Monday, May 23, 2022

Fresh ‘welcome’ signs foreshadow future revitalization efforts in Toano

Two signs signaling the beginning and end of the Toano area along Richmond Road have been repaired. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)
Two signs signaling the beginning and end of the Toano area along Richmond Road have been repaired. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)

In the spirit of embracing history, the Toano Historic District is slated for a facelift.

Developers and historic organizations plan to breathe life back into the district — which now has nine buildings listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register.

While the revitalization is still in the early stages, and funding sources are yet to be determined, some groups are working on knocking out the small projects, said Fred Boelt, member of the James City County Historical Commission.

One of those smaller projects included repairing and rejuvenating two signs welcoming passersby to Historic Toano. In May and June, both of the decade-old signs were repainted and repaired.

“We wanted to keep them in good repair,” Boelt said. “It calls attention to the traveling public, that ‘Oh, this is Toano — this is a real place.’”

The signs are tan in color with dark borders and an image of a half-circle shaped window, which is often mistaken for a sunrise or sunset, Boelt said. The signs both read “WELCOME TO TOANO.”

Boelt said the signs were first erected after the Board of Supervisors approved design guidelines for the area in February 2006. The guidelines were formulated by a five-member commission, which included Boelt.

The Toano revitalization project, led by developer Jack Wray, has taken its next step as a historic district approved by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. (WYDaily/Alexa Doiron)
The Toano revitalization project, led by developer Jack Wray, has taken its next step as a historic district approved by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. (WYDaily/Alexa Doiron)

Following the development of design guidelines, a group called Friends of Forge Road submitted an application for a neighborhood beautification grant to erect the two signs.

The group successfully secured funding and later put up the two resident-designed signs.

“We got enough money for some landscaping in the median on the eastern end of Toano and for the signs,” Boelt said.

As all signs do, the Toano signs began to deteriorate in the sun and weather, prompting the need for some rehabilitation.

Linda Rice, Friends of Forge Road president, got in touch with James City County this spring after Toano residents realized the signs were beginning to show their age, Boelt said. 

Assistant County Administrator Jason Purse helped look for possible funding sources in the county budget — the repairs would cost about $820, Boelt said — and found some spare dollars in the Historical Commission budget.

That money needed to be used by the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

With the funding, work began in May. The signs both back in place by mid-June.

The sign project was not officially a part of the Toano Historic District revitalization, but more of a side project that contributes to the greater initiative, Boelt said.

As far as the revitalization, a marketing study is currently underway to see what type of work should be done in Toano to get the best return on any investment.

From there, those spearheading the effort will work to identify and secure investors to fuel projects.

Once the area is officially designated on the National Register of Historic Places, projects will also be eligible for federal tax credit funding.

RELATED STORY: Toano is full of history and now the state is giving it recognition

Boelt said he hopes the Martin-Farinholt Store could also become a restaurant, which could use tax credits or private dollars for renovations and improvements.

Some private landowners in Toano are also doing their part to improve the area by removing some blighted buildings on their properties near the Women’s Club of Toano, including an old cinderblock pizza shops building and some rental houses.

“That’ll clean up that whole area,” Boelt said.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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