Looking for your own fantasy retreat, but put off by the courtly pomp of Camelot or the chilly mists in Brigadoon? Try Waterford, Virginia, this weekend.
In a once-a-year event spread over three days, the 300 residents of this almost flawlessly restored 18th-century village invite the public to tour nine of their homes, enjoy music and dance and take home handicrafts worthy of a royal seal -- most of the entertainment and crafts and many of the houses date from the days when Waterford residents were still British subjects.
There was a time when the past didn't look so bright. "In 1940, when I moved here, Waterford was the saddest looking place -- roofs caving in and buildings falling down," says Polly Rogers, 89, who lived then on a nearby farm. "I just wanted to pick it all up and take it home."
Instead, R and her husband Paul and six other couples formed the Waterford Foundation and started raising money to restore the village. They borrowed a tradition from Sorrento, Italy, where villagers gather once a year to sell their handmade specialties. In 1943 when rag rugs were't yet trendy and quilts were still on beds instead of hanging on walls as art, the Waterford Foundation held its first crafts fair in the village's Quaker Meeting House.
Now with 40 years of experience behind her, Waterford is truly the queen mother of Virginia craft fairs, and can pick the best among the 250 craftspeople who apply to demonstrate their work and display their wares.
"If I wanted a dollar to spend as a kid, I had to earn it making baskets," says Bill Cook, who is the third generation of Cooks to earn a living at basketmaking. Cook makes white oak baskets, felling the trees and splitting the wood himself. He teaches basketmaking at several colleges, supplies Williamsburg with its white oak baskets and twice has made Ripley's "Believe It or Not" with his Paul Bunyan-sized egg baskets.
Sharon Garner is accomplished at the ancient art of wheat weaving, basing her designs on those of farmers all over the world who take the harvest's last bundle of wheat to weave into a good luck hanging for the wall. "I get snowed in every winter and just keep weaving until spring," says Garner, who lives in Floyd, Virginia.
"I'd like to bring along my mohair goats," says Maretta Crider, "but they'd jump up on people and want to kiss them." So the goats have to stay home in Broadway, Virginia. But the goats' coats will be at the fair, handwoven into Crider's mohair shawls and shirts. Crider also spins and weaves angora and wool from the rabbits and sheep she raises, and spins flax into linen. "I've never been able to raise my own flax," explains Crider, "because you have to sow flax around Good Friday, and that's lambing time."
But crafts aren't the only drawing card. There's pleasure in simply wandering the streets and perhaps finding yourself surrounded by the fluttering ribbons of costumed Morris dancers or stopped in your tracks by the roll and trill of the Patowmack Ancients' fifes and drums. If you pick up a copy of the fair's program and plan ahead, you can be sure to catch such favorites as the James Stewart Faith Singers at the John Wesley Church on the hill behind the Smalley Mill barn, or William and Robert Cukla hammering tinware on the village green.
Since Waterford itself is the fairgrounds, you also get to take in the village's history and ambiance. Founded by Quakers in 1733, Waterford was a pocket of Union support in Confederate territory during the Civil War, and the Baptist church was the scene of a skirmish between Waterford's Independent Loudoun Rangers and the rebels. Today, Waterford's yards are dotted generously with little flower and vegetable gardens and the porches wih potted flowers. Property lines are marked by charming iron or picket fences and porous boxwood hedges, not meant to keep kids, dogs or people either in or out.
You'll find the craftspeople tucked away amid all this -- among the houses and in the mill, the old school, the weavers cottage and the corner store. And volunteers will be cooking chili and nachos in the Pink House garden and Polish sausage with onions in the Bayly-Carr lot. In the Curtis House log shed, the Lion's Club will be pressing apple cider.
The Joseph Janney House, built sometime before 1796 by a descendant of Waterford's first settler, is the oldest house on this year's tour. A log house covered with clapboards (showing the prosperity of the original owners), it was restored in 1981 with scarcely any changes from the original plan. It's now the home of ABC news correspondent Bettina Gregory and Democratic congressional candidate John Flannery.
On Second Street and Big Hill, reas known as New Town because these lots were divided and sold after 1800, are the more "modern" houses on the tour: the Asa Moore House, where a Confederate soldier wounded in a local skirmish was hidden and nursed back to health; the James Moore House, whose original owner's ancestor, Thomas Moore, named Waterford after his home in Ireland; and the William Williams House, whose owner in the late 19th century was among Waterford citizens taken hostage by Confederate soldiers and marched to Richmond at gun point during the Civil War.
Unless you buy lunch or some of the crafts, homemade preserves or bakery goods, you don't have to spend another dime after paying the $7 entry fee (children 12 and under are admitted free). And the house tour is included in the admission. If seven dollars at the gate still seems stiff, think of it as an armload of handmade bricks to further renovate the old mill -- where you probably browsed through the Christmas shop and perhaps picked up some woolen mittens and caps. Orthink of it as a foot or two of hand-hewn beam to shore up the tin shop so it can be open for next year's fair. WATERFORD, THE FAIR QUEEN The Waterford Homes Tour and Crafts Exhibit is this Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 to 5 in Waterford, Virginia. To get there from the Beltway, take Route 7 west past Leesburg to Route 9. Go right on Route 9 for half a mile to Route 662, and turn right again. Parking is free.