By Roger Vance
In just over a week Americans will gather together in communities large and small to celebrate the 241st anniversary of the day our nation proclaimed its independence.
July 4, 1776, marked both a culmination and beginning of many years of arduous struggle against seemingly insurmountable odds. The outcome was a triumph of spirit, will and unrelenting determination by citizens of all origins and status that has endowed succeeding generations of Americans with the confidence and spirit to—from time to time—rebel to right a wrong, work to achieve “a more perfect union,” and reassert their own independence to get things done.
This year, as we in the Hillsboro area celebrate the assertion and actions that gained America’s independence, we’ll also be celebrating a year in which we have made our own “declaration of independence” of sorts. Our declaration marks both a culmination—and the beginning—of years of hard work. On the near horizon however is the reclamation and restoration of place and identity, a reassertion of economic and civic consequence, and the foundation for the preservation of the priceless regional asset that is rural northwest Loudoun.
Although somewhat mundane on its face, in the vanguard of transformative change are the convergence of public infrastructure projects in Hillsboro and a reemergence of civic spirit and self-awareness within its surrounding—and burgeoning—agricultural region. Nothing portends the significance or the momentous nature of the change coming than the mere fact that Hillsboro’s “Main Street,” Rt. 9, one of the region’s most notoriously clogged commuter highways, will be closed to through traffic for more than an hour (albeit 9 a.m.) for Hillsboro’s Independence Day Parade on Saturday, July 1. This unprecedented event, orchestrated with the cooperation of VDOT, local and state law enforcement and Loudoun’s Emergency Management, is an emblematic capstone to a year in which one of Virginia’s smallest and best-preserved historic towns dating from the Revolutionary era, has figuratively “declared its independence” on a number of fronts.
After five years of being stalled at “shovel-ready but unfunded” status, as of July 1, the Hillsboro Traffic-Calming project moves aggressively toward its construction phase in 2018 with an aggregation of nearly $10 million from multiple sources. With the town’s assertion of its right to manage and administer the project itself, with VDOT concurrence, costly administrative and bureaucratic hurdles are removed. And, by collapsing three major town infrastructure projects (road, water, sewer) into one, millions of dollars will be saved and duration of traffic disruptions dramatically reduced.
As an adjunct to the larger road project, on July 1 Hillsboro’s “Gap Way” multi-use path project will be funded by a nearly $500,000 Transportation Alternatives grant. The Gap Way will tie together town civic institutions and serve as a key link for bikers and hikers in northwest Loudoun—and be a catalyst for development of an area-wide network of safe multi-modal paths and trails.
The town’s four-decade-long drinking water saga, in which its venerable Hill Tom Spring was declared unfit as a municipal water supply and the water system operates under a Federal Consent Order, is in its final chapter as construction begins this fall to bring a new water source on line and disconnect the spring in 2018. Likewise, the first phase to address aging private septic systems will begin with installation of a sewer main (concurrent with road construction and aerial utility burial) while a study is now under way to determine a community wastewater treatment alternative. These critical improvements are already stimulating notable investments and expansion of appropriate economic development inside Hillsboro.
Hillsboro itself has expanded after a years-in-the-making boundary line adjustment agreement between Hillsboro and Loudoun County this year resulted in the reestablishment of the Town’s historic boundaries and expansion. Now within Hillsboro’s corporate limits are landmarks and key businesses including Hillsboro’s Old Stone School/Town Hall, the Hillsboro Charter Academy, the Hillsboro United Methodist Church, Stoneybrook Farm Market and Hillsborough B&B.
This July, the Town of Hillsboro, supported by thousands of area residents, dozens of area businesses and all three of our Congressional representatives, formally initiates an effort to reclaim its postal identity, which began in 1801 but was lost with the closing of its postal facility more than a decade ago. The only town in Loudoun without a postal facility or ZIP code, Hillsboro has suffered from a loss of identity that leads to the absurdity of its mayor being required to acknowledge on Election Day 2017—at the Hillsboro precinct polling place, in the Hillsboro Town Hall located in the incorporated Town of Hillsboro—that his actual address of residence is “36966 Charles Town Pike, Purcellville.” This anomaly transcends mere personal annoyance for Town residents. In the age of ZIP code-dependent GPS mapping, businesses and visitors are suffering from the impacts of this every day, especially those relying on tourism, such as the dozen wineries and Loudoun’s largest concentration of B&Bs arrayed within five minutes of Hillsboro but identified as being in Purcellville.
This summer also marks the one-year anniversary of the establishment of the Greater Hillsboro Business Alliance, comprised of dozens of area businesses and fostering cohesion and cooperation to build a mutually supportive business environment that ensures sustainability and growth of the area’s agricultural and recreational tourism-based economy. In 2016, the Alliance was instrumental, along with the Town and generous donors to Friends of the Old Stone School, in rescuing the financially strapped annual Hillsboro fireworks event. The happy result was the first annual Independence Day the Hillsboro Way Music Festival and Fireworks, which drew an estimated 4,000 for performances on the new outdoor Gap Stage—built by community volunteers in one day just a week before the event.
The American Revolution was the ultimate grassroots movement, fueled by the idea that communities of democratic free people could and must determine their own destinies, that self-government and citizen participation was not only a right but also a duty. What’s happening in Hillsboro today, its “declaration of independence,” is an expression of “roll up your sleeves” citizenship, extraordinary altruism and community building at its finest—and a commitment to paying it forward that will deliver dividends far into the future.
[Roger Vance is the mayor of Hillsboro.]