Natural Resources

Historic Resources

Virginia river falls in the autumn

Historic Resources

Virginia has some of the richest and most diverse historic resources in the nation, ranging from 16,000 year-old Native American sites to properties associated with the exploration of space.

Why is This Important?

Historic resources are vital assets that support economic development, community revitalization, education, and civic pride. In the last decade, more than $1.5 billion has been invested for certified rehabilitation projects in over 1,200 historic buildings, revitalizing Virginia's cities and towns and supporting 10,769 jobs. Reusing historic infrastructure saves energy invested in the original structure, reduces waste in our landfills, and reduces traffic congestion and costs for local governments.

Families and corporations alike are drawn to the beauty and quality of life found in communities that are rich in history and architectural character. Historic attractions are one of the principal reasons that visitors come to Virginia, and these visitors typically stay longer and spend more, contributing to Virginia's annual $22 billion tourism industry. Historic sites teach young people the lessons of history and geography and connect them to both past and future.

How is Virginia Doing?

National Historic Landmarks, by State. See text for explanation.National Historic Landmarks are objects and sites designated by the Secretary of the Interior to be significant to American history and culture. As of July 2015, Virginia had 121 designated National Historic Landmarks, placing it fifth among the states. In comparison, Maryland had 73, North Carolina had 38, and Tennessee had 30. New York led the nation with 268 National Historic Landmarks.

Virginia also excels in completing projects that rehabilitate historic buildings to meet 21st century needs and for placing historic resources under protective easements. From 2000-2009, the number of projects reinvesting in historic infrastructure more than tripled, while the number of property owners and local communities seeking to register historic properties and districts more than doubled -- earning the Commonwealth a second-place rank in the nation for these measures.

During the same time frame, properties protected through preservation easements increased by roughly 80 percent. After a dip in recent years, much of this interest and investment is back on track: According to the VCU Center for Urban and Regional Development, "The Great Recession, which had a very significant effect on the construction industry overall, caused [only] a moderate decline in historic rehabilitation activity" in Virginia.

What Influences Historic Resources?

Citizens care about the landmarks that define and anchor their communities. It is their appreciation and understanding of how to make the most of these resources that have the greatest influence over whether Virginia's historic resources are preserved and used -- or lost forever.

The pressures on historic resources continue to grow with the increase of suburban development. Rapid development into rural areas threatens historic battlefields, cemeteries, archaeological sites, and agricultural buildings and landscapes.

A growing number of localities use comprehensive plans, local historic district zoning, and property tax abatements to shape development of historic areas. State and federal rehabilitation tax credits encourage sensitive reuse of buildings in the urban core, while conservation tax credits encourage long-term protection.

Historic resources are also influenced by the actions of federal agencies that own property in Virginia or that fund, license, or permit actions actions that are covered by federal historic preservation law -- and that can affect the state's historic landscape.

What is the State's Role?

Virginia's approach to historic preservation has traditionally been one of partnership between the public and private sectors. By far the largest number of historic resources are owned and controlled by private individuals, families, corporations, or non-profit organizations. The state's role in this partnership is two-fold:

  • to provide information, education, guidance, and incentives to encourage and support private sector stewardship
  • to provide leadership by example in the care of historic properties owned by agencies of the Commonwealth
Page last modified July 07, 2016
Registered Historic Landmarks

State rankings are ordered so that #1 is understood to be the best.

Data Definitions and Sources

Go to the Department of Historic Resources (DHR) for more information on Virginia's historic assets and on the state and federal programs administered by DHR, including Virginia Historic Landmarks, preservation tools, and incentives programs.

VCU Center for Urban and Regional Development, Economic Impact of Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit Programs in Virginia (pdf)

Information on the National Register of Historic Places can be found at

The complete listing of the National Historic Landmarks Program can be found at

Information on Federal Historic Preservation Tax projects is available from the National Park Service, Tax Incentives for Preserving Historic Properties. Data taken from Statistical Report and Analysis for Fiscal Year 2015 (pdf)

See the Data Sources and Updates Calendar for a detailed list of the data resources used for indicator measures on Virginia Performs.

At a Glance:
Historic Resources in Virginia

Performance Trend: Trend is maintaining.
State Influence:  

National Ranking: Virginia's strong sense of tradition and history make it a national leader in the preservation of historic resources; the state ranks in the Top 10 for registered landmarks, preservation spending, and the long-term protection of historic assets.

Related Agency Measures
State Programs & Initiatives

The Department of Historic Resources administers a number of programs:

DHR's Survey and Planning Cost Share Program works to identify potential historic properties and archaeological sites.

The Virginia Landmarks Register lists those properties that are officially recognized by the Virginia Board of Historic Resources as among Virginia's principal historic, architectural, archaeological, and cultural resources. Registration here is a pre-requisite for properties to qualify for rehabilitation tax credits, historic preservation easement donation, and certain state and federal grant programs.

The Historic Preservation Easement Program establishes a permanent partnership between DHR and willing owners who donate a perpetual interest in the historic character of their buildings and/or land to the Commonwealth. Similar programs are available for those wishing to create or donate a land conservation easement -- see our Land Preservation indicator.

State and federal tax credits are available for major rehabilitation projects whose owners wish to update property while still maintaining its designation as an historic landmark.

Additional Information

The Virginia Main Street Program provides funding and assistance for commercial redevelopment of downtown areas in small communities across Virginia.