In Our Backyard: Preserving Historic Waterford: 1970-2019

By John M. Souders

Thefourth of fourarticles celebrating the Waterford Foundation’s 75thanniversary.

By 1970, the grassroots preservation organization, the Waterford Foundation, had accomplished much since its founding in 1943; most of the village’s dilapidated buildings had been restored or stabilized, and the Waterford Homes Tour and Crafts Exhibit had blossomed into a major cultural and economic event, drawing many thousands each year from the Washington area and far beyond. In that year, 1970, the U.S. Department of the Interior designated the village and its setting as a National Historic Landmark District, a rare distinction bestowed on few other towns in the country.

But the 1970s also presented a grave new challenge. A tidal wave of residential development in Loudoun County threatened to overwhelm the village and destroy the agricultural setting that had nurtured it for more than two centuries. Dealing with that threat has occupied most of the Foundation’s attention for the past 40 years.

The organization began to buy up properties adjoining the village to forestall inappropriate development. Early purchases included the Water Street Meadow and Schooley Mill Barn parcels. The Foundation also bought the Old School and its lot amid talk the building was to be converted to apartments.

The greatest challenge to the Landmark’s integrity arose shortly after the turn of the century when the Phillips Farm at the western edge of the village faced development. It took a supreme effort to raise the millions required to buy 144 acres of prime real estate, but Waterford had won many friends by then, and contributions came in from across the country, including lunch money donated by school children in Wisconsin. Today, the Phillips Farm is open to all visitors.

A major setback occurred in 2007. A disastrous fire at the Old School required the building to undergo extensive repairs and replacement at costs that still burden the Foundation’s budget. But the handsome renovated building is a community focal point used for public meetings, concerts, lectures, dances, Foundation offices, fair exhibits and other public events.

To complement its preservation mission, the Waterford Foundation has also undertaken a number of educational programs. The best known, of course, is the annual fair, which from its debut in 1944 has included a strong learning component. In 1984 the Foundation began an immersive living-history program in the one-room school on Second Street. It recreates for area schoolchildren a morning in the lives of the young African-American scholars of 1880. This extremely popular program has built lasting memories for the tens of thousands of students who have participated. More recently, the Foundation launched a new crafts school, appropriately housed in the Old School, helping to preserve and pass on a variety of practical and decorative skills to a new generation.

The Foundation’s educational outreach has also included numerous lectures and publications exploring Waterford’s long history. To facilitate future research, the Foundation has greatly expanded its local history collection, preserving photographs, period documents, oral histories, furniture, clothing and other fascinating objects, from bloomers to ball gowns, and buggies to broom-making machines. The Foundation’s archives are available to the public for historic and genealogical research.

Join the Waterford Foundation at the Waterford Fair as we celebrate our 75th Anniversary October 4-6, 2019. The village comes alive with entertainment, accomplished artisans and crafts people, living historians, local wine and Virginia beer, and a special farm-to-table dinner—Feast With Friends. We are especially excited to have members of the US Colored Troops on hand sharing stories of African-Americans in the Civil War. Fair tickets are available at any Wegman’s or online Interested in attending the Feast? Contact the office at 540-882-3018.

In Our Backyard

[John M. Souders is a historian who has published many books and articles about Loudoun County and Waterford history. Photographs are derived from the Waterford Foundation Local History Collection. In Our Backyard is compiled by the Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition. For more information about the organization, go]

One thought on “In Our Backyard: Preserving Historic Waterford: 1970-2019

  • 2019-09-28 at 8:00 pm

    You forgot to mention the gentrification and the fact that you don’t need to buy a ticket to walk around public spaces. There is not a single African American left. The Waterford Foundation needs to return the Methodist Church and Colored School to the rightful community. Shame on them.

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