Aldie may be only 35 miles west of Washington, but it's in a different world.
This Virginia village has no stop lights, no condominiums, no parking meters, no lines of people anywhere and virtually no crime.
"Cows don't commit crimes," said Lt. Greg Stocks of the Loudoun County Sheriff's Department. "It's a sleepy little town."
Cattle still outnumber farmers, yuppies and retirees in this rural community in southern Loudoun County. About 1,600 people have Aldie as a mailing address, but the population in the unincorporated town's core -- a village built along Rte. 50 for less than a mile -- is closer to 80.
Most people get their first glimpse of Aldie driving west on Rte. 50, heading for Middleburg, which is in the heart of the horse country about five miles from the village. Even through car windows, the quaint antique shops, the historic Mercer home and Floyd and Shirley's country store can make a lasting impression. Many return for a closer look.
At age 30, Tucker Withers left the bustle in Bethesda, rented an apartment in Middleburg and then settled in Aldie. Now 41, he lives in the village with wife Mary Ann, 29, a Fairfax County school teacher, and their 17-month-old son, Calder Lee.
In addition to an antique shop, the Withers own The Little River Inn, the town's only bed and breakfast establishment, which opened in 1982 after renovation. It's already noted for its Dutch Apple Baby, a concoction of fresh apples, cinnamon and pecans baked in a puffed pancake and smothered with confectioner's sugar.
Every now and then, Tucker Withers said, friends from the Washington suburbs call to check on him, asking questions like: "Aren't you going crazy out there?"
Sitting in his cozy inn one recent morning, with a fire going in the fireplace, Withers said he tells them he's enjoying life.
Perhaps the biggest difference in his life style, said Withers, is the pace. "You do not spend as much time waiting for things," he said. He has time to chat with neighbors at the post office, which has a welcome sign on its door.
Like other Aldie residents, the Witherses buy the basics at the Aldie Country Store, and shop, dine and bank in nearby Middleburg or Leesburg. A weekend for this couple sometimes includes an equestrian exhibit at a neighbor's house, the Cabin Fever Ball in Middleburg or a play at the Kennedy Center.
Neighbor John Tyler, who has lived in Aldie all his 73 years, except during World War II, said his favorite pastime is walking along the nature paths, looking for wild flowers. Tyler, a TV repairman, insisted that the town with no stop lights has changed a lot over the years.
Tyler remembers the horses and the buggies and the tinkling bells on wagons. He remembers when the Aldie Mill, whose wheels began turning in 1807 and ceased in 1971, was the center of the community.
The old mill is being renovated and will return to work grinding corn and wheat products, perhaps by next autumn.
It is the bits of history that Sue Cornelius, the town's postmistress, likes about Aldie, which was founded in 1810 by Charles Fenton Mercer, a Virginia congressman. The post office used to be on wheels, a mobile home known as Highway Post Office One. It will retrace its route one last time on April 15 before being retired to the Smithsonian Institution, she said.
A relative newcomer, Cornelius, 47, moved to Aldie from Manassas four years ago after building a house on 15 acres. Those who yearn to move farther out will find that the demand for housing far exceeds the supply here.
The real estate offices in Middleburg have few, if any, listings for Aldie.
The price tags on houses and farms that have sold recently can match those in Middleburg, ranging from $150,000 to several million dollars, said Judy Dudek, an agent at Mt. Vernon Armfield Realty. Land costs about $10,000 to $12,000 an acre, she said, and there are no apartments or condominiums.
Aldie has one elementary school, with 60 students enrolled, according to William H. Raye Jr., principal of the Aldie School.
Because of the small number, some grades are combined, Raye said. Older students attend J. Lupton Simpson Middle School and Loudoun County High School in Leesburg, he said.
Aldie has three churches and plenty of fellowship. Residents say hello to strangers browsing at the country store. They sled together on snowy days, and they fly the American flag outside their homes and businesses.
"You always look so lovely," Mildred Gulick tells a customer leaving her shop, the Harvest Moon Gifts and Collectibles on Rte. 50.
"Thank you, Mildred," the woman said, smiling.
Gulick has lived in Aldie since she was 14 and today lives "just a few fields over" on the Beulah Farm. Looking out her store window, she can see what is perhaps the town's biggest problem: traffic.
Buzzy Carter, the chief of Aldie's Volunteer Fire Department Co. 7, said a good portion of all emergency calls are for traffic accidents on Rte. 50, a busy highway mostly filled with passers-by and monitored by state police.
Greg Stocks of the sheriff's department said there is minimal crime in Aldie. Asked about the murder rate, Stocks said: "I don't remember when they last had a murder, and I've been here 17 years."
Residents want to keep it that way and are concerned about growth and its accompanying problems, but they are divided over whether they want development.
Some landowners favor it because they cannot make money farming. Last year, several proposals for developments were withdrawn because of citizen concerns about a possible lack of water and roads.
Whatever shape Aldie eventually takes, its residents probably will be intensely involved.
"Everybody in Aldie gets together and attacks a problem," said Withers, president of the Aldie Citizens Association. It's one of the things he admires about his town.
Said Withers, who has traveled extensively: "I can't find a place in the United States where I'd rather live."