As the millennium draws to a close, historian and mapmaker Eugene M. Scheel looks back at Loudoun County during those 1,000 years, in eight installments that began in the Dec. 5 Loudoun Extra and will continue each Thursday and Sunday through Dec. 30. Scheel, who works in Waterford, has written nine books on the history of Loudoun and surrounding counties and has drawn more than four dozen detailed historical maps of the area.
After the Revolutionary War, at the onset of liberty for white settlers, the large tracts of land granted to prominent Tidewater politicians and businessmen have been divided among others. Farms average more than 400 acres. Corn and wheat are staples, tobacco being rare because prices dropped during the Revolution and, after the war, tariffs and competition from abroad. Most homes are frame or log--or, west of Catoctin Mountain, stone. Typically, they have one story and a loft and face south to catch summer breezes and northern light ideal for detailed tasks. No windows face mountain views, as winter winds blow from the west and northwest. The range is open, but fences keep animals from the domicile, garden and orchard. Families averaging five and six support themselves, unaided by others save for God.
1780s: Leven Powell writes of "little Stores about everywhere." After taking flour, grain and produce to Alexandria by wagon, farmers realize it makes no sense to return with an empty vehicle. On credit, they purchase goods from abroad, bring them west and sell at a profit. Points of trade are at mills or crossroads. A blacksmith shop, even a tavern, might follow--the genesis of a village.
1782: As half of Loudoun is oriented toward the east, 293 landowners petition the General Assembly to create a new county of the eastern portion. Its western boundaries would be Goose Creek and its tributary, Wankopin Branch. The Assembly tables the petition, but in part it will be a reality 16 years later.
1787: A generation has passed since the General Assembly established Leesburg. Now the legislature sanctions Middleburg, Col. Leven Powell's idea. He imports several war cronies, most from Pennsylvania, to sign a petition stating that they are residents. Above their names, Powell wrote: "the Situation of the place bids fair to become a respectable Village."
1788: Powell, delegate to the Richmond Convention that votes 89 to 79 to ratify the U.S. Constitution, sides with the majority. Fellow Del. Steven Thomson Mason, of Raspberry Plain, a plantation north of Leesburg, votes with the minority. He objected to a strong central government, which could usurp states' rights, and the absence of a Bill of Rights.
1790s: Traveling frontier evangelists, harbingers of the Second Great Awakening, augment the county's 20 or so churches, most of them Baptist. There is one Episcopal Church, Francis Awbrey's old chapel of 1735, which decays by 1802. Services move to the courthouse in Leesburg and in 1804 to the new Presbyterian Church. This edifice and the 1766 Methodist Church at Leesburg are the only houses of worship in a town. The countryside, free from worldliness, is the place for reverence.
1793: Now a town of nearly 800, Leesburg boasts a post office. Middleburg will have one in 1797, Waterford and Goshen in 1800, Springfield (now Arcola) in 1801, Hillsborough (formerly The Gap) in 1802 and Hamilton Mills, Lanesville and Snickers' Gap (now Bluemont) in 1807. Mail arrives once a week from Washington and Baltimore. Post offices ensure long life to small villages, until the RFD (Rural Federal Delivery) wagon sounds many village's knell in the early 20th century.
1793-1817: Potomac Marble, that unique local sandstone conglomerate, shapes the House of Representatives and Senate chambers, and pillars of the U.S. Capitol. The stone, when polished, emulates the luster of marble and still is the highlight of the Capitol's interior. It is quarried from three pits in Leesburg--one inexplicably being filled in now--and one formation near Point of Rocks.
1796-1800: Twice, the county bucks the remainder of Virginia and votes by a 2 to 1 margin against Thomas Jefferson for the presidency. Leven Powell is the only Virginia elector to cast a ballot against the talented dilettante, who will have to wait until 1801 to become president. Loudoun wants roads and canals to take its rich produce to city markets. John Adams's administration encourages commerce.
1798: Oriented toward the navigable Potomac, petitioners of eastern Loudoun successfully have some 80,000 acres, one-fifth of the county, returned to Fairfax. Present limits are in place, though the river boundary, set in 1712 by Maryland at the Virginia shore's high-water mark, will be contested in court for 80 years.
1798: The True American newspaper appears, followed in 1800 by The Bull's Eye, and in 1804 by The Impartial Journal. These short-lived sheets precede The Washingtonian, 1808-1903, and The Genius of Liberty, 1817-1841. All are Leesburg weeklies, four to six pages, and cost $2 (two days' wages) for a year's subscription. Advertisements account for half their size. Most features are copied from other newspapers.
1799: Leesburg Academy, a private boys' school, opens, surviving until 1879. Middleburg Academy opens in 1803 and continues until the Civil War. Among more than 20 boys' schools of this era, several last decades--unusual for Virginia. But then, Loudoun is a wealthy county because of its prime soils and ready markets for produce.
1800: The population stabilizes at 20,523. Slavery is at a peak, with 6,078, 30 percent of the total population. A slave sells for an average of $300 a person--nearly a year's typical wage. The county's population also includes 333 free Negroes, manumitted by various state laws, 1785-1793.
