Historic Preservation Month

Celebrate Preservation Month This May

Celebrate Preservation Month this May by putting a spotlight on the people in our community who are doing the important work saving our places and building our communities through preservation!

Historic place-savers pour their time, energy, resources (and sometimes a great deal of sweat and tears) into protecting places they care about. The Preservation Month theme is “People Saving Places” to shine the spotlight on everyone doing the work of saving places—in big ways and small.

Visit the National Trust for Historic Preservation for resources and information to help you celebrate this May!

Get Involved

  1. Follow us on Instagram and Facebook to learn more about local place-savers throughout the month of May.
  2. Join @SavingPlaces in celebrating those doing the important work of preservation by giving a high-five to the people in your community through a social media post with #SavingPlaces and #PreservationMonth!
  3. Learn more about nationwide historic preservation efforts through the National Trust for Historic Preservation.


Check back here throughout the month of May as we celebrate our local place-savers and historic projects.

If you’d like more information, please contact:

Parviz Moosavi, Historic Preservation Planner


Learn about each of our local Place-savers and their insights on the importance of preserving history.

Isabel Thornton

Restoration Housing

About Isabel

My name is Isabel Thornton and I’m a Roanoke native now working in historic preservation through the nonprofit Restoration Housing. I created this nonprofit to address the many older, historic homes that I saw in and around Roanoke that were falling down and needed reinvestment.

I actually don’t live in an older home (!) as I live on my husband’s family farm in Botetourt. I love living on a farm but I likewise love working in a city and studying our city’s history/thinking of ways to improve upon its history in the work that Restoration Housing does. I have four small children and I created this career largely as a way to build inherent flexibility into my work so that I could also raise a family.

Her Work in Historic Preservation

To date, Restoration Housing has completed seven historic rehabs throughout Roanoke’s older neighborhoods (Old Southwest, Mountain View, Northwest, and Southeast) with two more in the pipeline. With each project, we’re taking a formerly vacant structure that is usually in a severe state of disrepair and we’re investing large sums of money (usually through grants, donations, and historic tax credits) to bring them back to life and make them practical and viable spaces again. The other key piece to our mission is that we own and operate each property thereafter in perpetuity to ensure that they are safe, affordable, and well-maintained. It is so important not only that historic buildings receive this kind of reinvestment but also that there is a stewardship plan in place that will ensure that they’re well-maintained and won’t fall back into disrepair a few years down the line.

Involvement in Historic Preservation

I studied Architectural History as an undergrad in college at UVa but my real entrance into Historic Preservation began in graduate school at the University of Southern California where I received a Masters in Historic Preservation. While there, I worked for a subcontractor specializing in the preservation of historic stones and brick. That was my first official experience working on the technical side of preservation. I realized there that the technical work of salvaging a terracotta parapet wall was not my dream job (though interesting nonetheless) and I subsequently went to work with an affordable housing developer specializing in projects that used historic tax credits. I realized there that I was most interested in building development and, specifically, using historic tax credits as a tool for subsidizing construction costs and keeping rents affordable.

What Historic Preservation Means to Her

Historic Preservation has long been a movement that connotes activism but is has historically been a more large-scale public facing form of activism like saving Penn Station. I’m interested in how historic preservation can be a tool for social change on a more local level- reinvesting in underserved neighborhoods that have long lacked public and private investment. And likewise as a tool for honoring histories that don’t always make the history books like a small vernacular house in Southeast Roanoke that has a unique story to tell, generations of families who have lived there and loved the community there and worked for the nearby railroad, but that don’t always get as much attention because they’re not connected to a famous person or a famous architect. There are so many houses worthy of historic preservation not because of their illustrious lineage but because they are meaningful to our city’s history and they still have a practical purpose to serve once they’ve been restored.

The Importance of Historic Preservation

I have always valued history but it’s so much more than that for me. It’s the integrity of materials of older buildings and how much more well-made they were back before World War II. It’s also the negative environmental impact I see from so much development outward (sprawling) on greenland (or undeveloped land). I much prefer to see development done on existing buildings, using existing infrastructure, or on vacant lots so that we are not building outward in a thoughtless and often cheap and aesthetically displeasing way.

Favorite Parts of Roanoke History

I love so much of Roanoke’s history from its rail town origins to its unique Appalachian heritage that sets us apart from Richmond and the rest of the state. Perhaps most of all, I think the history of Gainsboro is the most fascinating part of our story. Learning about the prominent African American political and social figures who grew up and worked in Gainsboro continues to amaze me. It’s a fascinating neighborhood.

Encouraging Historic Preservation

A lot of homeowners and landlords might want to preserve their buildings that have historic siding, windows, and rooves but struggle with the costs to do so. I think a great encouragement would be some sort of grant funding or endowment fund that could help homeowners and landlords with these expenses. Historic Preservation is expensive and it’s important to make it attainable to all incomes.

