NPS Historian Mourns Destruction of Bloomsbury
Since John Cummings, writer of Spotsylvania Civil War Blog, noted the destruction of the historically significant Harris Farm House in his December 20 post, many people have asked how this could have happened. The circa-1740 Spotsylvania County farmstead is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“I thought places on the historical register were protected,” wrote Sharolyn on Facebook.
“Despite an almost universal perception to the otherwise, being listed on the National Register or as a Virginia Landmark conveys protection to a property only when federal dollars or a federal permit are involved,” said John Hennessy, chief historian of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. “If you own a property eligible for or listed on the national register, you can tear it down, so long as the property isn’t governed by a local historic preservation ordinance or so long as you don’t use federal dollars or federal permit. Even then, you may be able to do it, but you will have to go through a review process in order to do so.”
The 2.48-acre property at 6705 Pond View Lane sold for $125,000 on December 1, 2014, according to the listing on Zillow. “I have no details beyond the fact that last week the historically significant Harris Farm House was torn down. …the house is gone, along with the adjacent dairy farm buildings on the two acres that had survived after the rest of the property was subdivided years ago,” Cummings wrote in his blog.
Former owner Agnes McGee at one time wanted the National Park Service to have the property, Hennessy said. “But it was never included in our authorized boundary, so we could not do it.”
Almost all protection conveyed to historic properties is in one of two forms, Hennessy said.
1 – Through a local historic preservation ordinance. “Spotsylvania has created a number of historic overlay districts governed by the ordinance, but Bloomsbury was not one of them,” Hennessy said.
2 – By means of a conservation easement granted to a third party or a deed restriction recorded with the deed. “As I said, I don’t believe this was ever executed as it relates to the house.”
“People vastly overestimate the effect of a National Register listing on a property, presuming a level of protection that simply is not the case,” Hennessy said. “The loss of a place like Bloomsbury is a loss of part of the timeless fabric of the community that binds us now and binds us across generations.”
Historically Significant Bloomsbury Farm Destroyed