November 16, 2021

Princess Anne County Courthouse to Receive Historic Red Wash Makeover

The historic 1822 Princess Anne County Courthouse building in Virginia Beach will soon receive a red wash coating as part of planned maintenance and restoration work. The red wash will replicate the original deep red finish that was applied to the courthouse soon after it was constructed. A masonry repointing project on the north, west and south sides of the building was recently completed by Landmark Preservation of Savannah, Georgia, the company that will be applying the red wash.

Analysis of the remnants of red wash on the building was performed by Dr. Susan Buck, a specialist in historic paints and finishes. Some of the areas sampled revealed multiple coats of a red wash, including a deep red original coat, a reddish-purple layer and a third generation with an orange-red hue.

Red wash was in use in Virginia as early as the 1660s, since evidence has been found in the oldest section of the building at Bacon's Castle in Surry County. Red wash is a tinted limewash, not a paint, and it essentially provided a sacrificial layer for the elements and an additional source of free lime to migrate into and fill cracks that appeared in the pointing. It protected the bricks and the overall building from too much moisture penetration. In addition, application of a red wash on a brick building provided a uniformity of appearance and hid the irregularities common in handmade brick and masonry techniques of the era. It was used on public buildings, such as the courthouse, as well as on private homes.

A Historic Structure Report for the Princess Anne County Courthouse was completed for the City of Virginia Beach in 2017 and found the building to be structurally sound. The document provides a recommended plan for maintenance, repair and restoration for the City to implement. Mortar repointing and analysis of historic finishes were identified as higher priority needs.

For more information about the application of the red wash finish to the Princess Anne County Courthouse building, contact Mark Reed, Historic Preservation Planner, at 757-385-8573 or

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