There’s a buzz in the air this week as organizers of the annual Waterford Fair gear up not only for the annual showcase of top artisans from around the country, but also for the Waterford Foundation’s 75th birthday.
The village and 1,420 acres of surrounding farmland was designated as a National Historic Landmark village in 1970, in large part because the homes, streets and surroundings still reflect the community’s roots that date back to 1733. It is also a local and state historic district. In 2011, Waterford was named a Preserve America Community.
Historically, Waterford is one of the oldest villages in Loudoun—enjoying bragging rights along with the Towns of Lovettsville and Hillsboro and the village of Taylorstown. Just before the outbreak of the Civil War, Waterford was a major agricultural hub—where farmers would bring their grain to be milled. After the Civil War, however, that pre-eminence was lost when the railroad’s westward path from Leesburg extended along Rt. 7, not Rt. 9.
Once ubiquitous, there are few mills in Loudoun today, but the Waterford Mill—although not the original—is one of only a few still standing. It’s served as one of the major exhibit buildings during the fair for years now.
The ancient ways of artisanship have been central to the Waterford Foundation since its inception in 1943. It was in recognition of the need to keep that craftsmanship alive that the organization came into being.
Over its 75 years, the foundation has been served by all-volunteer boards of directors, although its first executive director was hired in the 1980s.
The minutes of the first meeting of the Waterford Foundation Inc. in Sept. 10, 1943 recount the intermittent efforts of “a small group” that met over the summer to consider “the possibilities of continuing the restoration of the Village, begun under the direction of the late Edward M. Chamberlin.”
Organizers held their first gathering at the Fairfax Meeting House to move ahead with that purpose. They appointed a temporary chairman and unanimously agreed on a charter for the nonprofit. Four officers were elected: Allen McDaniel, president; Mary Stabler, secretary; Douglas Myers, treasurer; and Paul Rogers, counsel. Nine board members were approved as was a motion to forward the charter to the Circuit Court for certification; by-laws were to be drawn up and an Annual Meeting of the board to be held in September.
Several months later, the minutes show that the board was rigorously pursuing a goal of looking at various buildings in town with a view to purchase—the first indications of what became a sizeable inventory of historic structures to be owned by the foundation—and that many are used today during the Waterford Fair.
In 1958, the nonprofit stated clearly its interest in real estate transactions with a purpose of restoring as many buildings as possible to their original state, also having the ability to lend money or give grants or gifts to other entities.
Their stated intent was to attempt to “re-create” the town “as it existed in previous times with its varying crafts and activities,” since it was one of the oldest in the northern part of Virginia. The Waterford Fair is a direct result of that original intent.
Former foundation president Stephanie Thompson, now filling the role of executive director, has appreciated the village for years. As chief executive, she sees the foundation as constantly evolving. She attended her first fair in 2001, and has been involved with the organization ever since in a variety of roles.
She is a strong promoter of the foundation’s latest venture—the Craft School, which is an artisan-led program that fits in with the founders’ original purpose—and said establishing a permanent school was important. “Once a year is not enough,” she said, hoping the craft school will inspire more and more interest as it matures—allowing yet another opening in an evolving story that dates back to the nonprofit’s founding.
The Waterford Foundation can look back on a journey marked by a number of milestones since 1943—one of the largest easement programs in Virginia, with easements held by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, the Virginia Land Trust; and the Department of Historic Resources; a strong year-round education program; the preservation of numerous historic buildings; and its status as a National Historic Landmark and Preserve America community.