Discovering and Showcasing Your Own Treasure

Rural Planning Caucus of Virginia


Thursday, October 19, 2017, 9 a.m.
Friday, October 20, 2017, 11 a.m. EDT

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This session examines two different resources in Virginia and walks participants through the history of each site, as well as challenges and accomplishments in establishing these sites as viable economic opportunities to the region.  In addition, participants will receive strategies for compelling tourists to visit your historic site, with an emphasis on technological enhancements and an analysis of preferences of younger generations.  Each of the three parts of this session are discussed in detail below:

Fields of Gold Agritourism Program Description

Fields of Gold is a collaborative regional project that promotes agritourism and provides business support services to agribusinesses in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia. Fields of Gold is an economic development initiative with a mission to create and retain jobs on the farm, expand tourism jobs off the farm, nurture an environment for entrepreneurism, and market the Shenandoah Valley as an agritourism destination.  In early 2011, local leaders met to look at ways to take advantage of the high interest in agriculture, tourism and the local foods movement. These discussions laid the foundation for Fields of Gold as a partnership between local governments, economic development and tourism entities, agribusiness, and the farming community.  Since its inception, much as been accomplished.  An Economic Impact Analysis has been conducted that estimates the number of jobs supported by agritourism, the revenues generated and potential for growth in this sector.  The region’s agritourism destinations have been inventoried, catalogued and mapped.  To date there are over 200 member sites that are part of the program.    These include farmers markets, wineries, breweries, pick-your-own farms, farm tours, farm-to-table restaurants, farm lodging, and more.  Marketing activities include branding and logo design, development of an interactive website, creation of promotional materials, a social media campaign, and event planning.  Fields of Gold program also supports the start-up and growth of the region’s agritourism businesses by offering educational workshops, marketing tools, and business support services to small businesses, agribusinesses, and entrepreneurs. Fields of Gold has been recognized as a model of regional collaboration, cooperation and innovation.

The Meadow

The Meadow Historic District, located in Caroline County, Virginia was established in 1936 by Christopher Tompkins Chenery.  He purchased the property with the intention of creating a world class horse racing facility at his ancestral home place.  The Meadow is the birth place of the famous race horse, Secretariat and many others including Riva Ridge.  “The Meadow” and its stories of Secretariat and Penny Chenery, the first lady of horseracing have been featured in numerous books, articles and the Disney movie titled “Secretariat”.  Former property owners and staff at the Farm Bureau had tried for years to get this property listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  State and National Register Listings bring prestige, awareness and respect to a property.  The distinction of being listed on both registers helps protect and preserve the property through this new awareness of the property’s importance in the historic and cultural fabric of our state and country.  Listing a property on "The Register" is a complex, monumental task which requires a diverse skill set and a minimum of a year just to complete the Preliminary Information Form, then the Nomination Form (Form).  After a successful Form is submitted it can take three to six months or longer for review and revision.  In order for The Meadow to be placed on the National Register it had to be placed on the Virginia Landmarks Register first.  If the property is placed on this register then the Form is submitted to the Department of the Interior for the next step.  With no funding for this project the Virginia Farm Bureau through Caroline County, reached out to the George Washington Regional Commission (GWRC) for guidance.  GWRC came to the aid and stepped in to assist and guide the Farm Bureau with drafting and completing the nomination form.  

The Team determined that the Meadow Historic District (Discontiguous) met the following National Register Criteria:  A- for historic events, B – persons significant to our past, C – architectural haracteristics and for Criteria considerations B – removed from original location and G – achieving significance within the past 50 years.  The challenge was to justify these criteria in the Form.  GWRC and the Virginia Farm Bureau were informed by DHR staff that meeting all of the criteria and justifying a discontiguous district would be difficult.  We were also informed that Discontiguous Districts were rare and difficult to get through the Department of Interior.  GWRC had never undertaken this type of project before and had never completed a Nomination Form.  The completed Form consisted of forty-two pages of text with photos and illustrations, maps, forty-two photos with a corresponding photo log, a legal form and other items.  The George Washington Regional Commission (GWRC) worked with the Virginia Farm Bureau's Secretariat Tourism Manager, Leeanne Ladin to coordinate the process of drafting a National Register of Historic Places Registration Form.  

