“Lost Communities of Virginia” Get the Spotlight

Books & Literature  •  History

The 2011 book Lost Communities of Virginia was recently honored with Preservation Virginia’s 2012 Outstanding Historic Preservation Research Effort Award. The award is given annually to an individual or entity that has contributed to the cause of historic preservation or archaeology within Virginia, through research and/or education.

In 2002, VFH awarded a grant to the Community Design Assistance Center (CDAC) at Virginia Tech for a research project aimed at discovering “lost communities” of Virginia, culminating in the book of the same title. Spearheaded by Terri Fisher and Kirsten Sparenborg, the project defined “lost communities” as ones that had once been thriving centers, but had lost their original industry, mode of transportation, or way of life. By photographing the physical remnants of these towns and interviewing their residents, Fisher and Sparenborg bring these communities back to our attention.

Both authors attended VFH’s 2012 Virginia Festival of the Book and shared stories about these “forgotten” communities and how their book project developed.

Prior to Fisher and Sparenborg’s work, these communities and their stories may have been known only to their few residents. For example, before it gained attention as the epicenter of the August 2011 earthquake, had you ever heard of Mineral, Virginia?

Mineral, in Louisa County, sprang up around the Virginia “gold rush” of the early 19th century, only to stagnate with the financial panic of 1893 and the departure of the mining industry. Today, it has fewer than 500 residents.

What about Sweet Chalybeate Springs?

Once a bustling destination for those seeking the apparent healing power of the springs, this resort served the Southern elite until after the Civil War, when the lack of a nearby railroad connection dried out its flow of visitors. Though Sweet Chalybeate no longer ranks high on a list of Virginia tourist destinations, some of the original buildings still stand, and the springs are still open for use.

Finding stories like these across the commonwealth, Fisher and Sparenborg map out forgotten times and places, but also point us toward ways of revitalizing these communities and ensuring that our own communities do not become “lost”.