A multi-generational view
Rappahannock County is blessed with an abundance of interesting individuals doing interesting things, often not widely known. In the interest of community-sharing and in the second of an occasional series, Rappahannock News’ Walter Nicklin does a Q&A with Bill Fletcher of Sperryville.
Rappahannock News: Your family has been a fixture in Rappahannock possibly as long as any other in the county. How many generations? Would you care to share any stories about your ancestors?
Bill Fletcher: We have been here as well as I can figure since around 1735. I am very proud of my family’s accomplishments, which couldn’t have been made without a lot of support from a number of other native families such as the Thorntons, Millers, Thornhills, Sneads, Settles, Massies, Atkins, Dodsons, Estes, Jenkins, Leakes, Woods, Keysers, Greenes and too many other families to name. Rappahannock is a special place if it isn’t ruined by people who have moved in and want to change it. There is a delicate balance between farmers and commercial interests that must be maintained in my opinion. Farmers have to be given more latitude for events and other semi-commercial ideas because if the economy keeps going like it is, there will be no farms or farmers in 20 years.
RN: A lot of people are drawn to Rappahannock because it seems to exist in an historical bubble outside modern America’s suburbs and shopping centers. But do you think the county has changed in your lifetime?
BF: My response to this would be that it appears that Rappahannock County now is one of the largest bedroom communities in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and there are a few full-time farmers left. Farming is certainly on the decline in Rappahannock, and the county needs to focus more on tourism than agriculture. Although they go hand-in-hand with each other to a certain extent, without the farms you would not have the beauty that entices people to come to Rappahannock – the diamond of Virginia or the Switzerland of America – as Eugene McCarthy used to call it.
RN: As you say, Rappahannock’s beauty attracts many newcomers, both as permanent residents and weekenders. Some of these people often have seemingly good ideas to make the county even better, but the ideas are seldom fully realized. Witness David Cole, Jerome Niessen and Jim Abdo. Your thoughts?
BF: It is somewhat of a pattern, but not really. Rappahannock is transitioning from a rural county to a more cosmopolitan one in the makeup of its citizens. David Cole, Jerome Niessen and Jim Abdo are all nice men, and I have the privilege of knowing all three.
David Cole’s plans for Rappahannock were never realized because the infrastructure and populace were never here to sustain his venture. I believe it was the same with Jerome Niessen. He had an idea that would work well in Alexandria, but not in Rappahannock County.
Jim Abdo is worthy of more discussion as he is more recent than the other individuals. Jim has owned property in the county for about 30 years. He is a man of exceptional vision, intellect and capability. He has lived in Rappahannock long enough to understand the county more than the other two individuals. The money that he could possibly make on his ventures in Rappahannock are, in my opinion, negligible. However, he purchased a number of abandoned buildings in Rappahannock (and there are many). He had a vision of bringing in a number of his friends and businesses, to make Little Washington a more vibrant, economic center for the county. His plan would have been a tremendous boom to the local economy.
However, again in my opinion, a bunch of scallywags, whether from the North or the South, started to raise objections to the color of his door, and attacked him personally for attempting to renovate a great part of Little Washington. It was handled in such a way by Rappnet, the Rappahannock News and various individuals that it dissuaded other businesses from coming into the county. I am proud that no natives I know really took part in this travesty. The wants of a few local critics destroyed something that could benefit most of the citizens of Rappahannock County.
It appears to me that there are a lot of outlanders or newcomers entering the county that have a vision of what Rappahannock should be, and not what it is. Their intrusiveness — and the manner in which Rappnet and the newspaper handled it — dissuaded possible business development. In turn, no substantial restoration has occurred in the town of Little Washington or in the county in the last two years.
It is a delicate balance between not doing anything and doing things necessary to keep Rappahannock County’s economy sustainable. In my opinion, if improvements are not made, the lack of business promulgation in this area will result in the county’s inability to meet the minimum needs for operation. We have had a shortfall in the budget versus management of the county in the last two years, which is very disturbing to me.
RN: Your full name is James William Fletcher, III. Your father was known as “Jim Bill” and was considered by many to be the “county boss.” As his only son, how do you feel about his legacy?
BF: I am very proud of my father and mother – what they did for me as an individual and for the county, state and nation. They were great Americans and I miss them tremendously. The world was a better place with my parents in it. They had a lot of support from the people of Rappahannock, particularly from Newbill Miller, Rayner Snead, Pete Estes and George Davis.
RN: Do you think your children will stay in Rappahannock? To keep your generational history alive?
BF: I believe both of my children, Jamie and Lilla, will be involved in Rappahannock for years to come. They are fine people, I am proud of them and I love them very much. I hope that it will be possible for them to make a living here. I love my family, my friends, my county, my state and my nation in that order.