Bringing awareness to “The Meadow Historic District” promotes historic preservation and land conservation in Caroline County.  The Meadow Event Park which contains “the Meadow Historic District” is an excellent example of Agri-tourism, which is supported by Caroline County as an appropriate land use in this part of the county and as an economic generator.  Caroline County is rural in nature and this type of use is fitting for this area of the county and the region as a whole.  The Event Park is home to the State Fair of Virginia and hosts other agri-tourism activities including equestrian and farm related events. The rehabilitation, re-use and preservation of Virginia’s historic residential and commercial buildings are good for the Region’s economy according to a study conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University in 2013. The benefits of bringing old buildings back to life ripples across the economy and through local communities, adding upwards of an estimated $3.9 billion to the commonwealth’s economic health. Those rehabilitation expenses and their domino effect have also created more than 31,000 full and part-time jobs during a 17-year period and generated an estimated $133 million in state and local tax revenues.


The George Washington Region supports agri-tourism and historic preservation since it is central to the economic and tourism engine that is prevalent in the region.  The region boasts many historic districts, towns, cities and sites which benefit economically from tourism related activities.  The preservation of historic buildings and property benefits Caroline County and the George Washington Region by connecting us to our heritage, enriching the quality of our lives in many tangible and intangible ways. Their preservation also provides demonstrable economic benefits.  

The “Docent Do Over” – Revitalizing the visitor’s experience at historic attractions

The National Trust for Historic Preservation roughly estimates that there are more than 15,000 Historic House museums across the country and that 70% are located in rural localities.  A recent report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Humanities Indicators report, found that “with each birth cohort Americans of all ages have been less likely to visit historic sites.” The report also shared that “as people aged they were less likely to visit a historic site.” This report is not good news for localities that want to grow the number of tourists visiting their region’s historic attractions and sites and boost the rural economies.

Located in former private homes, and often run by local historical societies and volunteers, House museums share a traditional template featuring a guided tour, antique furniture behind velvet ropes, and a small gift shop.  Historic house museums help tell stories about America’s past and are an important feature of America’s cultural landscape.  However, over the years both visitors and budgets for these sites have continued to decline putting the sites in danger of closing and the properties at risk. A change in the traditional model for experiencing house museums and other historic attractions is needed.  There also needs to be a focus for return on investment, both for the visitor and host site. Do historic sites provide the types of compelling experiences visitors want today – especially as they move through various life chapters or advance learning through technology? What will compel a visitor to spend time at or return to a historic site? Are we meeting the fundamental interests of visitors – from when they want to visit to what and how they want to learn?

Cultural heritage is still an integral part of many communities in Virginia and the United States. However, many historic sites and resources have had difficulty transitioning from 20th century interpretation to utilizing 21st century technology. Such technology, like augmented reality applications, has the potential to not only actively engage the Millennial Generation, but also more efficiently disseminate and interpret historic sites. This presentation seeks to explore what has been done, what is on-going, and also offer insight into where things might be in the near future. Professor Spencer will discuss what the Department of Historic Preservation at the University of Mary Washington is doing in this new area of historic site visitation and other areas of preservation where these technologies are applicable.  Conference attendees will learn how to incorporate some of these new “tools” in their own localities where revitalizing and attracting visitors to historic attractions is desperately needed.





Leeanne Ladin

Leeanne Meadows Ladin is the Secretariat tourism manager at The Meadow Event Park in Caroline County. Her background is both equestrian and entrepreneurial. She owned her own horse farm, where she started her company Free Rein Writing in 2000. Her previous positions include vice president of marketing and communications for ... Read More

Bonnie Riedesel

Bonnie Riedesel has worked as a planner for the Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission since 1994 and was appointed Executive Director in 2008. Her work with the CSPDC includes community development, affordable housing, agritourism, hazard mitigation and transportation and greenway planning. Bonnie has worked with communities on flood mitigation projects ... Read More

Michael Spencer

Michael Spencer is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Historic Preservation at the University of Mary Washington as well as the Director of the UMW Center for Historic Preservation. Spencer received his B.A. in Historic Preservation from Mary Washington College and his M.H.P. degree from ... Read More

John McCarthy

John W. McCarthy, Senior Advisor and Director of Strategic Partnerships, joined Piedmont Regional Council staff in January 2017. John retired from local government in June of 2016 after 28 years as Rappahannock County Administrator. He has served as member and officer of the Rappahannock-Rapidan Regional Commission the RSW Regional Jail ... Read More

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Darla Orr,