We all know the story of the 17-year-old surveyor who “laid off a town in the Blue Ridge” back in 1749. Young George Washington was to become perhaps the most famous man in the “New World,” but back then he was just a strapping lad who was trying to support his widowed mother.
The town was to take his name and become the first town named after the military leader of our Revolution and the first President of the new nation. His namesake town passed through the Revolution, was occupied during America’s Civil War and survived “Reconstruction.”
It sent many young men to serve in both World Wars and struggled through the Great Depression in between. The little town had become the county seat of a new county, Rappahannock, in 1833. Over time it has been home to bootleggers and haute cuisine and has hosted visitors from all over the world. After the building of the nation’s first scenic highway, Skyline Drive, in the late 1930s, the town and county attracted hordes of travelers to see the pristine beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Washington, Va., has seen a lot, and has provided a perfect bucolic setting for our county seat. It has been a lazy little town for city dwellers looking for relaxation and fresh air on a weekend or a short vacation. It has been a magnet for retirees, artists, musicians, food lovers, bohemians, organic farmers, trail hikers and young entrepreneurs. It also calls to a lot of folks just seeking a little peace and quiet. They generally blend in with the natives of these hills, but every so often there is what can only be called a “cultural clash.” We are now in one such crisis.
A weekender named James Abdo, a developer, intends to “elevate” our county seat, saying that it is “hollow,” “vacant” and “empty,” and that it doesn’t have a pulse. This is news to the folks who live here, work here, play here, love it as home and care deeply about it.
The population of the town was, at last count, 135. During and since the recent economic recession (the worst economic turndown since the Great Depression), our little town has contained a busy courthouse, a Sheriff’s office, a jailhouse, the county clerk’s office, the county manager’s office, the county treasurer’s office, the commissioner of revenue’s office, the registrar’s office, the Rappahannock Historical Society, an antique store/gift shop, a café, a coffee house/café, a gourmet cheese shop/café, an exquisite “jewelbox” theatre with first rate live concerts, RAAC’s community playhouse, the Piedmont Environmental Council, the Washington Volunteer Fire and Rescue station, their Thrift Shop, the Century Link office, a medical building, the Social Services building, five real estate offices, three attorney’s offices, R.H. Ballard’s (an award winning shop and gallery), Geneva Welch’s art gallery, the Packing Shed Gallery, Washington Baptist Church, Trinity Episcopal Church, the First Baptist Church, the cemetery, the county health department, a jewelry craftsman (now a Wine and Chocolate shop), six “inns” and B&B establishments (Middleton Inn, Foster Harris House, Gay Street Inn, the Heritage House — now the Abdo-owned White Moose Inn — Fairlea and the esteemed Inn at Little Washington, plus its fine shops).
There is a hair salon, a day spa, a bustling post office, Baldwin’s grocery store/gas station (outside the town limits but part of “town”), the Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection, a physical therapy office, a newspaper office, a renowned furniture maker, two upstairs office complexes (one includes attorney offices for Kay Frosh and Mark S. Allen attorney, Keir Whitson’s international trade office, E. Fletcher construction, M.C.L.A. architectural lighting design, Swift Global LLC and the offices of the Little Washington Wellness and Spa). In addition there is the town water station, a VDOT complex (now Abdo land), a Food Pantry, and a number of beautiful homes and apartments.
The very idea of creating a “corridor” out of Main Street to “leverage” the “catalyst” which is the Inn at Little Washington would be laughable if it were not so close to reality. Abdo kept his plans and his “vision” very, very quiet (and refused to be quoted by the Rappahannock News). We were informed by the Washington Post that our town “had no pulse” and was going to be “elevated” by Mr. Abdo to compliment the Inn. The idea is ludicrous and lacks “common sense.” We do not have sidewalks and there is very little parking as it is.
Those involved in this fiasco of a “vision” should reconsider everything about it.
A person could search the planet Earth and never find a busier town of 135 people. It not only has a pulse — it has a heart and a soul.