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Determining the Facts

Reading 1: Waterford: From Mill Town to National Historic Landmark

By 1835, a Virginia gazetteer noted that Waterford was a flourishing little village of "seventy dwelling houses, 2 houses of public worship, 1 free for all denominations, the other a Friends' meeting house, 6 mercantile stores, 2 free schools, 4 taverns, 1 manufacturing flour mill and 1 saw grist and plaster mill, and (in the vicinity) 2 small cotton manufactories. The mechanics are 1 tanner, 2 house joiners, 2 cabinet makers, 1 chair maker and painter, 1 boot and shoe manufacturer, 2 hatters, 1 tailor, &c. Population about 400 persons; of whom 3 are regular physicians."¹ The following year, in 1836, the thriving town was incorporated at its own request, and the 12 newly-elected commissioners appointed their first mayor, recorder, and sheriff.

By the middle of the 19th century wheat remained important to the local economy. Janney's second mill had been rebuilt and enlarged on the same foundation around 1818. The new three-and-a-half story brick mill doubled the previous capacity, reflecting the fertility and high wheat yield of the surrounding farmland. Quaker historian Asa Moore Janney noted that Yardley Taylor's 1853 map of Loudoun County showed 77 mills of various kinds in the county, of which 30 were wheat mills.

By the 1850s, Waterford's mill was producing flour for a wider market than just the village because the nearby Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and Baltimore and Ohio Railroad greatly improved the town's links to distant markets. Mill entries from 1849 show barrels of flour being hauled to Point of Rocks, Maryland, where they were loaded either onto Chesapeake and Ohio Canal barges or Baltimore and Ohio Railroad freight cars. In the Waterford area alone, by 1860, an estimated 80 farmers were producing more than 40,000 bushels of wheat, or about 500 bushels per farmer, an increase over the previous decade.²

The Civil War brought devastation to Waterford. Grain and crops were taken or destroyed by troops on both sides of the conflict. Lapsed Quaker Sam Means had to close his mill after Confederate forces seized his horses, wagons, and grain in 1862. He retaliated by forming the Independent Loudoun Rangers, the only army unit organized in Virginia to fight for the Union. It did not spare Waterford from damage by Union troops. Later in the war, during General Sheridan's "Burning Raid" of 1864, Union soldiers burned area barns to deny food for the Confederates and their horses. Relieved of his command in 1864 for refusing to obey orders, Means lived near Point of Rocks, Maryland until the war was over. Means never recovered financially from his previous losses. He sold the mill in 1868, moved to Washington, did not prosper, and was buried in an unmarked grave.

Back in Waterford, however, others were looking ahead to better times. Quakers from Waterford and nearby Lincoln founded the Catoctin Farmer's Club in 1868; members formed subcommittees to explore ways to broaden markets for local farmers. When the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad was extended west from the nearby county seat of Leesburg, past Waterford in 1870, it opened access to new markets.

Apparently the new mill owner, Charles Paxson, and his miller, J. F. Dodd, benefited from improved transportation connections. In 1885, they enlarged the brick mill significantly and installed the latest "roller mill" technology. The burr stones which used to grind the wheat kernels were replaced with porcelain rollers that successively crushed or rolled the wheat finer and finer, eliminating grit and producing a fine, white flour. The support industries for agriculture—harness makers, wagon builders, and blacksmiths—remained working in the village until the early 1900s.

Although Waterford grain had better access to markets, the village never returned to its pre-war level of manufacturing success because Waterford's villagers and area farmers were able to import cheaper machine-made goods—shoes, furniture, clothing, and farm equipment—from large manufacturing centers. They no longer supported local chairmakers, cobblers, and weavers, so these crafts began to disappear. As the artisans left, demand for new construction dwindled.

At the time of the Great Depression in the 1930s, the Waterford mill stopped grinding. In spite of continued high production of wheat in Loudoun County, local mills could no longer compete with huge mills located outside the area. The mill's machinery was sold as scrap iron for the war effort during the early part of World War II.

In 1943, village residents formed the non-profit Waterford Foundation to preserve Waterford's crumbling buildings, traditions, and rural character and to educate the public about life in early America. They used the mill to showcase 19th-century crafts. In October 1944, they began holding a three-day Homes Tour and Crafts Exhibit to highlight the town's arts, crafts, early history, and special architecture. Now the single largest event in Loudoun County, "the Fair" is the oldest juried crafts fair in Virginia and is nationally recognized for its educational outreach in an historic setting. The village is now home to residents who range from carpenters to commuters. The Waterford Foundation continues to educate thousands of student and adults each year and faces the challenge of rapid population growth that threatens to consume the farmlands of Loudoun County.

Questions for Reading 1

1. In the 1830s, what types of services were available to residents of Waterford?

2. Why was Waterford's economy damaged so badly during the Civil War? What helped the village recover?

3. What advances in transportation and mill technology caused larger mills to be built in Waterford?

4. When the mill finally stopped grinding flour, what happened to the economy and people of the town?

5. How did the economic conditions following the closing of the mills help preserve what is now Waterford's historic district?

Reading 1 was compiled from Joseph C. G. Kennedy, Agriculture of the United States in 1860, Compiled from the Original Returns of the Eighth Census (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1864); U.S. Bureau of the Census, Loudoun County, Virginia, Statistics of Agriculture, 1850-1870 (Microfilm edition T1132, Roll 7); Sheri Spellman and Bronwen C. Souders, Walk With Us (Waterford Foundation, 1992); Bronwen C. Souders and Kathleen Hughes, Waterford's Agricultural History: 1733-1993 (Waterford Foundation: Special Education Exhibit, 1993); and Thomas Phillips and Nathan Walker, Waterford Mill Ledger (Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, Virginia).

¹ Joseph Martin, Gazetteer of Virginia and the District of Columbia (Charlottesville, Va.: 1835), 216.
² U.S. Bureau of the Census, Loudoun County, Virginia, U.S. Census Agricultural Statistics 1850-1870, Microfilm edition T1132, Roll 7, 347-408.

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