Historic District Guidelines

To understand these Historic District Guidelines, it is important to see how individual construction details help to define local historic buildings. The following drawings illustrate the elements of both residential and commercial buildings. A more detailed glossary of architectural terms is contained in Appendix B.

                         Residential Building Terms                                                  Commercial Building Terms


Standards for Rehabilitation

Most cases the Architectural Review Board hears are for the reuse of existing structures. The building standard they use to guide them is The Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation. The Secretary of the Interior established these standards to guide all national preservation programs under Departmental authority as well as to advise Federal agencies on the preservation of historic properties listed or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. They were originally published in 1977 and revised in 1990 as part of Department of the Interior regulations (36 CFR Part 67, Historic Preservation Certifications). They pertain to historic buildings of all materials, construction types, sizes, and occupancy. As a consequence, the City of Fredericksburg has included the Standards in its Historic District ordinance to provide clear, yet flexible, guidance. 

Although the City Code quotes the 1977 Standards, the slightly revised 1990 Standards are referenced below. They are meant to be applied to specific rehabilitation projects in a reasonable manner, taking into consideration economic and technical feasibility. They also relate directly to a logical sequence of steps that comprise historic preservation. This systematic approach is spelled out to avoid what is called "creeping reconstruction" - the tendency for repair to lead to restoration and for restoration to become, by degree, total reconstruction. These steps are as follows: 

IDENTIFICATION. The first step in preservation is to identify features of the building which define its historic character. Decorative woodwork, unique bricks, window patterns, roofing materials, and distinctive weatherboards are all examples of identifying features. This step is extremely important because a series of minor interventions in the maintenance of a structure can have a negative cumulative impact unless the overall structure has been closely evaluated at the outset. 

MAINTENANCE. The second step is to maintain the building and its features. As any property owner knows, building maintenance is a continuous process - requiring caulking, painting, cleaning gutters, and a host of other tasks. Historic preservation seeks to preclude the deterioration of a building's defining characteristics. 

REPAIR. Step three consists of repair, as necessary. When character- defining materials and features deteriorate, property maintenance requires patching, splicing, reinforcing, upgrading, and even replacement in kind. During this and subsequent steps, the Standards become increasingly important and applicable. 

REPLACEMENT. The fourth step is replacement of defining features when their level of deterioration is beyond repair. The use of identical material is preferred, but a compatible substitute can certainly be considered. If an asbestos shingle roof needs replacement, for example, it would be unrealistic to consider replacing it with new asbestos. 

Replacement of missing historic features requires a more careful procedure and a choice of two options. Option one requires sufficient physical evidence to reestablish the feature. If historical, pictorial, and/or physical documentation is available - and the property owner desires to do so - replacement is appropriate. Option two is available when sufficient evidence is lacking. In this instance, a newly designed feature - such as a stair rail - can be installed as long as it is compatible with the existing structure and is not made to look like historic fabric. The new feature would thus be a product of its own time rather than a false restoration. 

ALTERATION. The history of a building is usually a history of change and growth. Additions and alterations are often needed to continue a building's use and occupancy. When these changes are made with a careful respect for historic fabric, the result is a wonderful mix of individual style and innovation. The Standards, listed below, provide the basic guidance to continue a building's use within the context of its historic significance. 

The very flexibility of these Standards causes considerable discussion and sometimes confusion. At their core, though, they provide guidance for the improvement and upgrading of buildings to allow contemporary use. The following discus-sion expands on their applicability by using local examples for clarification. 

Standard 1. A property shall be used for its historic purpose or be placed in a new use that requires minimal change to the defining characteristics of the building and its site and environment.  

This standard suggests that property use remain consistent - that a residential dwelling continue to be used as a dwelling, for example. This provision does not preclude other uses, but should cause a property owner to carefully consider what changes adaptive reuse will require. The Fredericksburg Baptist Church, for example, renovated the old Victoria Theater (1012 Caroline Street) to meet its own needs while retaining the look of a theater through signs sized and placed to be reminiscent of movie displays and through the installation of an awning reminiscent of a theater marquee. 

