The Virginia Historical Inventory (VHI) is a collection of more than 25,000 survey reports, photographs, and annotated maps documenting Virginia's cultural resources. Strengths of this collection include architectural history, genealogy, African American history, and Civil War history.
The Virginia Historical Inventory was created in the late 1930s by the Virginia Writers’ Project, a branch of the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA). Field workers documented, assessed, and photographed historical buildings and landmarks, creating a unique record of Virginia's past. The project emphasized everyday architecture built before 1860, such as homes, workplaces, churches, and public buildings. Many of these structures no longer exist, and VHI photographs may be the only surviving visual records.
VHI field workers prepared survey reports based on onsite investigation, court records and other local resources, and interviews with residents. Survey reports for buildings may include a description of the building and its surroundings, a history of the building, a chronological list of owners, and the building's historical significance. Most reports include a standardized architectural description form, giving details such as size, building material, layout, and distinctive features. Workers often added pencil or pen-and-ink sketches or included photographs.
In addition to buildings, reports exist for cemeteries (often including detailed tombstone information), furniture and other objects, Native American sites, oral histories, folklore, documents, and historical events and personages.
Many VHI photographs were older ones taken before the VHI project began and may be dated before the 1930s. Most photographs accompany a survey report, but some are standalone images.
Search terms may include modern city and county names as well as historical county names.
Civil War: Civil War campaigns, Civil War destruction, Civil War hospitals, Civil War personal narratives, Civil War regimental histories
The VHI includes many buildings that were near the sites of Civil War battles, in use as Civil War hospitals or military headquarters, or sustained considerable damage from the fighting. Reports also include transcriptions of Civil War-era letters and diaries.
Revised February 2021