Historic Waterford Virginia

JC Silvey
Published on July 30, 2017

Historic Waterford Virginia

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A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE WATERFORD FOUNDATION

The Waterford Foundation is a 73-year-old grassroots organization dedicated to preserving and interpreting the National Historic Landmark District of Waterford, Virginia. That district, 40 miles northwest of Washington, D.C., encompasses the early Quaker village of Waterford and its extraordinary collection of 18th- and 19th-century buildings set within 1,420 acres of rolling farmland.

Since its creation in 1943, the Foundation has worked diligently to acquire, ease, and restore or rehabilitate historically significant buildings within the village. It currently owns 10 buildings and four tracts of land, and has purchased, eased, and resold many other properties. The Foundation has also gone to great lengths to protect surrounding open space from inappropriate development that would destroy the 280-year-old visual connection between the old mill town and the farms it served. In the process the Foundation has acquired a national reputation as a model community-based preservation organization. In 1970 the U.S. Department of the Interior validated the Foundation’s decades of pioneering work by establishing the National Historic Landmark. Waterford today has more properties under preservation easement than any other location in Virginia.

Over the past 73 years the Waterford Foundation has developed a broad array of educational outreach programs to complement its preservation work. Its annual homes tour and crafts exhibit, known locally as the Waterford Fair, is Virginia’s oldest juried crafts fair and one of its most popular. More than 20,000 visit each October to enjoy demonstrations of early-American crafts, music, and dance, as well as Revolutionary and Civil War reenactments.

For over 30 years the Foundation has conducted a highly successful living history program in Waterford’s 1867 one-room school for African Americans. Each spring and fall regional school children take on the identities of actual 19th-century counterparts in a memorable morning-long program led by trained, costumed docents. To date, more than 50,000 students have participated in this program, which is provided at no cost to local schools. A new initiative, the Waterford Heritage Crafts School, will offer classes in traditional construction methods, as well as in historic crafts such as quilting, weaving, furniture making, basket weaving and blacksmithing to inspire future generations of artisans and hobbyists alike. In addition, a STEM Program is in the planning stages, to be housed in the Old Mill and share how farmers and tradespeople came together to harness the power of Catoctin Creek to turn Loudoun County grains into flours for world markets.

Walking tours and published histories share with the public the fascinating past of an early mill village founded by progressive Pennsylvania Quakers in 1733, a place that in the 19th century found itself painfully torn between North and South—or “between hawk and buzzard,” as one local vividly put it.

As a bootstrap organization, the Foundation has operated almost entirely without public funds. It has relied instead on a partnership with local property owners and the dedication of hundreds of volunteers and private donors who share an appreciation of Waterford’s charm as a living village of irreplaceable value to local and national history.

Despite its decades of hard work and accomplishment, the Waterford Foundation today operates with a new sense of urgency driven by the tidal wave of development pushing out from Washington. Several hundred acres within the landmark remain at high risk of inappropriate development. Preservation of this land is the Foundation’s highest priority.

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Historic Waterford Virginia
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