Changing a building's use is sometimes difficult because the Statewide Building Code imposes specific requirements to ensure public safety and handicapped accessibility. The ARB's collective expertise is available, however, to help meet the challenge of addressing these statutes while maintaining a building's defining characteristics. The City actively encourages adaptive reuse, especially when a building's original use is no longer feasible. 

Standard 2. The historic character of a property shall be retained and preserved. The removal of historic materials or alteration of features and spaces that characterize a property shall be avoided.  

This standard requires that character-defining features of a property be clearly identified. Such features can include, but are not limited to, roofing materials, windows, doors, porches, and architectural detailing. Proposals to install aluminum or vinyl siding over existing weatherboards, or to replace old windows and doors, must inevitably confront this standard. New synthetic siding, for example, is rarely consistent with the original siding. In addition, contractors often must saw off architectural details to obtain a flat surface for the new siding installation, which then covers features that otherwise survived this destructive evolution. 

Persons who renovate old buildings usually strive to retain as many original details and features as possible. The alterations at 1111 Charles Street are an excellent example of how renovations can be made while retaining a property's character. In this instance, a portion of a wraparound porch was enclosed to provide more living space, but the owners incorporated the original porch columns in their design, to retain the symmetry and rhythm of the porch as it had first been built. 

More problematic are smaller changes that occur when necessary building maintenance takes place. At one time, for example, there was a Fredericksburg style of dormer that was characterized by roof shingles on the dormer sides. This type of dormer survives on many local buildings, but when worn slate roofs are replaced with less expensive roofs, any existing dormers are often resided in wood.  Some owners try to maintain an historic appearance by using a Colonial looking beaded siding, but this effort invariably creates a false historic impression. 

Standard 3. Each property shall be recognized as a physical record of its time, place, and use. Changes that create a false sense of historical development, such as adding conjectural features or architectural elements from other buildings, shall not be undertaken.  

The strength of Fredericksburg's historic district is found in the integrity of its buildings. Some localities, however, have tacitly encouraged the alteration of buildings to make them look Colonial, with the incongruous result that there are more Colonial buildings in these places today than existed 25 years ago. Rather than seeking to homogenize its neighborhoods, Fredericksburg has celebrated its diversity and individual innovation. While changes and additions to buildings should certainly complement the main structure, they should not be constructed to give the impression that the change or addition is in any way original. The house at 205 Caroline Street, for instance, was enlarged rather extensively. The detailing of such visible features as the new doors, windows, and cornice, however, clearly differentiate between what is original and what is new, even as the extension of such elements as the front porch provide a strong visual continuity between the different periods of construction. 

Another example of avoiding false historic impressions is seen at 513 Princess Anne Street. Renovation of this property included removal of asphalt shingles which revealed extremely deteriorated weatherboards underneath - beaded boards on the main structure and plain boards on the rear addition. Rather than putting only one kind of new siding on the entire house, the owner conscientiously installed new siding that was consistent with the original weatherboards so the history of the building would retain apparent. 


Standard 4. Most properties change over time; those changes that have acquired historic significance in their own right shall be retained and preserved.  

The history of buildings is inevitably a history of change, as a succession of owners convert and adapt them to their individual needs and desires. The residence at 1015 Prince Edward Street, for instance, was built in the early nineteenth century in what is called the Federal style. In the late nineteenth century, a subsequent owner installed the two-story addition in the southeast corner. Around this time the double-arched front windows were also intalled where there had originally been nine over nine window sash. The current building continues to function as a dwelling, the impact of its various occupants clearly evident. 

Similarly, the house at 1107 Princess Anne Street was first a modest Colonial era frame structure, but now includes a masonry addition and a second story. Interestingly enough, the Mount Vernon style porch and dormers, built in the early twentieth century, do not readily conform to Standard 3, above, although they are certainly characteristic of their time of construction - a period that celebrated Colonial-era heroes as representative of patriotic ideals. 

