Brennan's 223: County planner turns historic image-finder

At 34, historical preservationist and UVA grad Eryn Brennan knows Charlottesville almost as intimately as a decades-long resident. As co-author of Images of America: Charlottesville, Brennan’s research was beyond thorough.

“We searched through over 15,000 images from 30 different collections over a period of about four months,” Brennan says, who wrote the book with Margaret Maliszewski. “We then spent the next three months researching information for the 223 images we chose for the book.”

Her involvement with Charlottesville wasn’t just archival— she actually helped shape Central Virginia in her former job as a senior planner with Albemarle County. For three years, she headed the Agricultural and Forestal Districts program, which tries to preserve rural land through tax breaks. She also served on the staff of the County’s Planning Commission, and was a design planner on Albemarle and Charlottesville’s architectural review boards.

“So I had a unique perspective," she says, "on the area’s changes, growth, and future development."

In 2009, as president of local group Preservation Piedmont, she co-organized Preservation Week, where major preservationists lectured, and her cause raised $18,000.

“The focus,” she explains, “was to raise awareness about the mutually beneficial goals of preservation and sustainability in fostering dynamic urban places that embrace the past while creating space for the present and future.

“It's a ‘build with’ approach to urban planning as opposed to a ‘scrape clean’ approach.”

While researching their book, Brennan and Maliszewski heavily interviewed locals.

"Charlottesville residents are well-versed in their local history,” Brennan says. “Trusted sources, including lifetime residents,” reviewed their chapters.

Released in 2011, Images of America: Charlottesville has been well-received, even by keenly discerning townies. “To my knowledge, no one has come forward with corrections to the image captions,” she says, “which is a relief.”

Brennan always had an interest in architecture, design, and history, but when she began volunteering with a nonprofit historic preservation organization about 12 years ago, she found her calling. Preservation “eloquently combines” those interests, she says.

She currently works in New York City as an urban planner and architectural historian at AKRF, Inc., an environmental engineering firm. She and her co-workers are hardly deskbound: “Our archaeological team discovered an 18th-century ship at the World Trade Center site,” she says proudly.

Brennan is working on projects that “preserve the general mid-rise character” of certain historic areas of Manhattan, which is undergoing an urban renaissance. In her particular profession, that's exciting to watch unfold.

“Buildings tell a story, just as documents do, but in a three-dimensional way," she observes. "I think preservation is an important component of a vital, diverse, urban and rural landscape.”
Eryn Brennan will be on a panel entitled “Celebrate! 250 Charlottesville: What You Didn't Know About Charlottesville” on Friday, March 23 at 10am at City Council Chambers with co-author Margaret Maliszewski. Also appearing are Jean Cooper (
A Guide to Historic Charlottesville and Albemarle County), Margaret O'Bryant, and Dr. M.C. Wilhelm and Henry K. Sharp (A History of Cancer Care at the University of Virginia,1901-2011).

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