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From pastures to bedroom community, rapid growth in Linton Hall mirrors state

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By Brigid Schulte
Monday, February 7, 2011

As a young woman in the 1960s, Sister Cecilia Dwyer came to an isolated Benedictine monastery in western Prince William County to begin her life as a nun.

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Stately pin oaks lined the monastery entrance just off a sleepy country lane called Linton Hall Road that wound through six miles of farms and woods. By day, two cars might pass. At night, the country sky was velvety black and pasted with stars. She and the other sisters lived in almost total silence.

These days, Sister Cecilia, now prioress of the monastery, has a hard time turning left out of her driveway. In the past decade, the woods and farms of Linton Hall have given way to thousands of new houses, four huge shopping centers, three new megachurches, and, by the end of the year, nine new public schools. Signs proclaiming "Acreage for Sale" and "Luxury Homes Coming Soon" dot Linton Hall Road, now a jammed, four-lane thoroughfare.

"We've become completely surrounded," Sister Cecilia said the other day, nodding to the housing developments that encircle the monastery. "And the lights of the Safeway at night - well, we're not used to it."

To understand what Virginia is becoming, head to Linton Hall, one of the fastest-growing areas of fast-growing Northern Virginia. The community, which seems to have sprung from whole cloth overnight, added 27,000 residents in 10 years, according to census figures released Thursday.

Many of the newcomers are Hispanics, Asians and African Americans, the groups fueling growth in the new Virginia. While the non-Hispanic white population in Northern Virginia grew 6 percent in the past decade, the Hispanic population jumped 78 percent, the Asian population, 74 percent, and the African American share, 31 percent.

As a result, the Old Dominion, site of the capital of the Confederacy during the 1860s and a place where some officials encouraged "massive resistance" to integration during the 1960s, is becoming a multicultural mecca.

Nowhere is that more evident than in Prince William, site of some of the most famous battles of the Civil War and now a majority-minority county.

'Neighborly love'

In Linton Hall, the diversity is on display at Bristow Elementary, a school built in 1998 that crams 1,200 students who speak 20 languages into an ever-expanding sea of trailers.

As school was being dismissed Friday, three friends waited down a little wooded path for their children.

Donna Wilson, 35, who moved into the Kingsbrooke development when it was still a "ghost town" in the late 1990s, is white. Aber Dabbah, 36, who was drawn to the open spaces and affordable houses in 2001, is from Abu Dhabi. And Yolanda Urquhart, 44, who moved from Manassas in 2007 to get her kids into better schools, is black.

The traffic is a headache, the women agreed. A couple of years ago, the Census Bureau rated Linton Hall No. 1 in the nation for having the longest average one-way commute, at 46.3 minutes.


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