Some changes, however, are simply not significant. Poorly constructed additions that do not relate well to the main structure, for example, are often removed in order to build something else. In these instances, however, one style should not necessarily be considered less appropriate than another and its removal therefore justified. Instead, an evaluation will need to include this standard as well as more pragmatic concerns such as how well the addition integrates into the main structure.  In addition, we should recognize that work accomplished today may represent a significant change to future generations. 

Standard 5. Distinctive features, finishes, and construction techniques or examples of craftsmanship that characterize a property shall be preserved.

Adapting old buildings to contemporary use often requires extensive retrofitting of heating and cooling systems, installation of plumbing, and other necessary changes. During this process, property owners should respect the distinctive aspects of their property. Adaptation of the railroad station platform for commuter rail use, for instance, required that provision be made for emergency egress of large numbers of persons expected to be on the train platform. The constricted passage that existed underneath the tracks was not adequate for this purpose. Consequently, the rear of the property was opened up by removing a minimal amount of concrete to accommodate a new entrance. The distinctive features of the 1925 platform design were thus maintained while meeting contemporary safety requirements for expanded rail service. 

Some features are more readily altered than others. Doors and windows, for example, can be quickly removed and new units installed that have a similar appearance to the old items. Such changes should be carefully considered, though. Windows certainly need maintenance over the years, but the quick fix of a replacement - with the added incentive of improved thermal protection - needs to be carefully examined. Repairs to the old window and installation of a storm windown may be more economical and will provide the same level of thermal insulation.  Furthermore, replacement windows are often made of a synthetic material such as vinyl which does not have the durability of wooden windows.  When these new windows deteriorate or break, they may not be as readily repaired or replaced as the original wooden ones. 

Standard 6. Deteriorated historic features shall be repaired rather than replaced. Where the severity of deterioration requires replacement of a distinctive feature, the new feature shall match the old in design, color, texture, and other visual qualities and, where possible, materials. Replacement of missing features shall be substantiated by documentary, physical, or pictorial evidence.  

The value of historic structures is found in their historic fabric. Replacement of this fabric should only be considered when deterioration is beyond economical repair. 

If replacement of an existing feature becomes necessary, the new material should replicate the old. If replacement of a missing architectural feature is desired, the necessary work should only be accomplished after research has revealed what was previously in place. The Fredericksburg United Methodist Church, for instance, planned to reopen their previously closed-in bell tower and to replace the pressed metal single roof with slate. Church representatives provided photographic documentation from the 1880s that clearly justified their proposed changes and they quickly received the ARB's authorization to proceed. 

If documentary evidence is lacking and the building itself does not contain enough clues to its previous features, then the installation of a missing feature should be done as a contemporary change rather than pretend to be a restoration. Renovation of the railroad station platform included installation of glass side panels within the original shelter shed steel framework.  A 1925 engineering drawing showed a rather elaborate design for these panels, but photographs taken during platform construction in 1927, suggested that this drawing was not followed too closely.  A compromise solution acknowledged both what had been designed as well as what had apparently been built. 

Standard 7. Chemical or physical treatments, such as sandblasting, that cause damage to historic materials shall not be used. The surface cleaning of structures, if appropriate, shall be undertaken using the gentlest means possible.  

This standard has a procedural application rather than being related to a building's design. Its purpose is twofold. First, work done in a manner to protect a building's fabric avoids shortening the life span of the building materials by inadvertently damaging them. Sandblasting, for example, will remove the glazing on bricks and cause them to rapidly deteriorate during normal weather cycles. Second, improper cleaning can give a false historic impression. Rotary sanding of Colonial era weatherboards, for example, becomes noticeable as an anomaly because rotary tools were not available during that period. 

Standard 8. Significant archeological resources affected by a project shall be protected and preserved. If such resources must be disturbed, mitigation measures shall be undertaken.  

