It’s so cliché to say that a drive through Waterford VA is like being transported back in time, but it’s hard to describe it any other way.
This quaint village in northern Virginia has changed so little in almost 300 years that its founder, Amos Janney, would have no trouble finding his way around.
This is in stark contrast to other towns in northern Virginia that are paved and surrounded by sprawl.
So tag along and find out more about this picturesque community that has withstood the test of time.
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Charm and History In Waterford
Waterford became a National Historic Landmark in 1970 (along with Mount Vernon and Monticello) due to its abundance of historical buildings and the unspoiled agricultural setting that surrounds it.
Most of the houses in Waterford were built in the first quarter of the 19th century when the town began to grow as a commercial center.
In fact, of the seventy or so buildings that existed there in 1875, only fourteen have disappeared.
And to put it another way, of the 97 homes in Waterford, more than half were built before 1861.
Only four were built after 1922!
A trip to this bucolic village is like seeing a little slice of paradise.
Although some modern amenities (like convenient shopping and level sidewalks) have to be forfeited, residents seem content exchanging those for things like peace and quiet and lack of modern intrusions.
Waterford VA History
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. (It’s an amazing structure).
Waterford continued to prosper and reached its manufacturing height in the mid 19th century. When you walk around in Waterford, it’s not hard to picture how it looked.
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.”
The Civil War In Virginia
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, the village’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.
If you want to see and hear a little bit more about the history of Waterford, you can watch this.
The One-of-a-Kind Waterford Fair
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 event features traditional made-by-hand arts and trades, along with talks and demonstrations.
I was lucky enough to get to do a book signing for my Civil War Trilogy at the Festival, so I got to experience the history of the town AND shop at the many vendors.
I’m not sure how many they have now, but there were more than 85 juried artisans from across the country exhibiting and demonstrating jewelry, clothing, furniture, and home décor craft.
Another unique thing about the Waterford Fair is that visitors get to touch, feel, and explore high-quality American crafts and meet the makers behind the 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 does get crowded, but it’s a great event for young and old alike.
The proceeds benefit the preservation and education efforts of the Foundation to preserve and protect the beautiful Landmark District for future generations.
Things To Do Close By
Leesburg, Va. is less than eight miles away and offers lots of quaint shops, antiques and restaurants. If you want to learn more about its history you can take a private walking tour.
Leesburg is also home to the Morven Park mansion that offers house tours, as well as expansive walking grounds and gardens.
If you’re looking for another unique Virginia town to visit, check out Middleburg, Va. It’s about 25 miles south. Lots of historic architecture, shopping and unique restaurants and pubs.
Waterford reminds me of Harpers Ferry WV, because of the beautiful stone architecture. Both small towns have unique characteristics that make the perfect day trip or weekend getaway.