One morning last month Pat Rosenberger got a call from the principal of Nokesville Elementary School, near her house. "Pat," said principal Ken Pettit, "do you know whose cows might be eating the grass under the swings on the playground?"
Rosenberger took an educated guess, and Pettit went off to call the farmer to corral his animals, not an uncommon occurrence at the little brick school in the center of Nokesville, one of the last authentic country towns in fast-growing Prince William County.
It's a town that hasn't been "discovered" or tarted up with boutiques or gourmet coffee emporiums. The Southern States Cooperative, which specializes in selling seed, feed, bundles of hay and any other supplies a farmer might need, is still the centerpiece of Nokesville. And just up Rte. 28, toward Manassas, is the Nokesville Livestock Auction Co., with sales every Saturday.
At the sandwich counter at Stuart's Grocery and Deli, they remember whether the regular customers like whole wheat or rye. And for a Friday night football game at Brentsville District High School, the home stands will be full, not just with parents and students, but area residents who come to support the team.
Ask anyone in the parking lot of the mini-library -- which has become a focal point of village life since its completion two years ago -- to describe Nokesville, and the words "warm" and "friendly" are repeated again and again.
"It's easy-going and old-time," says Greta Perry, secretary at the elementary school, who came to the community with her family 13 years ago to escape the city life of Manassas.
"It's a community with a good network," she said. "If someone needs something, people help eagerly. It still has the modern problems, but because you do have this neighborliness, they don't seem so bad."
Nokesville is home to a diverse group of residents, many of whom have lived there for years, making their livings off the rich pastureland around the town that once supported nearly a score of dairy farms. Only seven remain, alongside the now more profitable beef cattle and horse farms that range across the landscape.
The town's newcomers, many of whom work in Manassas or Fairfax County, live in clusters of new housing that is beginning to dot former pastures with split-level homes. Many custom-built homes, like the Perrys', are nestled in wooded areas away from the roads. According to John Cantrell, a broker with Mount Vernon Realty in Manassas, there is an increasing demand for housing in the Nokesville area because of its proximity to Manassas and the nearby IBM facility, which employs 12,000 workers.
Housing in the area is diverse, but because of the lack of a sewer line there are no subdivisions, Cantrell said. Existing and custom-built housing can sell "from anywhere between $95,000 and $200,000 and above."
Nokesville's newcomers seem to be as fiercely loyal to the area as the veteran neighbors. Karen and Frank Lembo, who live west of the town with their three children, are typical of newer residents. They came to Nokesville from Fairfax County "because it was a small community," in the words of Karen Lembo, "with community schools. We had little children. ... The people here take time to raise their children."
It offered privacy and a chance to return to a simpler and more wholesome life, they agreed.
The Rosenbergers came for similar reasons after trying life in Silver Spring and Dale City. "I was from a small town in the Midwest," Pat Rosenberger said. "When we came to the county, we lived in a town house in Dale City. I knew I didn't want that."
The Rosenbergers also weren't eager to have their children attend a high school with more than 2,000 other students, which would have been the case in nearly every other county high school. While Woodbridge has 2,745 students, Brentsville has 680 in a combination middle and high school that includes grades six through 12.
Now the Rosenbergers live in a new house across Aden Road from the Brentsville High School. Rosenberger has become an active volunteer at the high school as well as at the elementary school.
"There's no shortage of volunteers here," she said. "And teachers really want to teach here."
Brentsville has the distinction of being the only one of Prince William County's six high schools to offer an agriculture course. Brad Douglas has taught the course since 1956, when, he said, most of his students were farm boys. Today there are six girls among his 30 students, some of whom come from as far away as Dale City to take the course.
Although Nokesville is a town, albeit unincorporated, the area known as Nokesville sprawls over about nine square miles of a tract of land originally deeded by the British crown to Lord Culpeper in the 17th century. It gets its name from the Nokes family, who first appeared in the area in 1859, when James Nokes bought the farm that is now known as White Hall Farm in the town's center. In 1874 the same land was deeded to a man named Norva L. Nokes, a captain in the Marine Corps.
The area was mainly settled by German Protestant farmers called Dunkards, who began to move east from the Shenandoah Valley in the mid-19th century to buy cheap land worn out by tobacco cultivation in Prince William County. Many of their descendants remain and are members of the Nokesville Church of the Brethren, founded 95 years ago.
The high point of the year in Nokesville comes every June when townspeople celebrate "Nokesville Day," an old-timey country fair featuring a parade, turtle races, bake sales and craft displays, and reunions for the local high school. In June, the Class of 1937 celebrated its 50th anniversary. Most of the original 11 class members still live in the area.
Most Nokesville residents have something to say about the traffic and growth, but in truth, growth is slower in Nokesville than in most other parts of Prince William County. The county planning department estimates that the population of greater Nokesville is about 3,700 now, 26 percent more than in 1980. In some areas of eastern Prince William, the population has grown by 60 percent.
Traffic may be a growing irritant, especially as the rush-hour onslaught pours down Rte. 28 and Fitzwater Drive. But the fact remains that in Nokesville, a driver can still make a U-turn on Main Street at almost any other time of the day -- a luxury in Northern Virginia.