HistoriCorps, a nationally recognized historic preservation organization based in Colorado, starts work this summer on a new project of local significance. Historic Summerseat, located...

HistoriCorps, a nationally recognized historic preservation organization based in Colorado, starts work this summer on a new project of local significance. Historic Summerseat, located in the Village of Ettrick and owned by Virginia State University (VSU), will undergo exterior preservation using a cadre of volunteers and students over a six-week period. This field school will serve as a demonstration project for HistoriCorps and creates the opportunity for the organization to establish a local preservation program to serve other historic structures in the region. HistoriCorps’s work in the Tri-Cities area is being funded through a $130,797 grant from The Cameron Foundation.

According to local tradition, Summerseat gained its name from its role in the nineteenth century as the seat of the local county magistrate during the summer. The building’s “raised cottage” house form is architecturally significant, as few others of its type still exist in Virginia.

Summerseat, is believed to have been built, ca. 1860, by Linneaus H. James, a carpenter and local land owner in the Village of Ettrick.
“This region offers a rich selection of historic buildings that helps to tell the stories of the community, and we are excited to be able to play a role in preserving them [the buildings],” said Bob Ogle, Director of HistoriCorps Institute. “While there are many academic programs across the country for historic preservation, we add a critical component to this field in the form of applied, experiential work at a site. The volunteers and students who sign up to preserve Summerseat will engage in hands-on learning by national experts in several preservation trades and construction.”

For its work, HistoriCorps largely relies on partnerships with educational institutions. It has already secured an agreement with Richard Bland College of William & Mary for participating students to earn course credit towards a project management certificate or as a general elective. HistoriCorps is in discussion with other local vocational and post-secondary schools to formalize similar agreements.

HistoriCorps also offers intensive field schools like this one as part of its own certificate program in heritage conservation and preservation construction. The programs are available through HistoriCorps Institute, the education arm of the organization. Since it was founded in 2009, HistoriCorps has worked across 21 states using 1,200 volunteers and students to undertake 170 different historic preservation projects. The corps has contributed over 60,000 hours of volunteer labor to publicly-owned structures to date.

The Cameron Foundation pursued a partnership with HistoriCorps because of its extensive work across the country and the educational model that it uses to fulfill its mission of preservation. HistoriCorps staff surveyed multiple sites across the Tri-Cities area as candidates for rehabilitation and chose Summerseat to serve as a demonstration project.

“While the preservation of Summerseat is important, we also are interested in the greater potential that HistoriCorps can bring to this region through its educational partnerships. These local field schools can provide valuable training and workforce skills in the preservation trades and at the same time restore some of the fabric within our communities,” explained Cameron President J. Todd Graham. “With such a diverse stock of historic buildings in need of rehabilitation, this collaboration can benefit the community in many ways.”

Jane Harris, VSU’s assistant vice president for capital outlay and facilities, has been impressed with the community support for the project. She said, “The broad support for this preservation effort reflects the importance of this historic building to our community and VSU. We are delighted to participate with HistoriCorps, The Cameron Foundation, and our local resident group, the Citizens Committee for Summerseat, through the planning and implementation process. ”

The preservation field school will begin on site at Summerseat in late August and will run through early October. Work will be done by a crew of six to eight students each day. Students earning credit for the field school will participate in the full project, while some volunteers may attend for shorter periods. Those interested in the project can visit the HistoriCorps website, historicorps.org, or contact Ogle directly.

The nonprofit HistoriCorps has a mission to save and sustain historic places for public benefit through partnerships that foster public involvement, engage volunteers, and provide training and education.