RICHMOND – The Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR) announces that Governor Ralph Northam has issued a proclamation declaring May Historic Preservation Month.
The Governor’s proclamation highlights the pioneering “grassroots” role that women played in historic preservation, beginning at George Washington’s Mount Vernon and continuing statewide with Jamestown during the 1800s. The proclamation’s focus on women coincides with the 100th anniversary this year of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, and, presumably, boosted additional support for public policies supporting preservation.
The proclamation cites a legacy of historic preservation in Virginia, with the first national preservation organization, the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, forming in the 1850s. In 1889, the Association to Preserve Virginia Antiquities (today’s Preservation Virginia) became one of the earliest private statewide preservation organizations in the nation. In the 1920s, Virginia also saw the earliest state historical highway marker program in the U.S. as well.
The Governor’s proclamation states that “the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened our awareness of how essential our historic legacy is to our economy and our communities, and that rehabilitation of historic buildings will leverage private investment in our communities by helping put Virginians back to work,” as the state re-emerges from the pandemic.
Virginia’s historic legacy has driven heritage tourism in the Commonwealth.
For instance, a 2017 study by Virginia Commonwealth University found that heritage tourists in Virginia spend more than $7.7 billion annually. Moreover, that yearly spending, plus more than $430 million spent by heritage tourism sites for operational expenditures, rippled throughout the state’s economy, giving an additional boost of $6.5 billion to the economy and generating $1.3 billion in taxes, according to VCU’s analysis.
Additionally, Virginia’s state historic rehabilitation tax credit (RTC) program, managed by DHR, also contributes significantly to the Commonwealth’s economy.
A 2018 study, also conducted by VCU, revealed that between 1997, the year the program began, and 2017, the $1.2 billion in tax credits the program issued to proponents of RTC projects stimulated $4.5 billion in private investment. Although the $1.2 billion in tax credits represents revenue not immediately realized by the Commonwealth, much of the $4.5 billion of private investment may not have otherwise occurred, according to that study.
“Virginia consistently ranks annually among the top tier of states for the number of individual sites and historic districts listed on National Register of Historic Places,” said DHR Director Julie V. Langan, “Virginia’s homeowners, businesses, and communities connect with their history and know the tangible and intangible benefits it brings to their lives. DHR’s programs will help Virginians rebound economically through continued investment in our historic resources,” she added.