Two local authors have released a publication detailing the historic preservation and alterations occurring to architectural structures in the town of Blacksburg since its inception.
The publication, titled "Blacksburg: Then and Now," was released through Arcadia Press on June 25 by authors Terri Fisher, an outreach programs coordinator at the Community Design Assistant Center at Virginia Tech, and Terry Nicholson, the museum administrator for the town of Blacksburg. Fisher has also authored two publications about Giles County and co-authored Lost Communities of Virginia.
“It’s a comparison of historic photographs to modern photographs to explore how buildings have changed or how they’ve stayed the same over time here in Blacksburg,” Nicholson said. “We wanted to make that connection to the historic buildings and the stories of the people that lived in them.”
Nicholson, originally a chemist by trade, and Fisher, originally a computer scientist, have always had an interest in history and specifically in historic buildings. Both were students of architecture at Tech and both of their interests are in preservation.
“We look at those (buildings) as kind of triggers of memories and stories about people,” Nicholson said. “You know, the building itself is pretty fascinating, but when you tie that in to the people that lived in it or the people that worked in it…it makes it much more interesting and gives it much more depth than it has.”
Nicholson said the book explores how the buildings or their uses have changed over time, which brings the stories to light.
The main focus of the book is more or less the preservation of these buildings. The town of Blacksburg owns nine historic buildings, and all of those buildings are in some kind of adaptive use. The authors pointed to the Blacksburg Motor Company building on South Main Street as a specific example.
“The (BMC) building itself is a really neat example of how you can do things historically sensitive; they restored that building to look very much like it did when it was built in the 1920s…but it’s energy-efficient; it’s a lead platinum certified building, meaning all of the technologies that makes a building energy-efficient were used in that building,” Nicholson said.
He also said that despite what most people complain about when discussing old buildings, the original architects thought about how they would perform ecologically and economically.
Another aspect of the book the authors highlight is being able to identify traces between historic and modern buildings in architecture.
“(We’re) making sure people are aware of how old some of the buildings are,” Nicholson said. “A lot of the buildings here – in Blacksburg especially – are well-hidden as old buildings and people drive by them or even go into them and don’t realize how old they are, or that they may have had some kind of previous function.”
Fisher said that they also wanted to give the reader recognition using landscape in the town.
“For example, the 7-11 (off downtown Main Street) is sunk down into a parking lot there, but the parking lot was once the basement of a church,” Fisher said. “So that’s why the 7-11 is where it is, and there’s some other examples of that around town where you’ll find traces of things – a set of stairs going to nowhere, for example – that were previously buildings that aren’t there anymore.”
Other buildings the authors point to that have been significantly altered are ones such as Squires Student Center and Cabo Fish Taco.
Cabo Fish Taco was previously a Presbyterian church, evidenced by its interior architecture, exemplifying another well-hidden historic building that people are going into all the time.
Squires is another example of a blend of both the historic and modern counterparts of a building.