What do five little numbers mean for one of Loudoun’s smallest towns? For Hillsboro’s government and business leaders, the answer is plenty.
The western Loudoun town lost its ZIP code a dozen years ago, and now the town council and local businesses want it back. The reasons are mostly economic, as the historic town and businesses proliferating in the scenic countryside around it work to establish the county’s northwest corner as an agro-tourism hub. But local leaders are also looking to strengthen sense of community and identity.
And the time is now, says Mayor Roger Vance, with the town having recently tripled in size through a 108-acre annexation and now gearing up to undertake a road project that will make it more walkable and tourist friendly.
“It’s one piece of the whole big thing that we’re doing here,” Vance said.
Since losing its 20134 ZIP code in 2004, Hillsboro has been part of Purcellville’s 20132 ZIP code, which covers an expansive area from Loudoun’s far northwest corner to the unincorporated community of Philomont 20 miles away. That creates confusion for tourists, Vance said, and the folks behind the thriving vineyard and bed-and-breakfast scene just outside of town agree.
“Because we are a destination, people have got to know where our destination is,” said Chris Charron, co-owner of 868 Vineyards, north of town on Harpers Ferry Road. That scenic rural route stretching north to the Potomac is now home to slew of vineyards and wineries.
“We get dozens of phone calls that say, ‘We’re driving through Purcellville. We don’t see your sign. Where are you?’ and we say, ‘We’re about 12 miles away,’ and by then we lose them because they went to Purcellville first,” Charron said.
“As long as the GPS is saying Purcellville, by defaulthave to advertise using that address. It’s confusion in the marketplace,” Vance said.
“It creates a sense of identity and of legitimacy for the business,” Kerem Baki, winemaker at Hillsborough Vineyards said of efforts to reinstate the Hillsboro ZIP. “The name of our business is Hillsborough Vineyards, however our mailing address is not Hillsboro—it’s Purcellville. So that does sometimes lead to some confusion for the customers. … As a vineyard, the sense of place is very important to the identity of the product. The grapes are grown here. I’d rather it comes from Hillsboro than Purcellville.”
And with the nearby 900-acre Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship set to become a state park in coming years, there are more opportunities than ever for tapping into outdoor/adventure tourism, said Alta Jones, owner of AltaTerra Farm Bed and Breakfast just west of town.
Jones, who also chairs the county’s Rural Economic Development Council, said a surprisingly large percentage of her guests are 20 and 30-somethings enjoying Loudoun’s outdoor offerings.
“We’re trying to brand this whole area as a destination—just like Middleburg is one,” Jones said. “Millennials want a sense of place. Hillsboro has a sense of place. The community is very tight. … We have something very special here and the ZIP code is part of it because that’s how people identify you.”
In an informative piece on Loudoun’s post offices for the loudounhistory.org website, historian Eugene Scheel points out that Hillsborough, as the town was then known, had one of Loudoun’s first post offices, opening in 1801. In 1897, a dedicated post office building was built in town (just a few years after the United States Postal Service shortened the town’s name to Hillsboro). That post office closed in 1984 and the building went on to operate as a funeral home and jewelry store. Postal operations were moved to the town’s Hill Tom Market for the next 20 years, and town residents continued to get their mail exclusively in post office boxes. But in 2004, the post office closed, according to town documents, when the market changed ownership and the new owners did not renew the postal facility lease. Residents had the option of installing mail boxes on the street or getting a box in Purcellville, six miles away.
But with letters of support from U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine and Rep. Barbara Comstock, along with the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors and the county’s tourism agency, the town appears to have its ducks in a row to get its ZIP back.
“Our office has been working with Hillsboro Mayor Roger Vance and the U.S. Postal Service to re-establish the historic post office in Hillsboro and find a solution for this ZIP code issue,” Comstock said in an email to Loudoun Now.
Vance expects to send in the official request for a ZIP code boundary review as early as next month. USPS then has a 60-day period to review the request. Meanwhile, Vance and the town council are exploring options for a part-time post office—either within an in-town business or possibly in the historic Old Stone School, which the town now owns.
And while the economic argument is key, Vance said, there’s also an effort to sharpen the sense of community in the newly expanded town, as road construction plans bring sidewalks and on-street parking.
“You kind of reestablish the idea of a community post office,” Vance said. “It was always fun—you’d go get your mail and see other people.”