Nearly every time I log onto Facebook, I see pictures of old, decaying Virginia buildings on my newsfeed, accompanied by comments from state residents, old and young, yearning for someone to take these buildings and refurbish them.
Facebook groups such as Virginia’s Abandoned and Forgotten, Abandoned in Virginia and Exploring Virginia, focus on deserted properties, but what about the houses that are no longer forgotten? What about the renovated buildings? The ones we thought would never see a fresh coat of paint again?
For most of my life, I didn’t need a Facebook group to show me pictures of decaying buildings, I passed them every day on my way to school. A few may not have been all that old, just ownerless, with no hope in sight for a caretaker.
I remember thinking, “They may as well tear it down. Who’s going to buy it?”
Recently, however, a few of these houses have bounced back. It may have taken years for owners to appear, but several have been transformed from paint-chipped huts surrounded by overgrown shrubs to classic American homes with precise landscaping.
I, for one, am grateful and I think the town should be, too.
Take 1139 North Main Street as an example. I don’t know the current owners, and I can’t recall how long it sat on the market, but I pass it every day on my way to work. It was always a pretty house, but it needed help. The bushes were so big, I couldn’t see around them from the stop sign on the corner of Hodges and North Main, the lawn needed serious tending and the house itself, well, there was work to be done.
Today, it’s practically unrecognizable from the way it used to be, and it’s a joy to drive by every day. Not only that, but it’s a piece of South Boston history that, thanks to the new owners, continues to stand.
According to the South Boston Historic District Walking Tour, 1139 North Main Street is over 100 years old. It was built in 1887 for an employee by W. I. Jordan who, with his brother, R.E. Jordan, founded the first bank in South Boston. (W.I. Jordan lived in a larger house next door where the old South Boston clinic now stands.)
Personally, I find restored homes more enjoyable to live around, and I’m not the only one. According to Julia Rocchi’s article “Six Practical Reasons to Save Old Buildings,” old buildings attract people.
“Regardless of how they actually spend their lives, Americans prefer to picture themselves living around old buildings,” Rocchi says.
Old buildings also serve as reminders of a town’s culture and complexity.
To illustrate this, I turned to my sister, Emarie Skelton, who works for an architect firm deeply committed to “green” or sustainable architecture. This means conserving resources found in already existing structures, i.e. restoring old buildings. She explained why preserving existing houses is important to a community.
“Buildings tend to outlive people,” she said, “and shared memories in the same place can connect communities and generations in a unique way. Think about how much Halifax County identifies with Berry Hill. Everyone has memories from there and is a little bit proud that something that nice exists in ‘our town,’ even though it’s not in town at all!”
The takeaway? When our neighbors invest in their homes and lawns, they’re attracting future residents and preserving county culture. I sincerely wish the town of South Boston would reward these homeowners for their efforts in some way.
For now, I’d like to extend a thank you to my neighbors for taking the lonely houses I passed on my way to school and making them beautiful again.