Waterford Mill Project Loses Grant Funding

Years of delay brought on at least in part by state and federal red tape have cost the project to save the historic Waterford Mill $762,354 in federal grant money, $94,260 of which had already been spent.

According to the Waterford Foundation, the project to save the old mill stretches back to at least 1943, when the foundation was formed. One of its first objectives was to purchase and preserve the mill, which it did in 1944. From that time, the mill has seen a great deal of work, but also a number of setbacks, such as lumber shortages during WWII that delayed work to replace flooring.

In 1975 the foundation gave a

preservation easement on the mill to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The foundation still owns the building today.

More recently, plans for the mill included educational programs, a museum, a gathering space, and events. The people working on the project at the time determined that the educational and museum plans would require bringing the building into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, among other requirements. That, it was decided, would be expensive and damaging to the historic structure.

Eleven years ago, the county took over the project from the Waterford Foundation, although according to a county report, records from that time are not available. Since then, the county has spent $94,260 in grant funding, along with another $24,000 of local money, to survey the structure and inventory the issues that need to be addressed to stabilize and preserve it. An architectural firm has been selected to design the stabilization project, but has not yet been given the go-ahead to start work on that design due to complications in the project.

The grant money was provided by the federal government through the Virginia Department of Transportation. Foundation Executive Director Stephanie Thompson said the multiple levels of administration and regulation on the project—local, state and federal—caused long delays whenever hiccups like the requirement for an ADA-accessible bathroom would come up.

“That was just one of many various kinds of issues that slowed the process down,” Thompson said. “…It involves a lot of back and forth, because it has to go through the county, it has to go to the contractor who is the architect, and it has to go to VDOT, and every time it switches from one office to another, it’s several months. So every little hiccup like the ADA bathrooms just added to the delays.”

In May, VDOT wrote to the county that the project grants were now more than a decade old, exceeding deadlines for a grant-funded project. That, according to the letter, presented the county with a choice: cancel the project and repay the grants, request a deadline extension, or stop the grant funding and ask for forgiveness from being required to repay the money spent so far. The county has already added a million dollars to the project to continue work on design; county staff estimated that taking over the full cost of the project would push that price up to around $1.6 million to $2 million.

County supervisors voted unanimously, Supervisor Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) absent, to drop the grants and seek relief on repayment. However, a county report notes it may be difficult to get out of repaying that grant money, which typically only happens in certain cases such as when the grant was stopped to comply with a federal law.

But with the grant money gone, the project may move ahead more quickly—most plans would no longer have to go through state and federal review. For now, Thompson said, the goal is to stabilize the building.

“There has been a lot of work done on the building over the past 75 years that the foundation has owned the building, and not all of that work was actually beneficial,” Thompson said. “There’s a lot of best intentions, but people didn’t know at the time the right way to do things.”

And while the museum component has been nixed for now in large part due to cost, Thompson said the foundation will keep looking for ways to fund the project.

“We have some really exciting ideas that we’d like to make happen, similar to our living history program that we have at Second Street School,” Thompson said. It was the first public school for Waterford’s black community, built in 1867 on land that Reuben Schooley, a Quaker, sold to the “colored people of Waterford and vicinity” according to the foundation.

The local black community, with help from the Quakers, built the one-room schoolhouse, which was one of the first schoolhouses for black children in Loudoun as well as serving as one of the earliest black house of worship. Today, the foundation runs a program in the building developed with the help of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which recreates a school day in 1880 at the school for fourth-grade students from around Loudoun. Around 1,000 students each year participate.

“We’d like to have another, similar program, but focused more on STEM principals and the history of technology, and how did the mill actually work and the economics of the situation,” Thompson said.

According to the Waterford Foundation, a mill has stood on that spot since 1762, when Mahlon Janney grew his family’s mill business in a larger operation, also providing services to other farmers in the area. Janney’s father, Amos, had settled in the Loudoun Valley and built the first mill nearby in 1733.


9 thoughts on “Waterford Mill Project Loses Grant Funding

  • 2019-07-26 at 4:48 pm

    What a shame if Waterford Foundation was to have to spend their own money. Golly, I really feel for them. Too bad Geary Higgins is leaving the board, he used to be their money daddy.

  • 2019-07-27 at 7:33 am

    In sum: Loudoun County Supervisors voted to give up $600K in federal grant money to restore one of the county’s most historic structures (which was saved 72 years ago from citizens’ hard work and donations), instead of seeking a solution. VDOT did not notify the county until after the deadline had passed. VDOT also has not spent 16-year-old federal grant money on a project for safety improvements in front of Lucketts Elementary School desired by citizens. Now that Supervisor Higgins requested that the federal funds be removed from Phase 1 of the Route 15 project to avoid environmental and historic resource assessments, VDOT aims to quickly dispose of the remaining $2 million on two splitter islands that will do nothing to improve school safety. The splitter locations are not now where the village’s expanded commercial area begins, north or south, and not where business owners have asked for traffic calming to reduce accidents and improve access. Those business owners continue to meet with Higgins to address these safety issues, and he claims to be concerned (in front of the cameras) about their loss of access now that they will instead have a 4-lane higher speed expressway outside their storefronts, but the splitter islands have his blessing.

