Once defined by its status as a mill town, the town of Fries fell into economic despair after the closing of Washington Mills in 1988.

The latest episode of Save Our Towns takes a look at the efforts town leaders made to bring Fries back to life.

After years of having its physical assets go in and out of town ownership, town leaders in Fries turned its properties over to the Blue Ridge Crossroads Economic Development Authority, which helped to secure funding for the town’s revitalization efforts. Meanwhile, Fries continues to market its mill site to potential developers.

Save Our Towns, produced by Outreach and International Affairs, is a series of monthly video episodes designed for mayors in small-town Appalachian Virginia and other leaders who are working to improve their communities.

This month’s episode also features a visit to the CityWorks (X)po held in Roanoke, where conference attendees are asked for their thoughts on small towns. Graduate student Maxwell Vandervliet of New York City, who is pursuing a master’s degree in urban and regional planning, also returns with his segment, Maxwell’s Number.

The episode's expert tip comes from Ethan Kent of the Project for Public Spaces, who explains how placemaking can make an impact on small communities.

Save Our Towns features the work of faculty members Robert Oliver, of the Department of Geology, and Valerie Thomas, of the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation in the College of Natural Resources and Environment.

Oliver and Thomas are studying patterns of urban land conversion across micropolitan communities, a new statistical category that describes the level of urbanization between large metropolitan areas and smaller rural places.

Also highlighted this month is Sandy Shortridge, a 4-H youth development Extension agent in Buchanan County. Through her work with the Virginia Cooperative Extension, Shortridge provides middle school students with a heritage program that includes the use of Appalachian music, musical instruments, and creative writing.

Written by Melissa McKeown

Share this story