Where We Live

A Sense of History, but No Old Gin Shops

By M.J. McAteer
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, November 15, 2008

"There's nothing here," said J. Randolph Embrey, 77, who has lived in Rectortown his whole life. "That's why I like it."

"It's so quiet, you can hear yourself sneeze before you get there," said Helen Owens, 83, who ran a store in town, closed the past 15 years.

Rectortown residents hold serenity dear. And they don't want suburbia invading their northern Fauquier County village, where "nothing" means a collection of historic houses backed by postcard views stretching to the Blue Ridge. On a clear day, the vistas include a 50-mile stretch of mountains.

"I grew up in Silver Spring, and I wanted to leave sprawl," said Neil Peddicord, 49, who moved to Rectortown in 1986.

"It's bucolic here," said Kate Harney, 66, who with her husband, Tom, 73, arrived 12 years ago from Georgetown after buying the circa 1840 Brick Store House.

Rectortown, originally called Maidstone in honor of Lord Fairfax's family seat in England, was founded in 1772 and is thought to be Fauquier's oldest town. It has a history as colorful as it is long.

In 1786, for example, George Washington gave a tart assessment of the village in a letter to a nephew who had foolishly, to the Founding Father's mind, bought land there. Maidstone, he wrote, "originated with and will end in two or three gin shops, which will exist no longer than they serve to ruin the proprietors and those who make the most frequent applications to them."

Washington's dour prediction was wrong. Not only is Rectortown still around, but the only drink to be had there is at the scenic hilltop vineyard and winery, Vintage Ridge, run by Bill and Vicki Edmands. No gin shops in sight.

Instead, according to a 2004 National Park Service study, the Rectortown Historic District includes almost exclusively private dwellings: six dating to the late 1700s, eight to the first part of the 1800s, 25 to 1880-1910, seven to 1920-1954 and eight to the "modern" era.

With homes that old, it helps to be handy, or at least patient.

Peddicord, a furniture maker who works at the village post office on Saturday mornings, owns one of the 200-plus-year-old houses -- a.k.a. "the endless project." Based on an old map, he thinks that it might once have been one of those gin shops that Washington reviled.

The Harneys' home definitely was, although at a later date. By the time the Harneys bought the property, it had fallen on hard times. Repairing windows, installing a new roof, and replacing flooring and wiring took a year. "It's the kind of place that will never be done," Kate Harney said.

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