Spelling Success in Historic Preservation

I think more Historic District designations would be a wonderful way to encourage more preservation throughout Roanoke and to see more success stories. We already have so many great examples here from our downtown redevelopment to our small villages like Wasena and Grandin. It would be great to see more expansions of these developments in the Melrose/Orange area (like with a historic district along Lafayette Boulevard or an expansion of the existing district of Melrose Rugby) or in the Loudon neighborhood.

Alison Blanton

Hill Studio

About Alison

I grew up in Texas and first became interested in historic preservation  when the small courthouse  town of Georgetown (one of the pilot Main Street towns) started  renovating storefronts and painting their fire hydrants like  Revolutionary  War soldiers for the Bicentennial  celebration in 1976. After attending Uva and the University of Texas for undergraduate, I decided  to return to Uva  for a graduate degree in Architectural History  and pursue  a career in historic preservation. After working in Washington DC and living in Richmond and Williamsburg, I moved to Roanoke in 1993 with my husband and three children and have lived in the Raleigh Court neighborhood since that time. Starting in 1994, I have worked at Hill Studio, a multi-disciplinary design firm, as the Preservation Studio Director and currently as Senior Preservation Fellow. I provide expertise on a wide range of cultural and historic preservation projects throughout Virginia and other states. My work over the last 30 years for Hill Studio includes historic tax credit projects, National Register nominations, historic resource documentation, design guidelines, preservation plans, façade improvements, Section 106 Review, and interpretive plans. I am a Trustee of the Roanoke Valley Preservation Foundation and Preservation Virginia as well as a Board Member of Friends of Mountain View and Friends of Old Lick Cemetery and also am assisting the Friends of Washington Park.

Her Work in Historic Preservation

Over the years, I have worked to promote historic preservation in Roanoke in several different capacities. Through my professional work with Hill Studio, I have surveyed and nominated numerous historic districts to the Virginia Landmarks Register and National Register, including historic districts in Downtown Roanoke, Gainsboro, Henry Street, Grandin Road, Roanoke River & Railroad Industrial area, Riverland, Wasena, Melrose-Rugby, Southwest, and Belmont neighborhoods as well as several individual property nominations, including Burrell Memorial Hospital, Black Horse Tavern, the Virginia Can Company/Heironimus Warehouse, the Roanoke Health Department, and the American Viscose Plant. . I have also worked with developers and property owners to renovate over 50 historic buildings in Roanoke for adaptive reuse by successfully facilitating the use of state and federal historic tax credits. Some of the more notable projects I have been involved with include the City Market Building, the Higher Education Center, the Link Museum, the Jefferson Center, Center in the Square, the Claude Moore Culinary Institute, the Dumas Hotel, the Grandin Theater, and the Patrick Henry Hotel. I also provide historical research and preservation guidance on a variety of local projects undertaken by Hill Studio. As a member of the Roanoke Valley Preservation Foundation, I have advocated for the preservation of endangered buildings, recognized worthy projects annually with the Kegley Preservation Awards, developed numerous walking and biking tours of downtown and various neighborhoods, developed interpretive signage, and participated in workshops and presentations to local civic, business, and neighborhood groups. I also served on the Roanoke City Architectural Review Board for 16 years. Currently, I am working with local non-profit organizations to preserve and restore the Fishburn Mansion at Mountain view, the Old Lick Cemetery, and the Washington Park Caretaker’s House.

Involvement in Historic Preservation

Since 1985 and in Roanoke since 1994.

What Historic Preservation Means to Her

Historic preservation means preserving the historic and cultural resources of a place in order to understand and appreciate the people and events that shaped its unique development. I believe that historic preservation gives a place a unique sense of identity that serves to connect people to that place as well as to each other.

The Importance of Historic Preservation

I believe that historic preservation contributes to our quality of life in many intangible ways. Not only does it provide people with a sense of place and community, but the built environment of our past informs us and also embodies the values of our predecessors. Historic preservation is also environmentally and economically “green” as it keeps  building materials out of the landfill and puts  people to work with a greater emphasis on labor  than materials.

Favorite Parts of Roanoke History

I like the different historic neighborhoods of Roanoke the best as each one has its own history and architecture that reflect the various people and times that characterize the overall development of the city. In general, these neighborhoods represent strong and healthy communities that, when preserved, can continue to provide a good life to their residents.

Encouraging Historic Preservation

I would like to see City leadership better integrate preservation into their planning process from the beginning so that the historic resources are seen as valuable assets (rather than liabilities).

Spelling Success in Historic Preservation

City leadership combined with enabling the property owners with the resources necessary to be good stewards of their historic properties. The necessary resources include education, financial incentives, and accessibility to affordable historic materials and trades people.

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