Preservation in Good Times and Bad

By: Conrad Neuf , Contributing Writer
In: Old Houses, Old House Musings, Old House History
Historic Loudoun County, Virginia

Historic Loudoun County, Virginia

I had occasion to spend most of my day in western Loudoun County, Virginia, yesterday. My family moved near Waterford in 1967, and my parents still live there in the same old house which dates from the late 1700s or early 1800s. Loudoun County has been one of the fastest growing counties in the country for the past ten years, and in some ways I am glad I only get up there once or twice a year, as the changes I see hit me like a sharp blow to the stomach. It occurred to me yesterday that in a lot of ways Loudoun County is a microcosm of the successes and failures of preservation efforts across the country.

Preservation and Good Economic Times

When the economy is good, and people are purchasing homes faster than they can be built, old houses and the property they are on fall prey to developers looking for profits. It was simply amazing to me the number of huge farms that once had hundreds of acres of pasture land for horses and cattle, but now contained row after row of houses. The big old farmhouses are either long gone or sitting off by themselves looking out of place. Yesterday I saw a row of million dollar homes in the middle of what used to be a horse field–no trees around them, no ponds or lakes, just ten or so big houses in a line facing a new road in a large field.

But on the other hand a good economy allows old house enthusiasts to restore historic old homes, and I saw a lot of old houses that never looked better. It was obvious that families had purchased the old houses and were lovingly restoring them. The good economic years allowed historic old houses such as the Oatlands Plantation; Morven Park; and George Marshall’s Leesburg home, Dodona Manor, to continue preservation efforts.

Preservation and Bad Economic Times

How has the bad economy affected preservation in western Loudoun County? Well from what I could see, there is not a lot of residential construction going on; developers are probably sitting on property they may never get their money out of. It looked like a lot of developments had come to a screeching halt like the ten large homes sitting in the middle of the field.

The slowdown also gives preservation groups, such as the Loudoun Preservation Society, a chance to catch their breath and figure out where their next project might be. But I’m sure it also cuts back on the contributions and donations they receive, and may limit their preservation efforts. I saw a lot of great old houses for sale, and I also saw several old houses that I recalled were once magnificent places, but now had their windows boarded over and yards overgrown. I don’t know if the families could no longer afford to keep them up or if they were foreclosures.

And as I drove back home last evening, thinking about what I had seen during the day, it occurred to me that historic preservation doesn’t ebb and flow with the economy, it is simply people working hard to save pieces of our country’s history, and doing the best they can no matter what the economy happens to be.