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
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.