  • 2019-07-27 at 9:11 am

    Not every “historic” structure needs to be preserved. There are plenty of other preserved mills in the area. The county shouldn’t spend a dime more on this.

    • 2019-07-29 at 3:31 pm

      No, not every “historic” structure can or should be preserved but priority should be given to structures and land that are not only historically significant locally but nationally as well. Such a comment suggests a lack of knowledge concerning the history of Waterford and the surrounding areas. There are not very many places in the country that played a vast role in shaping local and national history.
      The mill that sits there today is a result of the mills that came before it. If the Janey’s had never settled there it’s quite possible the Quakers may have never came to Loudoun County, then Samual Means never would have bought the mill prior to the Civil War. He never would have been driven out of his mill by the confederate army going on to create the Loudoun Rangers. The northern generals many never have gotten the support and help vitally needed from him and others in the Quaker community to enter and occupy the south and to push back the Confederate soldiers and guerrillas.

      Where are the plenty of preserved mills locally? How many of them are a significant part of a National Historical Landmark? The title of National Historic Landmark is not granted easily, they must meet a high threshold of standards. The United States has less than 2500 of these dedicated landmarks, it’s a feat to have a single structure added to the list, the simple fact the entire town of Waterford is a National Historic Landmark should be reason enough for Loudoun to continue its involvement.

  • 2019-07-28 at 6:35 am

    If you recall, G. Higgins, D. Black, and R. Minchew tried to give them $250,000 from the G.A.’s budget to “repair their finances” and failed. Then Higgins gave them $150,000 from County funds. Higgins may keep on awarding gentrification groups throughout VA if he gets elected on a state level. As for why the building is in such a state of disrepair and they have not been subjected to the maintenance provisions (think Aldie Tavern) is arbitrary and capricious. And now they want to use the building for STEM purposes? Not sure how and where the VA Code, that exempts them from paying property taxes on the $6 million in assets , meshes. Thompson will not last long as new E.D. with that thinking.

  • 2019-07-29 at 3:31 pm

    Don’t blame Thompson, these problems predate her tenure by a lot.

  • 2019-07-30 at 6:00 am

    The gentrification of Waterford is a fact given little attention while romanticizing the “maybes” and “what-ifs” of “history”. The selling of slaves as a commercial good is rarely discussed when glorifying Waterford’s past. The Waterford Foundation “lifted” several buildings (the church and “Colored School”) into their vast portfolio of property worth over $6,000,000. Some of those in the Quaker community continued to own slaves well past legislative timelines. Old court cases demonstrate families fighting over such “property”. As an example, see cases involving James S. Oden, employed by the town, itemizing the value of each person owned by his family in the late 1800’s. When the public sewer was brought into Waterford, and connection fees were required, many African American owners could not afford the fee and had no choice but to abandon their homes, and/or sell them for pennies on a dollar. The entire African American population in the village is gone. So, while strolling through the village, eating a funnel cake and drinking a can of soda during the fair, I hope it is reverence that fills the air, not just the scent of new money.

  • 2019-07-30 at 8:45 am

    If the majority of the community wants such historic facilities kept in good condition then it should be done. It seems so hapless of our BOS led by Chair”person” Randall that they can’t fight for hundreds of millions irresponsibly taken from Loudoun by the state of Virginia, can’t fight large politically aligned entities in Loudoun (such as HHMI) who pay no property taxes nor can even attempt to influence LCPS not to waste millions putting artificial turf fields on top of perfectly good grass fields supported by operating water wells yet they resist protecting Loudoun from losing historic features like this mill. What does it take for voters to stop stumping for partisan hacks that do nothing, do little or do the wrong things?

  • 2019-07-30 at 1:55 pm

    Bob, Using public funds to preserve buildings should benefit the public not a select few. Don’t beg for money while paying yourselves admirable salaries and while stomping on the property rights of others under the auspices of “preservation”. The Waterford Foundation actively worked to stop certain farmers from subdividing their land, a large part of their retirement. At the same time, they themselves, bought up farms, subdivided them, and sold off lots to fill their own bank account. This type of duplicity caused quite a bit of ill will. When you own a historic structure, and it is subject to the maintenance provisions of the zoning ordinance, be a good steward and comply with the law. The Waterford Foundation has plenty of money. How they choose to spend it is their problem. The law mandates maintenance. The public should not be bankrolling poor financial planning or hefty “non-profit” salaries because of the loud cries by some. Ask a Sterling resident how much MORE money the county should give away to the Waterford Foundation.

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