For more than two decades, the work of developer Bruce M. Brownell has left its mark on Loudoun County's landscape -- and on people's conception of how development should be done.
Those who watched Brownell carefully integrate his projects into rural and suburban communities say he displayed a rare thoughtfulness and sensitivity to his surroundings during an era of explosive, and often slapdash, growth.
On Wednesday, more than a week after Browneel's death by an apparent suicide, family, friends and colleagues will gather at the Whitehall estate in Bluemont, where he grew up, to remember him. Brownell was 57 when he died May 21.
To examine Brownell's achievements is to read a list of some of Loudoun's most notable contemporary landmarks. He developed Market Station in Leesburg, the Stoneleigh golf course community outside Round Hill and the Contee Adams Seed Mill in Purcellville.
"I believe Bruce Brownell was the most creative developer in Loudoun County over the last 20 years, bar none," said Robert M. Gordon, a lawyer who worked on some of the county's biggest projects and runs a title insurance business at Market Station.
"There are developers who will just put up cheap, tacky stuff or put up a big box," Gordon said. "But Bruce Brownell, the stuff he put up in Loudoun County really contributed to the fabric of the community."
Julie Pastor, Loudoun County's planning director, pointed to a small Brownell housing project on an island of land at the western entrance to Leesburg's historic downtown as an example of the kind of "high-quality" project he became known for. The odd-shaped, triangular Westgreen neighborhood helps form an elegant gateway to town, she said.
"He owned a lot of property and was very creative in his development of it," Pastor said.
Brownell spent almost all of his life sharpening his skills. He grew up on a farm in Bluemont. There was a sawmill there, and he quickly learned to use his hands, said Beck Dickerson, an architect and longtime friend of Brownell's. While at the State University of New York in Alfred, Brownell found work building additions to homes -- porches, decks and the like. By the early 1980s, he had started building in Loudoun.
Dickerson, who partnered with Brownell on many projects, said his friend was always concerned with doing something he could be proud of, not something that would bring him riches.
"The significance of his imprint is that, unlike most builders, Bruce's craftsmanship is inherent in all of his work," Dickerson said.
That craftsmanship is reflected in Tuscarora Mill at Market Station, said Kevin Malone, one of the restaurant's owners. "The unique character of the place is due mostly to his unique energy and his commitment to perfection," Malone said.
Malone said that Brownell made major improvements to the restaurant and that, through his artistry, he added small but important touches. He turned a grain bin into a wine cart. "He could think of things in the ways that no one else could," Malone said.
In the early 1990s, Brownell identified a mill in Purcellville he wanted to restore. He approached Malone and asked whether he wanted to open a restaurant there. Malone wasn't interested. "Tell me when Purcellville has more people than cows," he said.
About 15 years later, Brownell contacted Malone and told him he had just done a count. "There's more people than cows," he said, according to Malone. The mill was renovated and, earlier this year, reopened as Magnolias at the Mill.
Round Hill Mayor Frank Etro Jr. pointed to the Stoneleigh golf course community, and a much smaller project near the town center, as examples of Brownell's comparatively gentle approach.
"He tried to provide development that fit into the community it was going into, that mimicked or copied a lot of the elements . . . whether they were man-built or natural," Etro said. "He didn't believe in coming in and flattening the land and just creating something that didn't respect the land."
Brownell fit about 150 home lots into the topography of former orchards and kept old farm structures for golf course maintenance and other uses, Etro said.
In the project in town, Brownell built just eight homes when he could have put up three times that many, Etro said. He also took cues from porches and other architectural features of existing homes, making the new homes seem as if they had been there all along, Etro added. Brownell even donated about an acre to the town for a nature trail as part of the package.
Etro said it was "extremely unusual" for a developer to "come in and build less than he was allowed to build. I don't think I've ever heard of it."
Powers Thomas of Round Hill, another longtime friend of Brownell's, said the developer spent his time creating "things of beauty."
The two had been collaborating on a plan for a retirement community in Loudoun, one that would have greenhouses and other special amenities. There is an acute need for such a facility, Thomas said, and Brownell understood that. He added that his friend "had an ability to take an idea and run with it and fill in all the blanks and do it tastefully."
Brownell's survivors include his wife, Wenesday "Sam" Brownell; his children, Jason Brownell and Kelly Ensor; three brothers; and his parents, Zora "Mac" Brownell and James Brownell, a former Loudoun County supervisor.