From the Ground Up

Firm preserves the past for the future

By Emily Freehling

Photos by Norm Shafer

On a January morning, Kerri Barile ’94 crunched through the remnants of snowfall along downtown Fredericksburg’s riverfront to survey two carefully covered sections of upturned earth. As team members from Dovetail Cultural Resource Group bailed water from tarps, Barile consulted with archaeology division manager Brad Hatch ’07 about plans to inspect the foundations of an icehouse and an antebellum residence below the grassy surface.

The work was part of a weeks-long process of documenting historical evidence on a site along the Rappahannock River where the city of Fredericksburg plans to develop a park.

Barile and her team at Dovetail – the firm she founded with colleague Mike Carmody in 2005 – have been a visible presence in Fredericksburg’s historic district. Their studies of the sites of major developments in the area have lent context to sensitive development debates. They also have preserved buildings undergoing restoration and artifacts from the past before new construction seals them away.

As Fredericksburg has grown, so has Dovetail. It provides full-service cultural resource work for transportation, utilities, municipal building, and other development projects up and down the East Coast.

Barile and Carmody emphasize what they call the firm’s holistic approach to surveying the past. To them, that means the multiple disciplines of historic preservation – archaeology, architectural history, and the many tools used to interpret the past – are all on Dovetail’s staff résumés.

Key to maintaining that kind of talent is Dovetail’s unique relationship with the University of Mary Washington. Of Dovetail’s 50 employees, 11 are UMW alumni. The firm has employed more than 60 UMW graduates since its founding.

To solidify its commitment to developing talent within the field, the firm this year generously endowed the Dovetail Cultural Resource Group merit-based scholarship to a historic preservation student. The first scholarship will be awarded this fall.

“We wanted to give something back to the program that has given so much to us, and to also build awareness that it is such a significant program,” Barile said. “Being able to establish this scholarship is probably one of the proudest moments I have had.”

A Connecticut native, Barile knew from her elementary years that she wanted to come to Virginia for its history. As a child, she begged her parents to take her on a summer vacation not to Walt Disney World, but to Appomattox Courthouse – the central Virginia location of the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, which ended the Civil War.

“I actually made them drive there from Connecticut,” she remembered. “They were so mad.”

When she started looking for a small college with a central campus and solid academics, “every time I started to look at my list, Mary Washington was on top.”

All it took was one visit during her junior year in high school.

“My parents said, ‘What’s your safety?’ and I said, ‘I don’t have one.’ I applied here early decision, and it was the only school I applied to.”

At first, Barile intended to major in international affairs and theater. “I was going to be a flight attendant,” she said. But on a whim, she registered for a historic preservation class taught by Professor Emeritus W. Brown Morton III, who retired in 2008.

“I remember my freshman year, first semester, Brown Morton started speaking and my jaw just dropped. I was hooked,” she said. “The professors had been in the field and they had done the work, and they were bringing these real-life experiences to all of their classes. I just said, ‘Wow, that is a wonderful way to take this love of history and actually get things done.’ ”

Some of her first fieldwork was in Fredericksburg’s historic Market Square with Professor Emeritus Douglas Sanford, who retired in 2017. Sitting in this downtown alley in 1991, she thought, “This is what I want to do.”

Her business partner Carmody, who stumbled into the field as an anthropology major at the University of Virginia, said that kind of epiphany is common in the industry.

“Most professional archaeologists you talk to have that moment where they saw history come out of the ground, and they realize this is different from reading books or memorizing dates,” he said.

Student Olivia Larson ’19, from Loudoun County, made a similar discovery at UMW when she worked on an archaeological dig at Stratford Hall Plantation as part of her American Archaeology class.

“I thought, ‘I could do this for a long time,’ ” she said.

As she completes her historic preservation major, she’s in her second semester of interning at Dovetail. She started in the lab washing artifacts and has gained experience at the firm cataloging finds from digs. She’s also enjoyed a collegial relationship with Dovetail’s employees, tapping into their expertise as she refines her senior paper.

