Recently, there has been a public uproar about the threatened development of Walden Woods, the forest that surrounds Walden Pond near Concord, Mass. The woods, made famous by Henry David Thoreau, have been listed as one of the nation's 11 "most endangered historic sites" by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Meanwhile, another National Historic Landmark is facing "de-designation" because of potential development. This one is in our back yard -- less than 50 miles from Washington. Listed as the nation's No. 1 most endangered historic site, the village of Waterford, Va., was settled in 1733 by Pennsylvania Quakers. It is one of only three villages in the United States to be designated an historic landmark rural village. In fact, when the President's Advisory Council on Historic Preservation issues its report later this year, Waterford is expected to be the centerpiece of its concern.
The Waterford National Historic Landmark -- so designated by the Department of the Interior of 1970 -- includes 1,420 acres surrounding the village. At that time, officials cited as a critical factor the relationship of the open spaces, or "viewsheds," as they are called, to the village. These parcels are privately owned. Unless the nonprofit citizens' group, the Waterford Foundation, can preserve the viewshed, the landmark designation will be lost.
Developers have recently discovered this idyllic town and think it would be a fine to dot the surrounding hills with homes. In March 1988, a Fairfax developer, who had purchased the small Huntley Farm within the landmark boundaries, agreed to a compromise, scaling his original plan to build 77 homes down to 15, and siting these units along the "hard edge" of the village. Only a massive effort by the Waterford Foundation averted the developer's initial, disastrous plan.
The foundation had not even caught its breath when it received word of the potential purchase of 1,200 acres by one of the nation's largest development companies. Three hundred acres lie within the boundaries of the Waterford Landmark.
This year, Waterford celebrates the 20th anniversary of its National Historic Landmark designation. In October, the village opens its streets and doors for the state's oldest crafts fair and one of the nation's premier showcases of heritage crafts. Waterford's Second Street School's "living history" program has received wide acclaim throughout Northern Virginia for its reenactment of a typical day in a one-room school of the 1880s. The restoration of its Old School (another in the village) into the National Center for Heritage Education, a project jointly undertaken by the Waterford Foundation and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, will ensure national standing in the education and preservation arenas.
Part of the solution to Waterford's struggle to survive this development threat might be found in the "Waterford Compact." This agreement between the foundation and neighboring landowners who would give the foundation the first opportunity to buy the land when owners were ready to sell. Simply stated the "Waterford Compact" seeks to compensate the landowner for the fair market value of his property. The Waterford Foundation requests the right of first refusal on the property should the landowner ever decide to sell.
Preferred development plans are prepared for each individual parcel, approved by the National Park Service and the county, to protect the landmark designation. The foundation then secures the assistance of developers to implement these plans. Major funding for the purchase of these parcels can come from private individuals or corporations.
The property, once developed in the least threatening manner, would be sold to offset expenses.
Like Walden Woods, Waterford must not fall to the profit-oriented developers' ax. It is our heritage; once gone, it cannot be reclaimed. Only when public outcry is coupled with community support will such national treasures be protected.
-- Linda Cox is president of the Waterford Foundation.