The Post reported recently on the spending spree of developer Jim Abdo in tiny Washington, Va. The article was of great interest to many of us in Rappahannock County who are concerned about the ramifications of Abdo’s purchases and his astonishing presumptions about our county seat. Ours is a bucolic, quiet, rural community, and suddenly Abdo has announced great plans to change that. The resentment here is palpable, and feelings are raw.
Folks who have worked the land here for generations have striven to protect Rappahannock from the exurban blight that has devoured neighboring counties. The easy, natural charm of our Blue Ridge is enhanced by the down-to-earth way of its people. We are an agricultural community with a first-class arts scene and wonderful shops and eateries. Much of our county is in Shenandoah National Park; Skyline Drive serves as the county line to the west.
All of this existed before the Inn at Little Washington and long before it was discovered by folks such as Abdo. The inn is world-class, and some are given to brag about it, but most of us have only a passing connection with it. The inn is here because of the town. The town is not here because of the inn.
It was shocking to read Abdo say of Washington, “It was hollow, it was vacant, it was empty. . . . There was no pulse. And I thought to myself, ‘I’ve been going into corridors with bigger problems than this. And I’ve also gone into corridors that didn’t have a catalyst like the Inn at Little Washington. And why isn’t that property being leveraged?’ ”
This is our worst nightmare. Suddenly we are corridors, we have catalysts, we are being leveraged. Our town is not hollow. It is not vacant or empty. It has a pulse. It is quiet, thank the Lord, for that is why we love it. I think what Abdo saw was not a problem to be solved but money to be made. So he and his partners very quietly bought up half the town. We found out about it in The Post. Now that the deal is done, it appears we will have to live with the results.
A friend of mine, a native of Rappahannock, put it this way: “A lot of these ‘come-heres’ and weekend people stick to themselves and look down their nose at us. Some of them are all right, but a lot of them act like they are better than us.” That is kind of it in a nutshell. The yard with the “kitchen appliance” sitting outside, which The Post sniffed at, is the yard of a proud family whose members have given their lives to this place.
The real heart-blood of Rappahannock are those who have devoted years to the community’s life, supporting our schools, our animal shelters, our food bank. They are the people who offer neighbors a needed helping hand, volunteer for the fire department and get out the chainsaws after a storm. All of that matters more to us than fancy food for weekend visitors.
Abdo’s portrayal of Washington as a vanishing town that needs to be rescued was self-serving. It was also inaccurate. Our town dipped during the recession just like everybody else’s, but no one here was crying out for an invasion of cultural renovators.
Many of these newcomers are aloof to our community and to an understanding of Southern life, rural living or mountain ways. We resent attempts to turn our little piece of paradise into a Virginia version of the Hamptons in New York or Carmel, Calif. I don’t know Abdo, but his words to The Post were insulting and not in tune with the sensibilities of the vast majority of us here.
Like Abdo, The Post did little to gauge the feeling of everyday Rappahannock folk, a lot of proud people who don’t want to be made over in the apparently tasteless ambitions of a developer who is truly a stranger to most of us.
The author represented Georgia in the U.S. House from 1989 to 1993.