Wednesday, May 20, 2009
What Do You Save?
Back eons ago, when the 280-year-old dirt road on which I live faced the danger of summary pavement, with concomitant straightening-out of its ancient rights of way and destruction of its Revolutionary-War-era stone walls, I posed a question to a television reporter who asked me why I was so angry about the impending obliteration of a silly old dirt road:
What do you save?
If we can have an entire "Antiques Roadshow" in which we slobber over household objects from the 1890s and declare them Invaluable Reminders of Our Venerated Past, why stop with Tiffany lamps? Why the hell not preserve a dirt road that we can say with complete confidence is in exactly the same configuration as when Elijah White led his 35th Virginia Comanches to attack a contingent of Federal cavalry on the night of January 17, 1865? What would such a road be, if not an antique?
What do you love? What do you venerate? What is worth preserving?
A similar occasion has now presented itself in Wheatland, a few miles south of here. Quite a few years ago, it became apparent that the Loudoun County school system badly needed several new schools in western Loudoun; the schools my children attend are small, antiquated and cramped. Several sites have been examined and rejected for reasons far too complicated to enumerate here.
It's a form of chicken-and-egg problem. If the population of this rural area is too large for the local school system (and it is), the construction of newer, larger schools will attract more people to the area, causing greater pressure on roads and infrastructure. Like the rest of the country, we're in a terrible real estate crisis at the moment, so there's not much chance of that happening this year or next; but it will reverse itself at some point, and we'll be right back into the rapidly-disappearing-rural-paradise mess we were in in 2005.
The photographs that accompany this post are of the Nixon Farm, an 1820s-era homestead that, as matters stand now, will be unceremoniously bulldozed and carted away to the landfill to make way for the construction of three new schools. Despite the fact that the Virginia Department of Historic Resources has declared it "a fine example of early-19th-century Federal brick architecture in the Loudoun Valley," with a fine bank barn, several outbuildings and a fully restored living facility on 60 acres of beautiful farmland, this stunningly gorgeous thing, this antique, is a hair's-breadth away from the ball and chain. (Here's a PDF doc that goes into further detail.)
The location of the schools violates several principles of the Loudoun County development policy. Wheatland is not an incorporated town. There are working farms directly across the road from the proposed site whose groundwater resources would be gravely endangered by the school's use of the same resource. There are alternative sites that don't violate these principles, that are located within incorporated boundaries, that would use town water systems that need upgrading anyway.
There are signs that folks are standing up and fighting back. The Wheatland Alliance is making noise. Letters of well-argued protest are getting published. This isn't over.
But the idea that this destruction is even being considered at all, that as long as you own it you can do whatever you want to it and your neighbors be damned, makes me want to throw rocks at policemen.