Forty minutes from Washington D.C.’s Dulles Airport you arrive in a time warp. Leaving a small town called Leesburg you travel along a windy lane where tarmac has been laid only in recent years. As you turn the corner at the edge of this small town you are presented with aging clapboard houses interspersed with a few fairly substantial red brick homes. The gardens are colourful with green lawns and in the spring the Dogwoods are magnificent.
Waterford, Loudoun County in northern Virginia is a tranquil historic and fascinating place to visit. Founded around 1733 by Amos Janney, a Quaker from Pennsylvania it grew until it was the second largest town in Loudoun County before the Civil War. Many of the buildings being lived in today were built before 1840. The small community had several names over the years finally taking the name of Waterford from the home in Ireland of Thomas Moore who came to live there after emigrating in around 1800. In April 1970, the Secretary of the Interior determined that the Waterford Historic District possessed national significance and he designated the Waterford Historic District a National Historic Landmark. The main reason being is that the area is virtually unchanged since the eighteenth-century rural mill town.
Today there is a very busy Foundation (Waterford Foundation) which is located in the village centre and all the local residents work tirelessly to maintain the original buildings and way of life. The volunteer spirit is very strong and together they run many interesting events such as Civil War days, weekend walking tours, and a concert series. But the most exciting is the Waterford Homes Tour and Craft Fair held every year at the beginning of October.
If you are not lucky enough to have friends living in the area there are a few small guesthouses and further, out of town, there are many small hotels. I have been fortunate to visit many times but I think one of my favourites is for the fair in the first week of October. People travel from miles around and the whole area is buzzing with excitement. There are very strict rules on who can exhibit, only handmade items of American origin that come under the guise of a juried fair. All exhibitors have to apply several months ahead with photographs, samples, and explanations before they are allowed to set up a stall. The fast-food is also authentic with so many choices of regional cuisine it’s a problem to decide on what to have for lunch, being further south than you imagine you get to sample southern home cooking as well as locally sourced produce. Along with the food and stalls selling all kinds of jewellery, clothes, toys, and seasonal items for Christmas and Halloween most interesting is the Homes Tour. A certain number of inhabited historic homes are opened to the public and you can wander around them at your leisure, there is always someone there to answer questions and sometimes a conducted tour. This is fascinating as any new building is almost impossible to get permission to put up within the conservation area the regulations are stringent and it is very difficult to satisfy the planners. Amongst the fair, there is a camp of Civil War re-enactors with their tents, authentic clothes, and camping paraphernalia with the battle being played out in the fields on the edge of the town each afternoon.
There are other interesting places to visit close by; the winery is along one of the many unmade roads and not too far away is Middleburg, home of the rich and famous County set. There are a few select shops and some very nice places to eat. The theme for the area is horses, hunting, and racing so if this is not of interest a few miles up the road is Oatlands an historic stately home were during most of the 20th century it served as the country estate of Mr. and Mrs. William Corcoran Eustis, affluent Washingtonians with strong ties to the American political arena. Here you can take afternoon tea or stroll around the grounds. Nestling in the rolling countryside along the old road from Waterford towards Leesburg is Morven Park set in around a thousand acres, which was home to Thomas Swann, a governor of Maryland in the 19th century, and the last home of Virginia’s reform Governor Westmoreland Davis and the estate was opened to the public in 1967. It houses a carriage museum and a museum dedicated to hounds and hunting. They hold many equestrian events here as it is home to an International Equestrian Centre. The gardens and grounds are magnificent and open to the public.
For those who have other interests, the countryside is very easy on the eye and it’s a very central place to be based as it’s not too far to Washington D.C. with many massive shopping malls and places to visit such as the White House, Capitol Hill, and the wonderful museums. There is a tour bus you can take which is cheap and you are able to get on and off at will but leave plenty of time if you go to D.C. as there is so much to do and see.
(C) Storm Grayson