It may only encompass a portion of Abingdon (itself just a little more than eight square miles), but the Abingdon Historic District is nevertheless a valuable cultural and economic asset that residents treasure dearly.
The Historic District, listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places, boasts century-old brick sidewalks, a canopy of 200-year-old trees, reproduced “Abingdon Model” streetlamps that camouflage the Town's free Wi-Fi network infrastructure, and buildings which date back two centuries.
Protecting the historical aspect of the structures was so important to Abingdon that, in 1971, the town became the third in the Commonwealth of Virginia to enact an ordinance protecting historic structures that requires all changes be first approved by the town-appointed Board of Architectural Review. As a result of this focus on preserving the architectural integrity of the area, residences within the area can boast values that are higher than those in the surrounding areas, and often set the bar for the sale prices of other, more modern Abingdon homes.
What draws people to the district “is the historic ambiance, coupled by a strong arts culture and support of Appalachian crafts," says Garrett Jackson, Abingdon’s assistant town manager and director of planning. "In recent years, we’ve seen an influx of professionals 45-years-old and younger, who welcome the opportunity to raise their family in a safe, small-town environment, while enjoying the convenience of easy access to Abingdon’s amenities and services.”
In 1995, longtime Abingdon residents Betsy White and her husband Ramsey purchased a 1923 classic colonial revival home in the historic district. The couple has found the area “a practically perfect place to live,” Betsy says. “Its tree-lined sidewalks and alleys are wonderful walking places, and because it’s protected, the timeless beauty that is its main attraction is guaranteed. We enjoy living in a beautiful place without worrying what might be built or altered around our property.”
While private homes comprise the majority of the structures, the area also includes other commercial, religious and governmental historic locations, such as The Tavern, Retirement, St. Thomas Church, and Washington County Courthouse.
The Tavern has the distinction of being the oldest structure still being used for its original purpose on its original site. Opened in 1779 as a public house, it remains a restaurant today.
Retirement gained its name when the home’s original owner, Captain Robert Craig, built it in 1808 upon his “retirement” from active duty. The second oldest brick structure in Abingdon, it’s located on the only remaining undeveloped remnant of the original 1780 Revolutionary War muster grounds. The home is undergoing renovation to serve as a Civil War museum, with plans to open in 2014.
While the current St. Thomas Church was built in 1929, it has its roots in an earlier wooden structure, built in 1846, which burned in the mid-1920s. Designed after a 14th-century monastery, the church’s notable architectural features include unique woodwork, impressive acoustics and beautiful stained-glass windows.
The 9,000-square-foot Washington County Courthouse dates back to 1869 and was the first courthouse reconstructed in the Commonwealth during The Reconstruction after the Civil War, replacing the original courthouse, which was burned by the Union Army in 1864. Two-and-a-half stories tall including its cupola, the front of the Courthouse features four Greek Doric columns, with a Tiffany stained-glass window above the front entry, honoring those who had served in World War I.
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