can be a big project, said Lipford. Such a survey can be expensive if a consultant is used.

“Probably to do a whole inventory can cost $40,000 to $50,000,” she said, adding that it doesn’t have to be done in one fell swoop. For example, a small district can be outlined one year, and a nomination report made the next, and so on. Once a place is listed, it stays listed.

There’s no state funds available, but there is a tax-incentive program that can be sought.

The National Parks Service sometimes has grants, she added.

“We hope that you will consider going forth with the designation. We would love to work with the town toward that end. If not, you still have an eligible district and that’s important, too,” Lipford said. “Courtland is pretty high in richness of history.”