In a world of undifferentiated sameness repeated increasingly in every direction in every place, we risk the loss of self in this meaningless chaos.
There are, however, places in nature and history that break through this tedious mediocrity that so many embrace without question.
A Romanian historian wrote, there are “privileged places, qualitatively different from all others” where we may experience peace, inspiration, an understanding of who we are and may even participate in what’s sacred.
President Abraham Lincoln famously said at Gettysburg that many “gave their lives” so that our “nation might live” thus “consecrate[ing]” the special place where they fought and died so that our nation might enjoy “a new birth of freedom.”
In Waterford, Virginia, on August 27, 1862, White’s Rebels, fighting for the Confederates, skirmished with the Loudoun Rangers, fighting for the Union, in that mostly unionist village; Rangers were killed and wounded and bested by the Confederates; those Rangers consecrated this place.
The rolling hills of grass lined with three board fences along Loyalty Road from Taylorstown to Waterford compare favorably with an Irish countryside.
The prolific Quaker Janneys came to Virginia from Pennsylvania to found Waterford in 1733.
In 1983, I bought the Joseph Janney House, a log cabin in Waterford, with weathered boards and a stone foundation, built on land purchased by Janney in 1781, but restored more recently by the Rev. Brown Morton with devotion to the cabin’s historic antecedents. Brown restored and preserved what others might squander and destroy. Walking on the broad beam floors of that cabin, you were walking in the steps of early inhabitants since become shadows.
This place was special because it enjoyed a “coincidence of opposites” -- unionists faced states’ rights nullifiers, slave owners opposed abolitionists, brothers and neighbors disagreed with each other, war broke out, blood spilled, and lives were lost among neighbors in the heights and valleys in Northern Virginia.
One Janney descendant, John Janney, struggled to resolve these coincidental opposites. Janney had studied law at the county court in Leesburg, and went on to draft a bill to abolish slavery in Virginia’s General Assembly. His most significant defining act may have been his insistence that Virginia remain in the union. Are we that far distant from those days when we are still arguing over whether the federal or state government is in charge?
Waterford was added to the Virginia Landmarks Register in 1969, and was also selected that year as a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The Waterford Historic District was created in 1972 by the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors to “protect against the destruction of, or encroachment upon historic areas.”
We have a Historic District Review Committee (HDRC) in Loudoun County to consider what designs are appropriate in the various historic districts including Waterford for preserving, rehabilitating, restoring, reconstructing or remodeling.
Unfortunately, there are some who come to Loudoun for what it is and soon afterwards want to make it what they left.
There has only been one petition filed that I can find to “delist” the Waterford Historic District. Milari Madison insisted that the claims of Waterford’s “historical significance” were “exaggerated.” In November 2007, at the Catoctin Presbyterian Church, Ms. Madison was reportedly the only speaker who wanted to “delist” Waterford. About 30 speakers including Loudoun County Board Chairman Scott York spoke against de-listing Waterford, and the petition failed because Waterford was “remarkably intact” as to preservation and historic significance.
Ms. Madison also challenged a broader preservation initiative, “The Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Act,” introduced by 10th District Congressman Frank Wolf (R). Ms. Madison signed a “coalition letter” stating that “National heritage areas corrupt the principle of representative government;” the objection really was that Ms. Madison objected to any restriction on property rights.
You have to wonder if one hand knows what the other is doing when Board Supervisor Ken Reid (R-Leesburg) has reportedly nominated Ms. Madison to join the County’s Historic District Review Committee (HDRC).
The HDRC states that an appointee “must have … interest in the preservation of historical and architectural landmarks.” Ms. Madison apparently favors private property rights to the disadvantage of preservation.
Watch for whether this nomination is approved by the Board of Supervisors for, if it is approved, it signals that Waterford and other special places of historic designation in the County are at risk.