A Colonial color palette of yellow, blue, olive and white permeates quiet streets and brick sidewalks in historic Leesburg. A visitor can imagine the Marquis de Lafayette being escorted by President John Quincy Adams and former president James Monroe into the classical-revival Loudoun County Courthouse, as he was in 1825.
Leesburg originated as a little settlement at the intersection of King and Market streets (U.S. Route 15 and Virginia Route 7) in 1730. The Virginia legislature built the courthouse on the corner in 1757 and named the town a year later.
It was a commercial crossroads for Winchester farmers who sent their produce east to Alexandria and Georgetown. Today, greater Leesburg covers 7,680 in a line of development stretching across Northern Virginia 40 miles northwest of Washington, D.C. The town is the county seat, and its 247-acre historic district is a tourist destination as well as a residential community.
“Historic Leesburg has a down-home comfortable old-fashioned feel. Everything is close. I don’t need a car,” said Melanie A. Miles. Since 2000, she and her husband, David Miles, have lived in an antebellum mansion that they renovated; it also houses their career-management firm, Miles LeHane Cos.
Maintaining historic charm: Housing stock is varied and consists mostly of single-family dwellings and some older townhouses, said resident Gwen Pangle, broker-owner at Pangle & Associates Real Estate.
They include houses of red brick or clapboard as well as cottages and log cabins. Some houses are framed by white picket fences, while others front the sidewalk close to the street.
Newer homes meld seamlessly with the historic ambiance of the neighborhood. This is deliberate, said Ron Rust. He and his wife, Judy Kozacik, are longtime residents and owners of Thomas Birkby House, a special-events venue they renovated.
“The historic district is essentially the original village of Leesburg, and the Board of Architectural Review aims to keep it that way,” he said. Design guidelines define allowable changes to the exterior of residential and commercial properties.
Tracy Coffing, a professional architectural conservator and former member of the board who has lived in the community since 2002, said the guidelines were written to maintain and preserve the architectural integrity and historic fabric of the district. “They ensure that renovation, restoration and repair are appropriate for the period of the particular structure,” she said.
“Some people are afraid of the review process because they think it’ll make their project more troubling or expensive,” said Coffing. “But if you ask what attracted them here in the first place, they’ll say the sense of historic charm. So we need to explain that guidelines are in place to maintain that historic character.”
Economic development and recreation: The town seeks to attract merchants and make their experience setting up shop easy. “We want to grow Leesburg in a way that appeals to people and makes them want to be there,” said Pangle, who is on the Economic Development Commission and is the president of Leesburg Downtown Business Association, “yet balance this development with the area’s history and the residential community.”
Saxton Landscapes, a family-owned local company, helps “keep the historic center beautified,” project manager Roger Washington said as his crew conducted spring cleanup around the 1804 Leesburg Presbyterian Church.
Many shops are near the church, as are a bank, a hair salon, and more than two dozen restaurants, bars and cafes. You can buy gifts, high-fashion clothes, fabrics, furniture, jewelry and pet accessories. Supermarkets and shopping centers, including a sprawling outlet mall, are a short drive away.
“History isn’t the only thing that drives people to Leesburg,” said Pangle. “We want to be recognized for our history, but that isn’t what makes cash registers ring.”
The W&OD Trail is popular among hikers, bikers and dog walkers. Sixteen parks across town offer playgrounds, picnic tables, pools, ball fields, basketball courts, benches and nature trails. The 24th annual Flower & Garden Festival will take place April 26 and 27.
Living there: The historic district is bordered roughly by Union and North streets NW on the north, Harrison Street NE on the east and the W&OD Trail south and Ayr Street NW on the west.
According to Pangle, three properties are for sale there, ranging from $443,000 for a three-bedroom, three-bathroom single-family house to $685,000 for a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house, also detached.
One property, a two-bedroom, one-bathroom townhouse, is under contract, for $164,900.
In the past year, 13 homes sold. Prices ranged from $135,000 for a one-bedroom, one-bathroom townhouse to $1.15 million for a three-bedroom, two-bathroom single-family dwelling.
Transit: The intersection of U.S. Route 15 and Virginia Route 7 provides access to multiple highways, including Virginia Route 267, which covers the 15 miles to Washington Dulles International Airport.
Virginia Regional Transit operates three bus routes on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. including a trolley, which runs Saturday between 10 a.m. and 9 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m., and a “7 to 7 on 7” route from the historic district to Sterling.
A MARC train station in Point of Rocks, Md., 12 miles north of Leesburg, offers service to Washington.
Schools: Leesburg pupils attend Bluff, Catoctin, Cool Spring, Evergreen Mill, Frances Hazel Reid, John W. Tolbert, Frederick Douglass and Leesburg elementary schools; Harper Park, J.L. Simpson and Smart’s Mill middle; and Heritage, Loudoun County and Tuscarora high. Other options are Monroe Technology Center and Douglass Alternative School.
Crime: According to the Leesburg Police Department there were six assaults, two larcenies and one burglary during the past 12 months.
Audrey Hoffer is a freelance writer.