Farmers vow to rebuild Northern Virginia livestock exchange as community hub
Saturday, October 9, 2010; 10:00 PM
MARSHALL, VA. - It's the rusty corn picker's turn to go on the auction block. As farmers step closer for a look at the big red contraption near the ruins of the Fauquier Livestock Exchange, an auctioneer's rat-a-tat rumble comes over the loudspeaker that sits atop a Ford pickup with a Confederate flag license plate in the window.
"Twenty-five dollars? Who'll give me $25?"
But the bigger question hanging in the air at Saturday's used equipment sale was this: What will it cost to rebuild the Livestock Exchange, a bustling market that served as the business and social hub of rural life in Northern Virginia for 47 years until it burned to cinders last month? Is it even worth rebuilding, now that suburban cul-de-sacs are crowding out the cattle?
"The outpouring to build it back has been just unreal," said T. Roy Wright, 72, whose farm's brand, the Rafter W Bar, was emblazoned on his cap. But Wright also wonders: Would a new exchange hold the same place of pride in a changing landscape?
"The hard part for us is, there's so many less farms than there was when this place opened," Wright said. "Every time you build a subdivision on a farm, you lose cattle."
The Sept. 27 fire raced through tin and timber on high winds, killing 19 animals in pens. Another had to be put down after it wandered into traffic on I-66. But quick action by workers saved the rest of the 233 animals by freeing them from the pens. Farmers were still rounding up stragglers as late as Tuesday. But the complex, except for the Livestock Grill inside, was destroyed, and many still mourn its loss.
"It's been a central point for Fauquier County for 50 years," said Ed Duncan, 72, of Longview Farm.
Ross A. Poe, chairman of the exchange, said the board voted Tuesday to rebuild, although the cost could top $1.3 million.
After two years of planning, the farmer-owned auction house opened on April 9, 1963. Located on 22 acres of land along Route 55 between The Plains and Marshall, the $150,000 complex contained 200 pens for as many as 2,000 animals. The new livestock exchange was said to have the most up-to-date features, including catwalks from which buyers could inspect the animals that were at the center of so many people's lives.
"I can remember riding on the workhorses that plowed the fields," said Connie Hall, an accountant whose late mother, Marjorie Rucker, was the exchange's first office manager. "They didn't have tractors. Everything was done on horses."
The Fauquier Times-Democratput the exchange's opening on its front page, noting that Gov. Albertis S. Harrison had sent glad tidings. Businesses bought ads offering congratulations, and Virginia's commissioner of agriculture presided over the opening-day festivities. The exchange's slogan: "Bring a Load, Buy a Load."
All 400 seats were taken, and the auctioneer was still taking bids after midnight. At the time, the county had 105,000 head of livestock, or more than four times its human population of 24,066. Today, people outnumber cattle by about 68,000 to 46,000.