Fighting Over Historic Designation - The Simms House

The state's historic preservation agency traveled to Waterford in late 2007 and held a three-hour hearing on a resident's petition to remove the western Loudoun County village from the list of Virginia historic landmarks.

Milari Madison, a Waterford property owner, contends that the Waterford Historic District should be taken off the Virginia Landmarks Register because it no longer has the characteristics of a historic landmark. She also asserts that the designation infringes on her right to build on her property.

Thursday's hearing was the latest round in a legal battle that has lasted more than four years. More than 70 people attended the hearing, held at Catoctin Presbyterian Church.

Milari and her husband, Paul Madison, bought a house on Janney Street in Waterford in 2003 and wanted to expand it to more than double its size. Their plans were rejected by county officials, who said the additions did not fit the historic character of Waterford.

In 2004, the Madisons began a campaign to demolish the house, drawing opposition from preservationists, who noted that for 50 years it had been the home of Lizzie Simms, an African American woman who taught segregated black children. The county Board of Supervisors voted to deny a demolition permit but was overturned by a Loudoun Circuit Court judge, and the house was razed in December.

In April, Milari Madison sent a petition to the director of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Kathleen Kilpatrick, asking that she strip Waterford of its 38-year-old historic landmark designation. Madison said in her petition that the designation diminished the value of her property "by unreasonably limiting" what she could lawfully construct on the lot.

Kilpatrick rejected Madison's petition. Madison appealed the decision in June to the Virginia Board of Historic Resources, which triggered the board's visit to Waterford last week.

After an hour-long driving tour of Waterford on Thursday morning, the board convened the meeting at the church and heard from about 30 speakers. With the exception of Madison, all of them opposed her petition.

Madison told the board that no significant historical events occurred in the village and that it should not have been nominated for landmark status. She also contended that Waterford has not retained the physical integrity associated with a historic landmark because of the destruction and addition of many buildings over the years.

Kilpatrick also addressed the board, saying she disagreed with Madison's contention that Waterford does not deserve its listing on the state register.

"It's patently absurd to say there's no history here. It boggles the mind," said Kilpatrick, adding that it was the first time someone had tried to remove an entire historic district from the Virginia landmarks list. "Delisting is an extraordinary event."

The board is scheduled to make a decision on Madison's petition Dec. 5. In a discussion session after the public comments, several board members indicated skepticism that Madison's arguments held any merit.

Waterford was founded in 1733 by Quakers and added to the Virginia Landmarks Register in 1969, the same year as Colonial Williamsburg. In 1970, it was selected as a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior, a designation that Madison unsuccessfully tried to remove earlier this year.

Among the other speakers at the hearing were Loudoun Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott K. York (I) and Supervisor Sarah R. "Sally" Kurtz (D-Catoctin). Several speakers pointed to the village's numerous historic buildings and its contributions to tourism.

Kathleen Hughes, president of the Waterford Foundation, said her organization has worked for years to promote preservation in the historic district and protect open space. She said that most people move to Waterford because they want to preserve that history.

"Everyone who has bought in the community wants it to be a historic district, or they wouldn't have bought here," said Hughes, who owns property in the village. "We all wanted to buy a historic house and preserve it."

"I have a feeling that [Madison] has a much larger agenda than building a house in the Waterford Historic District," Hughes added, saying that Madison is waging her legal fight as a property rights activist.