Residents, County Leaders Defend Waterford's Landmark Status
November 16, 2007
More than 150 residents crowded into the Catoctin Presbyterian Church fellowship hall in Waterford yesterday afternoon as members of the Virginia Board of Historic Resource held a public hearing to consider a petition by Milari Madison to remove the 38-year-old Waterford Historic District from the Virginia Landmarks Register.
Madison's petition is the first ever request to remove an entire district from Virginia's list of historic places, state representatives said.
Three hours of testimony by Madison and state representatives, as well as local residents, revealed widely divergent views on what constitutes history and whether a site should remain frozen in a particular time period or be allowed to evolve.
Madison petitioned the Virginia Department of Historic Resources to delist the district in April, claiming the district did not meet the nomination criteria as an unaltered site and because of numerous procedural and judgment errors. She also claimed the Kathleen S. Kilpatrick denied the petition May 30, but Madison designation had an adverse effect on her property rights as a landowner. VDHR Director appealed that administrative ruling in late June.
Historian Patrick Butler chairs the five-member policy-making board of VDHR. In opening the hearing yesterday, Butler outlined the procedure for the afternoon, which included testimony by Madison and Kilpatrick, information provided by state architectural historian Marc Wagner and comments by members of the public.
The 1733 village west of Leesburg and 1,447 acres of surrounding farmland was placed on the Virginia Landmarks Register May 13, 1969 and on the National Register of Historic Places June 3 that year. In 1970, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Rogers B. Morton designated the Waterford Historic District a National Historic Landmark.
Madison waged a three-year battle to build an addition to a home she owned on Janney Street or to build a new home on the lot. Her efforts to gain a Certificate of Appropriateness from the county's Historic District Review Committee for a larger home on the lot were unsuccessful, but after months of the building being left vacant and exposed to the elements Circuit Court Judge Thomas D. Horne late last year granted Madison and her husband, Paul, the right to demolish the home.
Madison said that the nomination form used for Waterford's original designation stated the village was unaltered and virtually unchanged. She also cited inadequate minutes and information and inconsistencies on the original listing by the Virginia Landmarks Commission, predecessor to VDHR. Madison noted that loss of the qualities that caused a site to be designated originally could be used as grounds for removing properties from the Register.
Most of Waterford no longer remains as it was in the 19th century and the property has ceased to meet the designation criteria, she claimed, because it is no longer unaltered.
That, essentially, was the crux of the matter, according to Kilpatrick, who said the key question for the board to consider was "has it retained the qualities for which it was listed in the first place?" In her opinion, and that of her staff, which she said thoroughly evaluated Madison's petition from many points of view, there was no doubt the village still embodies those characteristics.
To Madison's contention that no particular events of history occurred in the village, Kilpatrick said it was "patently absurd to say there's no history here," noting that history is not just about battles or events, it's a focus on people and the way they live in a broad pattern.
On the question of prejudicial and procedural errors made in the original designation, Kilpatrick said, "there needs to be a common sense factor in all this." Both she and Wagner noted nominations were much simpler and provided less information in the early years of the national preservation program. In those early days, the program took the obvious properties, she said, noting that Mount Vernon and Williamsburg were accepted onto the Virginia register at the same time as Waterford.
She also said the state does not require properties or sites to remain exactly as they were but, rather, to evolve in a consistent and rational manner as long as the changes do not overwhelm the historic nature of the site.
During a visual presentation on the process used to evaluate the petition and Waterford's current status, Wagner said his team found the village retained its integrity on a number of points to a high degree.
A number of county leaders, including County Chairman Scott K. York (I-At large), Supervisor Sally R. Kurtz (D-Catoctin), Loudoun County Planning Commissioner and former Historic District Review Committee Chairman Kevin Ruedisueli and Loudoun Convention and Visitors Center CEO Cheryl Kilday testified that the village was an important part of the county's historic and cultural resources and contributed significantly to the county's bottom line through the role it played in Loudoun's travel and tourism industry.
"Thousands [of visitors] appreciate its constancy in a sea of change," Kurtz said, also praising village property owners for their willingness to keep "the story alive for future generations" and tell its social history through the annual Waterford homes Tour & Crafts Exhibit.
Waterford Foundation President Kathleen Hughes likened Waterford to a "living museum and we are the resident curators of its collections," noting the strong Quaker, African-American history of the village and its many different faiths.
Several others noted the foundation has spent $7.4 million over the years to protect 338 acres to keep the relationship of the village to its surrounding farmland, including the purchase of the 144-acre Phillips Farm, by placing them under permanent conservation easement and greatly reducing the development density. The foundation also has preserved 11 historic buildings, on which it spends $62,000 annually on maintenance.
Former National Trust Chairman and Waterford property owner Jack Walter said Madison's claims that her constitutional property rights were compromised regarding the use of her house was moot because she demolished her house last December, four months before she filed her petition to VDHR, at a time when she had no application pending before the HDRC to construct a new house.
"There is no bar to a compatible new structure," he said. "So much time and effort wasted on such a dead end claim."
Resident Laura Shaw agreed with Walter, noting that Madison had ample opportunity to continue the existing application in place when she and her husband bought the property had she followed the HDRC guidelines. She also could have made "reasonable use of her house" by taking advantage of an offer that was made to pay her $115,000 above what she had spent, Shaw said.
Several others disputed Madison's claims there were no businesses any more in Waterford, including Linda Landreth, owner of the 1883 Waterford Market and a sheep farmer. She pointed to many agriculture-related enterprises around the village, including produce raised for farmers markets, cattle and sheep farming and a winery.
In closing, Butler said cultural history was not a "tale of battles but of the way people live over time, simple or great-they all contribute." He said he was impressed by the variety of comments made by residents and promised to review the testimony on both sides thoroughly.
Further written comment may be sent to VDHR through Nov. 30. The board will make known its decision regarding Madison's appeal during its regular meeting Dec. 5 in Richmond, he said.