Department of the Interior, National Park Service
National Register, History and Education
Greater Newport Rural Historic District
Summary Description and Integrity Statement:
The Greater Newport Rural Historic District is located in the Eastern District of Giles County, Virginia, approximately 8 miles northwest of Blacksburg, Virginia. The district comprises the tributary valleys of the New River and is situated in the Allegheny Mountain chain of the Appalachian Mountain Range. It is bounded by the Montgomery/Giles County line on its southern side along the ridge of Gap Mountain and Sinking Creek Mountain. The New River defines the district's boundary at the west. The ridges of Spruce Run Mountain, Salt Pond Mountain, and John's Creek Mountain define its northern boundary. John's Creek Mountain marks the Eastern Continental Divide. At its most northern point, the district ends with Mountain Lake. The district is approximately 21,085 acres in size and covers approximately 33 square miles. Approximately 60 percent of the district is forested, 35 percent is agricultural, and 5 percent is used for residential occupancy. The district comprises five distinct sections reflecting tributary drainage patterns. The first is the Sinking Creek section, located east of the village of Newport. The second is the Spruce Run section, located west of Newport and culminating at the New River. Clover Hollow is a valley lying northeast of Newport. Plowscrew, a hill section, runs along John's Creek Mountain, where it runs into the Mountain Lake section; both are northwest of Newport.
Because of the district's rural and agricultural character, most of the contributing resources are nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century farmsteads and complexes. These farmsteads typically comprise a free-standing, single-family dwelling that is one or two stories and that features wood frame construction, wood sheathing, a fieldstone foundation, a simple front porch, and metal shingle or asphalt shingle roofs. These farmsteads also include simple wood frame outbuildings featuring gabled pole barns, wood frame springhouses with fieldstone bases, and gabled wood-framed structures with wood sheathing. The outbuildings are astylistic and utilitarian in design. Most of the single-family dwellings have stylistic elements that exhibit the influence of one or more popular nineteenth- and twentieth-century architectural styles, primarily the Greek Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, or Beaux-Arts and Craftsman styles.
The Greater Newport Rural Historic District also has a significant number of institutional-and resort-type contributing resources that were built in the Arts and Crafts, Beaux Arts, and Moderne or Art Deco styles. Finally, the district has several industrial and transportation structures, as well as gristmills and a textile mill. These structures are astylistic in design, are wood frame in construction, and are sheathed in wood. The district has a unique industrial structure, the Reynolds or Dowdy Iron Furnace, which is built out of stone and is pyramidal in form. There are also three wood frame covered bridges. These are timber frame structures that are sheathed in wood and that have metal roofs.
The district contains a total of 1,355 inventoried resources. The district includes 790 contributing buildings and 25 contributing structures for a total of 815 contributing resources, which constitutes 60 percent of the inventoried resources within the district. The district includes 540 non-contributing resources, or 40 percent of the total inventory for the district. It should be noted that 83 percent of the land area measured by property unit within the district contains contributing resources or undeveloped fields and forest areas, and 17 percent of the land area within the district contains non-contributing resources exclusively. Overall, the district has retained its historic character since its period of significance. Because of its topography, the district has definite boundaries, with mountains, valleys, and tributaries flowing to the New River.
Summary Statement of Significance:
The Greater Newport Rural Historic District includes contiguous historic, agricultural, residential, industrial, educational, and resort areas of the southeastern section of Giles County, Virginia. This district is situated along the ridges and valleys of Gap and Sinking Creek Mountains, Clover Hollow Valley, Johns Creek Mountain, and the ridge of Salt Pond Mountain, where Mountain Lake is located.
In 1751 Christopher Gist, an early American surveyor and explorer, discovered Mountain Lake. The district began its period of significance in 1790, the date of the earliest known dwelling, the "Camper Cabin." The district began as a fertile agricultural region whose settlers helped populate the area; in 1806 the settlers established Giles County. The lands, which became large farms, were given as land grants to several individuals who were Revolutionary War veterans, both patriots and Hessians. They developed farmsteads that prospered in animal husbandry. Their descendants later rebuilt or built more elaborate residences and farmsteads whose architectural style reflected their tastes and the tastes of the nation while employing the indigenous building materials of the district.
The district developed roadways connecting the district with other sections of the state. These roads included the vital east and west highway, the Cumberland Gap Road; the Christiansburg-Pearisburg Turnpike; and the Mountain Lake and Salt Sulphur Springs Turnpike going from north to south. Development of Mountain Lake is a very prominent part of the historic development of the district. From its discovery by Gist to the building and establishment of the current hotel resort and educational facility, Mountain Lake has always influenced the district and the town of Newport.
Industrial development proceeded sporadically until 1872, when the Dowdy Iron Furnace was built on the banks of Sinking Creek. Gristmills developed as well, including Price's Mill, Zell's Mill, and Brown's Mill on Sinking Creek and Cook's Mill on Spruce Run near the New River.
Around the turn of the century, educational facilities were built throughout the district. They were one-room schoolhouses and were used by the district until the 1920s; in 1933 the WPA built the Newport Elementary and High School in Newport. It is currently the Newport Recreation Center.
Churches were built throughout the district. Lutheran congregations were first established in the district, reflecting the early Gerrnan settlement of the district. Later, in the middle part of the nineteenth century, the Disciples of Christ and the Methodist denominations were established and are currently the predominant Protestant denominations in the district.
The current state of the district reflects the region's decline in agriculture and the ascending suburban culture that serves the larger adjacent communities in Montgomery County. However, the overall historic character remains intact in the Greater Newport Rural Historic District.
Justification of Criteria:
The Greater Newport Rural Historic District is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A, with seven pertinent areas of significance; for its association with agricultural development of the region; for its association with the development of industry, specifically the iron mining industry in Virginia; and for its development of the early tourism recreation industry at Mountain Lake. It is also eligible under Criterion A for its association with early educational historical development by the University of Virginia. It is eligible under Criterion A for its association with the significant transportation networks, early state highways, and later district roadways and covered bridges, and also for the establishment of the railroad running along the New River. Finally, the district is eligible under Criterion A for both its commercial and military history.
The Greater Newport Rural Historic District is also eligible under Criterion C in the area of architecture. It has several building types, including four churches, one research campus, one resort hotel, seven schools, three covered bridges, one iron furnace, and several dozen significant dwellings designed in several architectural styles. Architectural classifications include Greek Revival, Queen Anne, Italianate, Arts and Crafts, and Neoclassical Revival.
The district's historical significance is broken up into the following five periods of significance: Period 1, 1790-1810, begins with the discovery of Mountain Lake and ends with the first permanent settlement of the district and the formation of Giles County in 1806; Period 2, 1810-1860, witnesses the formation of smaller farmsteads in the region and the construction of early roads, as well as the development of religious life in the district, culminating with the earliest development of Mountain lake; Period 3, 1861-1865, explores the events ofthe Civil War in the district; Period 4, 1866-1918, features postwar development of industry, commerce, and transportation; and Period 5, 1918-1949, features the development of Mountain Lake Resort, the establishment of the University of Virginia Biological Station at Mountain Lake, and the development of local businesses in the region, culminating with the establishment of the Newport Agricultural Fair in 1936, Virginia's oldest agricultural fair.
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