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.


lkasdorf said...

You said it! I just want to barf when it becomes clear that everything just comes down to the almighty dollar. Excellent point about the antiques roadshow.

The Nixon house is not a run-down shack in need of major rennovation. The farm is an absolute showplace that has been perfectly maintained! I agree- the fact that anyone would even consider demolition of this gem is really telling of a screwed up sense of priorities.

And it is even sicker that there is a clause in the original sales contract that REQUIRES the demolition and removal of the house and buildings within 60 days of closing! This was clearly put in there to be an end run around preservationists.


Dan said...

Thanks Neddie! This is really outrageous.

The latest news on this makes it sound like the deal is going down in flames.

Bob Onheiser, the pepetual voice of dissent on the school board has a good quote: "The school system is a tool of development and it shouldn't be," he said. "It should be in the business of educating kids where they are, not enhancing developments to bring more kids in."

Loudoun Insider said...

Great post with great information - well done. of course our "public servants" at LCPS are trying their best to ram this through and are villifying anyone who dares to speak out against it. They also accuse the opposition of having no facts, just NIMBY sentiment. This proves yet again otherwise. There are a multitude of hard facts against this site.

Pamela said...

Thanks so much, Neddie, for publicly joining our campaign to save the Nixon House, its bucolic surroundings and the charms of narrow, unpaved John Wolford Road. Who cares if we have to pull over to let oncoming cars pass? It's a nice opportunity to give and receive a friendly wave!

DaRube said...

Thanks Neddie!

This is an area rich in history, and preserving sites such as this is crucial. An area that loses its memory loses its soul.

There are plenty of areas within a few minutes drive which already can provide huge lookalike schools, grey box superstores, shopping malls, and McMansions. But the supply of places where you can sit serenely and ponder the courage of our forefathers, and how well they lived in peace with their surroundings ... well, they are slowly and sadly diminishing.

AFF said...

One of the first things developers do is bulldoze the historic structures so as to not be hassled by them later.

For the life of me I can't figure out why one wouldn't want to incorporate buildings like the Nixon house into their development plans, although I realize leaving the houses might mean less (not none, but less) profit.

There WAS a great stone house on Business 7 next to PHC and RT 287 outside Purcellville. Less than a few hours after the developer received the demolition permit it was gone. Several years later the land sits empty, sans house.

Many organizations would have gone in and salvaged materials for profit. No attempt was made to give the house away, donate/recycle some of the building materials for use on other historic structures, sell the fittings... it was quickly buried.

When I think about it I want to throw rocks at cops too.

HomefrontRadio said...

Keep fighting for things like this, Neddie. We just lost an historic old bridge here due to council neglect - it was cheaper for them to keep passing the buck and not pay for maintenance that would have saved it before it got to the catastrophic failure stage.

So, the bridge that the pioneers of the area built by hand, and which pretty much was the hub of our initial community just falls and washes away like it never existed, which says a lot about our cultural mindset.

(Even worse, one of the suggested plans was to *commercialise* it and turn it into yet another place for Dinks and Yuppies to drink over-complicated coffee).

As to Nixon House: Coming for a country of dirt and where all the trees are the same khaki grey, I can't get over the over-the-top verdant nature of that farm. It's like a parody of rural beauty. To me that looks like Heaven, and well worth saving.

JBeaufort said...

Stunningly beautiful farm, doubt those Nixons were some of the Quaker farmers that came down from SE Pennsylvania.

Although this farm doesn't have the "cachet" of association with the Lee's, like Sully Plantation, perhaps it could be "sold" has a tourist attraction of a typical 19th century farm that has not yet been ruined by highway expansion and other development, like Sully has...just a thought.

Best of luck. I know that it's mighty hard to stop those bulldozers in Loudoun County.

giggles said...

Beautiful homestead... just gorgeous....

Self righteous SOBs... I hope they can be stopped.

Neddie said...


Who cares if we have to pull over to let oncoming cars pass? It's a nice opportunity to give and receive a friendly wave!Precisely why I'm doing it, Pamela. (Well, that and the whole destroying-historic-properties-makes-me-want-to-throw-rocks-at-policemen thing.) It's like that where we are, too.

Please tell Dennis F. and Barbara L. hello from me and Wonder Woman. We bought their Lovettsville place in 2004, and have never regretted the move to a place where people chat with each other on countryside walks.

Linkmeister said...

Elected officials want to destroy that?!?

They should be reminded (and I assume they are) that they can be voted out of office.

Michele said...

Maybe bergel, godfrey, dupree, and reed from the school board should take a tour of this beautiful property... how could anyone think a mega 3-school complex should replace this?????

The Bulletproof Monk said...

Ned, longtime no chat.
Appreciate the posting. It brings the actual house in question to light for those who don't live out this way.
You're correct with the development that will follow the school construction, as well.
We fought long and hard to fight the development in the rural zoning battles. This was a step in the right direction, but didn't sit well with developers. We'll have to guard that rural policy with every action we make in order to assure that it remains in place.

Someone should be looking at Sal's alignmemt with Toll Brothers. They bought the site of the original Nava Academy some years ago, only to bulldoze it and put in condos.

Kevin Wolf said...

Neddie, I was admiring your photos before it sunk in what the post was about, and -- wow.

What a loss this would be. These places, these structures, cannot ever be replaced once they're gone. Which you would think makes every decision to bulldoze that much fraught. But apparently not for some people.

My hometown Windsor, Connecticut, is ancient (claims to be the oldest in the state, dating from 1633) yet there are still any number of old buildings, from colonial homes to Victorian manses in the center of town, as well as barns, stone walls, pastures, cemeteries and war memorials... The town would not what it is, nor would I be who I am, if these things had been lost.

Who do the people living in these spaces want to be? I guess I just don't understand the developer's mentality.

Dan said...

Last night, the School Board voted 6-3 to extend the contract until October 30, and included some really slimy modifications to the clause requiring demolition or removal of the house and barns. Basically, they just got rid the word "demolition", and kept that the seller was to "remove" them. So there was nothing to stop them from removing the farmstead with a wrecking ball and a front-end loader.

In anticipation of the S.B. not killing the deal, the Board of Supervisors never adjourned their May 19 meeting -- they reconvened it tonight. The vote was 8-1 on a motion denying funding for the site purchase, and also stating that the special exception for the schools would never be approved.

So the good news is that the farmstead has gotten a reprieve. It may not be safe in the long run, but at least it isn't getting demolished at the hands of our own public servants.

Many thanks to Neddie and all who offered support and encouragement to us in fighting this asinine scheme. The genuine outrage over the imminent destruction of these gems was heard loud and clear by our Board of Supervisors, and they served us well tonight.

JBeautort said...

That's fantastic news, Dan!! Good going to everyone who helped to save that beautiful farm!

I hope to check in out next time I'm in Loudoun County.

When I think of how nice Sully Plantation used to be and how it is now with an 8-lane road next to it, I'm filled with deep sadness.

Dan said...

JBeautort, I had passed a link to this post to my mom a couple weeks ago. She got a kick out of seeing your first comment about Sully. She used to be a volunteer docent at Sully back when rte 28 was a two lane, and then later a four lane road. Its really sad what they've done to it.

JBeaufort said...

Hi Dan,

I was born in Alexandria in the early 1960s. I remember when Dulles Airport was new and 25 miles from anywhere else.

I too remember the road by Sully only being a 2-laner. It was a wonderful place to visit back then...very atmospheric with a palpable sense of history. So many wonderful places around D.C. have been ruined or lost in the past 25 years.