By Roger Vance
We’ve all received the box, stamped “Some assembly required,” full of the parts wrapped individually; the connecting hardware bagged separately, the instructions neatly
folded. While we know what the end product will be, we often feel at a complete loss about where to start first, and the instructions often intimidate if not downright confuse. But we muddle through, line up the parts, and begin to see how it all fits together and suddenly arrive at that moment of clarity when we say to ourselves “Okay, we can do this,” get focused and get to work.
There is a package, in transit for Loudoun’s northwest quadrant for more than a decade now, that has arrived and is about ready to open. All the parts are there, but some assembly is required. We’ve been puzzling it all out, lining up the pieces and getting closer and closer to assembling the end product. That end product will be a unique and easily accessible historic destination that serves as the core to a robust agricultural and recreational-tourism region. It will be a place that attracts local, regional, national and international visitors.
A strong and dynamic rural economy in one of the nation’s fastest growing counties—an economy that preserves and protects open spaces and respects and promotes historical assets—was not so long ago regarded as a pipedream. But, it has been the All-American entrepreneurial spirit of longtime Loudoun families and newcomers, with their bold investments and untiring efforts—along with a love of the pastoral beauty, ancient hills and rich history—that has prevailed. And, as they say, the proof is in the pudding, or in this case in the wine, organic produce, hops and beer, fresh air, stunning vistas, forested trails and historic sites. The foundation for our future is here.
As was the case from the turn of the 18th century to well into the 20th, a robust agricultural region again surrounds the historic rural Town of Hillsboro. Within five miles are a dozen vineyards, innovative and thriving organic produce and livestock farms, boutique farms and orchards, a growing collection of farm breweries, a segment of the Appalachian Trail, and hundreds of acres of permanently conserved farmland and forest, including a 600-acre swath that will become Virginia’s newest state park. The Hillsboro area is already home to the county’s greatest concentration of bed and breakfast rooms, and the planned development of a small, context-sensitive resort oriented to the Appalachian Trail just west of Hillsboro is a prime indicator of today’s reality and the opportunity that is at hand.
So, what are the pieces that still need to be assembled?
After more than a decade in the works, three major health and safety infrastructure projects in Hillsboro are set to begin soon. Safe and adequate drinking water, community wastewater treatment and traffic safety and congestion mitigation on Charles Town Pike are coming in the next 18 months. These projects will be transformational for this very well preserved 18th-19th century rural village. Sidewalks, on-street parking, safe crosswalks, buried utilities and traffic-calming measures will make Hillsboro safe and accessible for residents and visitors alike. With nearly every structure contributing to its National Register of Historic Places status, the town is an authentic, living historic destination in itself. With the critical infrastructure in place, Hillsboro will be positioned to again be the hub for the surrounding agricultural region and its residents and serve the growing number of visitors. The opportunity for appropriate businesses in Hillsboro such as restaurants, B&Bs, shops and more oriented to accommodating tourists and area residents alike will soon be within reach.
During the 19th century, Hillsboro’s several mills processed the area farms’ wheat, corn, grains and apples and even produced woolen goods. It bustled with a post office, stores, shops, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, tanners and more tradesmen, along with professionals including doctors and lawyers. The commercial and service activity largely faded when the last mill closed in 1947. But the resurgence of agriculture and tourism, and the fact that each day some 15,000 vehicles pass through Hillsboro along with thousands more on the weekends, presents an extraordinary opportunity.
The box is opened and the parts are ready for assembly: drinking water and sewer line installation projects are funded with construction slated for 2017. Thanks to the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, significant funding is imminent in 2017 for the “shovel-ready” highway project, allowing construction to begin. A full-court press to secure the remaining funding so these three projects will be built concurrently (saving millions of dollars in redundant work and potentially years of disruption) is now underway, driven by a coalition of Town, County and area business leaders and widely supported by area residents beyond the town’s boundary who consider Hillsboro their own.
The parts are here, the path is clear and the outcome will be a dynamic economic benefit for the entire county that at the same time preserves irreplaceable assets of open spaces and historic sites. The only question is, will we seize the opportunity, work collaboratively, let common sense prevail—and do the right thing? Let’s get to work!
[Roger L. Vance is the mayor of Hillsboro and former editor of American History magazine.]