Two Virginia sites linked to environmental battles placed on 2020 ‘most endangered’ list

Muriel Branch, stands in front of the Pine Grove School in Cumberland, which she attended as a child. A major landfill is planned to built nearby. (Photo courtesy of Muriel Branch)

Two sites linked to high-profile environmental battles were among seven selected by Preservation Virginia for its 2020 list of the commonwealth’s “Most Endangered Historic Places,” released Tuesday.

The Pine Grove School Community, a rural area of homes, businesses and churches that centers on the 103-year-old Pine Grove Rosenwald School for African American children near the border of Cumberland and Powhatan counties, was included because of plans for a large landfill near the site that Preservation Virginia says will “fundamentally change the historic character of this 100-year old community and put residents at risk from major environmental hazards.”

The historic preservation group also included Rassawek, a site in Fluvanna County near the meeting of the Rivanna and James rivers that was once the political and religious hub of the Monacan Nation, because of the destructive impacts from a proposed water intake system

In justifying both selections, Preservation Virginia noted historic patterns of neglect related to the preservation of historic sites linked to minority communities. 

“The threat to the Pine Grove School Community is symbolic of the continual and systematic failure to adequately protect Virginia’s historic African American historic sites,” the group wrote, while “in a state that prides itself on preserving history, Native American heritage has too often been overlooked, and in some cases, deliberately destroyed.”

This year’s list is the 15th issued by Preservation Virginia. 

The intent, said the group, “is not to shame or punish the current owners of these places, but to bring attention to the threats described and to encourage citizens and organizations to continue to advocate for their protection and preservation.”