A drive through Waterford, Va., is like taking a trip back in time. Thankfully, the village has changed so little that founder Amos Janney would have no trouble recognizing it — a stark contrast to other quaint towns in Virginia that are now surrounded by sprawl.
Waterford became a National Historic Landmark in 1970 due to its abundance of historical buildings and the unspoiled agricultural setting that surrounds it. Most of Waterford’s houses were built in the first quarter of the 19th century when the town grew rapidly as a commercial center. In fact, of the seventy or so buildings that existed there in 1875, only fourteen have disappeared.
When you drive into Waterford, you will see a sign that says, “Founded 1733.” That’s when Pennsylvania Quaker Amos Janney purchased 400 acres along Catoctin Creek. Janney had come to the area to help Lord Fairfax survey tracts, and immediately recognized the area’s potential as prime farming land.
Within a few years, Janney had built a mill for grinding flour and sawing wood along Catoctin Creek. Other Quakers soon came to the area for the fertile farmlands, and a settlement grew around Janney’s Mill.
The mill, which still stands today, is a three and a half story structure that operated until 1939.
Waterford continued to prosper and reached its manufacturing height in the mid 19th century. In 1835, a Virginia gazetteer noted that Waterford was a flourishing little village of “seventy dwelling houses, 2 houses of public worship, 6 mercantile stores, 2 free schools, 4 taverns, 1 manufacturing flour mill and 1 saw grist and plaster mill, and 2 small cotton manufactories.”
As pacifists and abolitionists, the Quakers remained loyal to the Union throughout the war, making them target of aggression by southern sympathizers and the Confederate Army. Sadly, Waterford’s farming industry was particularly hard-hit by Sheridan’s Burning Raid of November 1864 when Union soldiers destroyed most barns and mills in northern Loudoun to deny food to the Confederates.
Before and during the Civil War, large numbers of Loudoun’s Quakers moved westward. Additionally, major transportation routes bypassed Waterford during the late 1800s, putting the village on the periphery of Loudoun County’s economic activity. Both were causes of population depletion and economic stagnation in Waterford by the end of the 19th century.
Each year in October the Waterford Foundation sponsors a three-day Arts and Crafts Fair in the village that raises funds to continue historic preservation efforts. This is a one-of-a-kind event that features traditional made-by-hand arts and trades, along with talks and demonstrations.
You can walk through the village and enjoy 85+ juried artisans from across the country who exhibit and demonstrate jewelry, clothing, furniture, and home décor craft. Visitors get to touch, feel, and explore high-quality American crafts and meet the makers behind the fabulous work.
The village also comes alive with period re-enactors, live music, heritage farming exhibits, a wine garden, homes tours, art and photography exhibits, a good old fashioned country store and hands-on activities for the kids.
It gets crowded, but it’s a great event for young and old alike. Plus the proceeds benefit the preservation and education efforts of the Waterford Foundation to preserve and protect this beautiful Landmark District.
If you’d like to learn more about Waterford, click HERE.