This standard also does not relate to building design, but rather to the recovery of information from the ground. Archaeological artifacts have the extremely satisfying characteristic of providing a record that is unaffected by the individual biases inherent to written documentation. Archival research, careful excavation, and skilled interpretation of artifacts, however, is critical for this process to yield useful data. The City does not have an accompanying archaeological ordinance, with applicable performance criteria, so the ARB cannot legitimately require that archaeology take place. What this Board has done is to notify an applicant when a proposed addition or new construction will likely impact archaeological resources and encourage them to protect and preserve such resources, as practicable. 

Standard 9. New additions, exterior alterations, or related new construction shall not destroy historic materials that characterize the property. The new work shall be differentiated from the old and shall be compatible with the massing, size, scale, and architectural features to protect the historic integrity of the property and its environment.  

This standard is closely associated with Standard 3 above. Its intent is to ensure that additions and alterations do not adversely impact the original structure, either visually or structurally. As a general rule, the larger the addition in relation to the original structure, the greater the design challenge. The rear addition at 307 Amelia Street (Smithsonia), for example, though significant, leaves intact the primary elevations that are visible from the public right-of-way. In addition, while this alteration is clearly new, it carefully relates to the original house through its various architectural details. 

The wood frame addition to the brick dwelling at 701 Hanover Street is another example of construction that is readily distinguished from the original building yet is extremely compatible. This house is not within the Historic District but the owner readily met accepted preservation standards. The addition ties into the main house through its roof materials and its windows, but the new is differentiated from the old by stepping down the top of the roof and by its wood frame construction. 

Sometimes the necessary differentiation of an addition is more subtle. New construction may be evident through new windows, trim that is not as detailed as the original structure, or stepped back slightly.  Inclusion of period revival features on an addition can also be considered appropriate if done to provide the necessary contrast between new work and old.  The addition built at 300 Caroline Street is a fine example of how this standard is appropriately applied. 

Standard 10. New additions and adjacent or related new construction shall be undertaken in such a manner that if removed in the future, the essential form and integrity of the historic property and its environment would be unimpaired.  

As much as possible, changes and additions to historic buildings should be made so they can be reversed in the future, if desired. Aluminum frame storm windows installed over original windows - to obtain an acceptable level of thermal protection - for example, meet contemporary needs, yet do not irreversibly alter the building. 

More importantly, a building's original form often characterizes its period of construction as well as its original use. When adaptive reuses or additions are planned, this basic integrity needs to be respected. The 1990 addition to the house at 140 Caroline Street, for instance, was built in such a fashion that it had only a minimal physical impact on the original 1830s brick house, which had been connected to an 1870 frame structure, and included an early twentieth century wraparound porch. If any of these changes or additions were to be removed, the essential form and integrity of the historic building would remain intact. Similarly, the dwelling at 102 Fauquier Street (the former nurses quarters for the old Mary Washington Hospital on Sophia Street) was expanded to meet contemporary and future needs without compromising the integrity of the original structure.



Adaptive reuse that maintains the orignal building's defining characteristics.

Adaptive reuse that is less than sympathetic to the original building.


Alterations that have maintained the rhythm of the original porch.


These dormers exhibit a material other than the original slate, which has noticeably changed the building's appearance


The original structure(left) is subtly, but clearly different from the addition (right).

Repaired siding that adheres to the configuration of original materials maintians this building's historic integrity.

Porch columns from a larger structure are somewhat out of place on this smaller dwelling.


This property exhibits a range of alterations, each reflecting the period in which it was installed.

 Changes to this dwelling also reflect their periods of construction.

Access was enhanced to the rail station with minimal alteration to historic fabric.

Distinctive windows characterize many properties.

Distinctive doorways are significant architectural elements.


A carefully restored bell tower.


A blend of historic masonry fabric with contemporary windows.


Rotary sanding damage.

Sand blasting damage.


A sympathetic addition to a significant building.

It is important to distinguish the old from the new.

Adapting a dwelling to contemporary needs while maintaining the historic massing.

A range of changes, each relating to the whole, yet potentially removable.


The changes to this dwelling leave the original structure intact and identifiable.

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