“It’s helped me a lot with career planning,” said Larson, who is looking at post-graduation work opportunities in Colorado. “Everybody at Dovetail is really supportive. Any time I had a question with my project, I was free to ask around.” In addition to the practical experiences she’s had at a cultural-resource management firm, Larson also thinks the breadth of the UMW historic preservation degree gives her a leg up as she seeks jobs in the field.

Barile and her team at Dovetail agree.

“At Mary Washington, they make you take classes in all aspects of historic preservation,” Barile said. “When I graduated, I was able to work for the UMW Center for Historic Preservation and do all kinds of different things for them.”

Barile spent three years working for the center after earning her undergraduate degree, then went on to earn a master’s degree at the University of South Carolina and a Ph.D. in archaeology and architectural history at the University of Texas.

A job as a historic preservation coordinator for the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Fredericksburg office brought her back to Virginia, where she met Carmody, who also was working for VDOT.

Both Barile and Carmody bristled at the limitations of working within a bureaucracy. They began crafting a vision for a cultural resource management firm that could provide a more complete picture of the past.

“If our architectural historians and archaeologists work together, we can produce a more cohesive history, a better product for our clients,” Carmody said.

Heather Staton ’07 sees that concept at work as Dovetail’s architectural history division manager. She said that while archaeology work was going on along Fredericksburg’s riverfront, Dovetail’s architectural historians were invited to come to the site to see what was going on.

“It really opens up your understanding of what the other side of the house does, and it helps you understand the profession,” Staton said.

She sees that same broad understanding as an important part of how UMW educates historic preservation majors.

“They come out of Mary Washington with the same philosophy that Kerri and Mike have about cultural resource management,” she said. “They’ve all dabbled in architecture and archaeology, so they already are somewhat cross-trained.”

In 1981, Mary Washington was one of the first schools in the U.S. to establish an undergraduate historic preservation major, and it is one of very few undergraduate historic preservation programs in the country. The major is multidisciplinary, requiring students to take classes in history, architectural history, archaeology, museum studies, preservation law, land-use planning, and the principles of architectural conservation.

“That is highly unusual, because most preservationists are coming out with a degree in architectural history or maybe architectural conservation,” said Lauren McMillan ’07, UMW assistant professor of historic preservation.

“Our students come out having taken classes in many different fields. It’s important because the majority of our students will go into cultural resource management one way or another. Whether it’s in the private sector, or if they go into the National Park Service, they are going to be working with cultural resources of all sorts, and they are going to need to understand every aspect of what we do.”

McMillan’s husband, Brad Hatch, sees the workforce side of that argument in his job at Dovetail.

“The hands-on training that you get in the preservation department and the community connections that the department fosters are really beneficial in this career,” he said. “We’ve been able to draw on a pool of talented people when we are looking to hire. That’s really helped our reputation in the region.”

So has Barile and Carmody’s work in Fredericksburg’s historic preservation community. Both have served on preservation advisory committees for the City Council, and Barile is in her second term on Fredericksburg’s Architectural Review Board. She’s also a past board member of the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation Inc. She taught historic preservation classes at UMW from 2005 until 2012, when Dovetail’s growth left her with less time for teaching.

Dovetail staff speak to UMW classes, participate in career days, and give the school community a heads-up on job or internship openings. They also support university events, such as the William B. Crawley Great Lives lecture that featured Jane Goodall biographer Dale Peterson in February. Dovetail gives its employees eight hours of paid community leave each year to contribute to a cause they want to support. The firm also donates 10 percent of its profits to local charities.

“We have committed ourselves as a corporation to make sure we are part of the community and working to make it a better place,” Carmody said.

Both he and Barile see the scholarship as another facet in the reciprocal relationship that Dovetail and Mary Washington have enjoyed. They also see it as crucial to ensuring that future generations are there to preserve the past.

“It is imperative that we continue training historic preservation professionals,” Barile said. “Our connection to the University of Mary Washington was part of our plan before we even opened the doors. I am hoping that relationship continues and flourishes.”

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