The Village of Waterford, Virginia
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As Time Marches On, Waterford Stands Pat

High-End Village Holds Tight to History


Carolyn Ruff, Wash ington Post
April 1, 2000


"When I moved here, my mother thought I'd moved out to the boondocks," laughs Anne Carter Smith, referring to the bucolic village of Waterford. Carter settled in the Loudoun County hamlet in 1928. The 85-year-old woman, who has watched neighborhood children grow up, friends move or pass away, and houses change hands, declares, "Waterford has not changed so much in looks as in the people."

The houses are nestled together and hug the meandering streets. Many of the 18th- and 19th-century stone, brick and wood buildings are built into the hillside so that some have ground-level entrances on two different floors. Smokehouses and icehouses still stand in a few of the back yards. A small stone jail, no longer used, perches on a hill downtown. There are few sidewalks and no traffic lights. Only recently were the houses given street numbers, and some residents have yet to memorize their own addresses.

The commercial district consists of the Waterford Market, a real estate office, the Pink House Bed & Breakfast, and the post office. One of the highlights of the day is running into neighbors either at the market or at the post office.

Waterford, 40 miles northwest of Washington and six miles outside Leesburg, sits in the path of a storm of development sweeping Loudoun County. Increasingly in the last five years, century-old farms have been sold, razed and transformed into sprawling subdivisions. Yet Waterford and much of the nearby land have remained intact.

That's not simply by luck; apparently, it takes a village to preserve one. Waterford may look like a sleepy little town, but behind the scenes, residents scramble to protect the area from circling developers.

"Our number one priority is to maintain a sense of what Waterford looked like 150 years ago," said Cary Gravatt, the chairman of the Properties Planning and Management Committee of the Waterford Foundation, who moved to town with his wife three years ago from Rockville.

The Waterford Foundation was established in 1943 to preserve Waterford as it had once been. The foundation's goal today is to safeguard the legacy of Waterford and its setting by controlling the pace, scale and design of surrounding development. The main tool is an easement program begun in 1974, through which the foundation controls a buffer area of land around the town.

"Loudoun, on a whole, is moving towards a period of slow growth, so we have a sympathetic ear now," said Neil Hughes, the incoming president of the Waterford Foundation. "But we are under pressure from developers as never before and we have to find a means to balance the development with the needs of Waterford.

"Waterford has not felt the influx of the new generation of wealthy young high-tech professionals who are changing the rest of Loudoun County. "Waterford's real estate market is more stable than most. At any given time there are only about two houses on the market, although people come by the hundreds to find a home in Waterford. I have 12 people on a waiting list for one house," remarked Charles Anderson, who operates Waterford Real Estate and the Pink House Bed & Breakfast.

The few newcomers are warmly welcomed. "I was surprised how quickly we got to know people," Gravatt said. "There are all types of people here--young, old, artisans, professionals--there is a very strong sense of community. It's the type of place if you need something done, I can tell you who around here can do it."

Having neighborly advice is helpful for someone moving into a century-old home with slanting floors, drafty windows and a well that serves as the primary water source. "It's one of the few places you can spend $300,000 on a home and then have to fix it up," laughed Anderson.

Homes in the village range in price from $200,000 to $600,000 and vary in condition. "House for house, Waterford is probably the most expensive real estate in Loudoun County," Anderson said.

Unincorporated since the Depression, Waterford has no mayor or town ordinances. Instead the 250 or so residents rely on Loudoun County for their police, fire and rescue squads. Trash pickup is arranged individually and the issue of cable television developed into a national news story recently when the residents of Waterford became one of the few communities in the country to refuse installation.

It is a unique community with an excellent elementary school, good neighbors and a keen sense of history. For more than half a century, Waterford has opened its doors to the world every October during the three-day Waterford Homes Tour and Arts and Crafts festival, which draws 30,000 visitors. This event is the primary source of income for the Waterford Foundation.

Established 267 years ago by Pennsylvania Quakers, Waterford is the oldest settlement in Loudoun County. Most of Waterford's homes were built in the first part of the 19th century when the town was a flourishing commercial center and, according to the Waterford Foundation, the structures that survive today as dwellings began as shops or stores. The town was a haven for free blacks: By 1830, blacks headed a quarter of Waterford's free households, and many of the families owned their own homes.

A long span of decline began with the Civil War. It was the lack of attention in the postwar decades that shaped the Waterford that residents now try so hard to maintain.

"Waterford was preserved through poverty," explained Margaret Good, the outgoing president of the Waterford Foundation. The crumbling town was spared from refurbishing because the residents were too poor to remodel and few outsiders were interested in investing in the stagnating borough.

It wasn't until the 1930s that people started moving in and restoring the old homes. Good said: "The buildings look much the same today as a result of those decades of neglect."

WHERE WE LIVE; Waterford BOUNDARIES: Waterford's 1,420 acres back up on farmland, so there are no distinct urban-style boundaries.

HOUSING MARKET: Seven houses ranging in price from $145,000 to $615,000 have sold in the last year, according to Charles Anderson of Waterford Real Estate. Two are currently on the market, listed at $400,000 and $425,000.

SCHOOLS: Waterford Elementary, Blue Ridge Middle and Loudoun Valley High

WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE: Waterford Market, the post office, a bed and breakfast and a real estate office10 TO 15 MINUTES BY CAR: Leesburg, Hamilton, Purcellville, Lovettsville and Lucketts

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- 11/20/2004