By Roger Vance
The face of Loudoun has changed dramatically in the past 20 years. But within what is one of America’s most prosperous and fastest-growing counties, villages and towns with centuries-old histories remain. While the press of suburban growth challenges them, somehow they retain their “sense of place” generation after generation. However, it is not a given that this would be. Rather, it is commitment and unity of individuals that makes this a reality.
This year’s Hillsboro Independence Day celebration presents just such an example. The day had a special significance for Loudoun’s smallest town. Not only did historic Hillsboro mark the nation’s 240th birthday, we also celebrated some independence of our own, along with a big step toward the reclamation of our Main Street and the reestablishment of a strong sense of community identity and pride.
It’s been a long road, but we will one day reflect on 2016 as a milestone, much as we do 1976, when a grassroots effort saved our beloved Old Stone School from the wrecking ball. So it was fitting that at the head of Hillsboro’s first Independence Day parade in some five decades was one of the leaders of that bold effort 40 years ago, Hillsboro vice mayor Belle Ware. Although modest in size, our first “Independence Day the Hillsboro Way” parade was huge in heart, evincing a sense of pride and staking claim to our “Main Street,” historic Charles Town Pike.
And that was no small feat, as concern about stopping the flow of traffic on this heavily traveled highway through Hillsboro ran high. However, a willingness to compromise prevailed and the town, the Virginia Department of Transportation, State Police and Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office and Emergency Management staff agreed to an abbreviated parade route this year, in lieu of a larger celebration encompassing Hillsboro’s entire Main Street next year. This spirit of cooperation and support bodes well as—after more than a decade of planning and three years after its final approval—Hillsboro’s Traffic Calming and Pedestrian Safety project moves closer to fruition in the coming year.
Although less than 10 minutes on Charles Town Pike, our parade packed a punch as we were joined by Congresswoman Barbara Comstock, County Chairwoman Phyllis Randall and Blue Ridge District Supervisor Tony Buffington, each of whom stood up for Hillsboro’s parade request—along with Delegate Dave LaRock—and affirmed their commitment to our vision for preservation of rural western Loudoun.
But it was another contingent that epitomizes the spirit and power of perseverance and unity that forms the foundation of our community. This day also served as a celebration of another independence of sorts with the official transfer of the small Hillsboro Elementary School to Virginia’s newest public charter, ensuring the unbroken 142-year legacy of a public school in Hillsboro. Dozens of kids on decorated bicycles, many of whom who will be students in the inaugural year of the new Hillsboro Charter Academy, pedaled with pride and joy.
Hillsboro’s short parade was just the start of a remarkable day that wed old traditions with new, in which we welcomed our larger community to once again embrace its historic heart, to make Hillsboro “their town” as well as “our town.” Around a fabulous new outdoor stage—built in the tradition of an old-fashioned barn raising by volunteers just days earlier and christened by local talent including Troy and Paula Haag, Joey and The Waitress, the Franklin Park Big Band and The Darby Brothers—old friends and new gathered for a daylong celebration of music, food, fun and old-fashioned games, capped off by a spectacular fireworks display. Making it all possible was the generous support from individual residents and businesses, Friends of the Old Stone School, the Greater Hillsboro Business Alliance and the Town of Hillsboro. The integration of local businesses including Stoneybrook Farm Market, Old 690 Brewing Company, 868 Estate Vineyards, Hillsborough Vineyards and Two Twisted Posts Winery into Hillsboro’s traditional fireworks event helped attract a record crowd of some 4,500 people from across Loudoun.
Boldness and commitment create their own momentum and are the hallmarks of great achievements, even in the face of large odds. We need to look no further than the Short Hill Rescue movement to recognize the power that can be realized when people come together.
This melding of hearts and minds among a growing network of committed individuals and organizations sharing common interests and vision is the catalyst to ensuring that the Hillsboro area’s historic rural character and sense of place remains.
Commitment and unity. From this is built the bedrock of community.
[Roger L. Vance is the mayor of Hillsboro and former editor of American History magazine.]