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'Lost' Communities In Virginia Find New Life

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Researchers from the Community Design Assistance Center studied Virginia from one end to the other and published the just-released "Lost Communities of Virginia" book, focusing on the top 30.

Terri Fisher, a researcher with the project, says they started first by understanding the meaning of "lost."

"'Lost' means that an economic driver has been lost. For instance, an industry like coal mining or a factory or something like that. It also means that a transportation mode may been lost. It may be that the train doesn't come, or steamboats or stage coach...Or way of life has been lost, like farming may not be there anymore," Fisher says.

In terms of transportation, consider what happened in Sharps, located in Richmond County on the northern neck.

"It had a steamboat that brought all the mail and supplies...It's also a place that got entertainment in by steamboat. "Showboat" actually came to Sharps at that time...There were several steamboats had catastrophic fires, safety concerns that needed to be addressed in order for them to still run. They were too much for companies, so they stopped," Fisher says.

The team also found former cultural enclaves, where those of one religion or race gathered, and also resort communities, which died off after the Civil War, when many in the planter class could no longer afford vacations. Communities centered around amateur baseball, especially near the coal mines.

"They actually would hire coal miners based on their baseball abilities in some cases because they wanted to win games. So those baseball players usually didnt have to go underground and they had some of the easier jobs," Fisher says.

And they also learned that big plans don't make a big place, at least that's the lesson from Mineral in Louisa County.

"There's a gold belt that goes through there: pyrite, silver, and a number of other minerals in there. And the community was settled by one of the mineral companies. They actually created a plan for the city that was 152 blocks. Unfortunately, a depression hit at about that time and so the town was never built," Fisher says.

Another lost community featured in the book is Mount Solon in Augusta County, still the state's jousting capital.

"There's a place called Natural Chimneys, which is a large limestone rock formation. Back in the early 1800s, the story is that there was a woman with two suitors. The story is those two young men decided to joust to see which would be her husband. And so that actually has turned into jousting matches that still happen there today, and they have the national jousting hall of fame in Mount Solon and they still hold a joust several times a year there still," Fisher says.

After 10 years of research, the hefty coffee-table book is equal parts photography, historical information, and the remembrances of residents. But Fishers says the project is far from over. There are still more lost communities to visit and document, before they're truly gone for good.

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