1801-1824: Commencing with Waterford, the General Assembly establishes seven towns, appointing trustees to lay out streets and manage lot sales. Hillsborough dates to 1802; Aldie, 1810; Union, 1813 (becoming Unison in 1829); Bloomfield, 1816; Upperville, 1819; and Snickersville, 1824 (becoming Bluemont in 1900). All survive, unlike many Virginia towns that survived "on paper only."
1802: With completion of the bypass canal skirting the Virginia side of Great Falls, the Potomac is navigable from Cumberland, Md., to the ocean. This "Patowmack Canal," George Washington's pet project, is the first man-made waterway in America. In Loudoun, locks were complete around Seneca Falls by 1790. Washington's slaves anger settlers when, to improve navigability, they dismantle several Indian fish traps.
1803: Agriculturist John Binns publishes his "Treatise on Practical Farming," advocating a quartet of deep plowing, clover, grazing and gypsum to increase yields--twofold of corn and fourfold of wheat, he notes. Quakers have practiced these conservation practices almost from the time of first settlement, but they have been known only by word of mouth. After receiving a copy of the treatise, Thomas Jefferson admits, "The County of Loudoun, has, from his example, become the most productive one in Virginia."
1803: Described by physician John Esten Cooke, "Inflammatory Bilious Fever spreads terror and desolation through the populous county" in summer and early fall. Symptoms are vomiting, blisters and convulsions; the treatment is letting of blood and emetics. As most victims reside in the hilly west, doctors attribute the malady to "mountain mists" settling into the valleys. Periodic epidemics, often influenza and typhoid, in part explain large families. Graveyards tell the story.
1809: The Little River Turnpike, today's John Mosby Highway or Route 50, is complete from Alexandria to the Aldie Mill, largest manufactory in Loudoun. The toll road is the first major turnpike in the United States and is the first to make a profit, under the management of Quaker Phineas Janney. Tolls, taken each 10 miles, run from 3 cents for horseback rider to 25 cents and more for a carriage and heavy wagon.
1813: Leesburg, with more than 1,000 residents, incorporates. Citizens can now elect officials, who have the power to tax and create laws enforceable within the town limits. Middleburg and Upperville incorporate in 1831, the latter now in Fauquier because of a shifting of the boundary in 1826. Waterford incorporates in 1836.
1814: As the British are about to burn Washington, the important state papers, including the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence, are taken by wagon from the Capitol to Leesburg and are stored there for several weeks. Thus begins the tale that Leesburg was once the nation's capital.
1815: Quakers take the lead in coeducation with the building of still-standing brick schoolhouses at Lincoln and Waterford. Some free black children also attend. Methodists also establish neighborhood schools, but most children attend "Old Field Schools," built with a farmer's permission in a nonproductive section of the field. About 30 percent of the children now receive an education.
1815: Waterford Quakers establish the first bank, The Loudoun Company, and it earns an 8 precent profit the next year. The state legislature, however, will not grant it a charter, instead favoring Winchester's Bank of the Valley, which opens a Leesburg branch in 1818. The Loudoun Company folds in 1824; the Bank of the Valley prospers until the Civil War. The controversy widens the growing animus between eastern and western Loudoun. The Loudoun Company in Waterford is now a private residence.
1816: State Del. Charles Fenton Mercer, of Aldie, persuades Virginia to establish a Board of Public Works. Now, if two-fifths of the funds to build a road or canal are raised by private stockholders, the state will supply the rest. By 1818, Ashby's Gap Turnpike, today's John Mosby Highway, is complete from Aldie to the Shenandoah River; Leesburg Turnpike, today's Harry Byrd Highway or Route 7, connects Washington with Leesburg; and the Snickersville Turnpike links Aldie and Snickers' Gap, now Bluemont.
1817: Eleven months after the American Colonization Society organizes, with the goal of freeing slaves and transporting them to Liberia, Ludwell Lee, of Belmont, and the Rev. John Mines, of the Leesburg Presbyterian Church, start a Loudoun chapter of some 70 men. Seven years later, Quakers organize the Loudoun Manumission and Emigration Society, which also stresses "exposing the evils of African slavery." By the 1830s, this purpose dominates the movement, for most freed blacks were born in America and cannot adjust to Africa.
1819: U.S. Sen. Armistead Thomson Mason, of Selma, a plantation north of Leesburg, had introduced a bill allowing Quakers to pay $500 instead of serving in the military. Disagreeing, his cousin and neighbor, John Mason McCarty, called Mason, a militia general, "a disgraceful coward." Other political quarrels and McCarty's goading lead to a duel at 10 paces and the senator's death.
CAPTION: The Presbyterian Church in Leesburg was built in 1804.
CAPTION: Leven Powell was the founder of Middleburg, one of the Virginia delegates who was on the winning side of an 89 to 79 vote to ratify the Constitution and an elector who voted against presidential candidate Thomas Jefferson.
CAPTION: This bridge over Goose Creek in western Loudoun was built in 1819 to carry traffic between Alexandria and Winchester. It was among the first projects funded by the state Board of Public Works, established in 1816.
CAPTION: Loudoun received a bit of fame when, in 1803, agriculturist John Binns published his "Treatise on Practical Farming," which led President Thomas Jefferson to comment that the county was the most productive in Virginia.
CAPTION: In 1809, Aldie Mill was the end of the road for what is now Route 50, which went to Alexandria.