Up in the Hollow: The ‘in’ ate Little Washington

The misguided, feverish energies of a “high-powered” Washington, D.C. real estate developer to “rebrand” our county seat is a remarkable example of how not to make friends and influence people.

By now you’ve surely heard that a man named Jim Abdo, who had been a reclusive weekender in the county for some years, went on a spending spree and began buying up properties all around and through the town. All sorts of properties: Houses, a B&B, land, retail. There were rumors of secret deals and collusion with the Inn, but few were prepared to find out about our future from the Business section of the Sunday Washington Post. Surprise! Welcome to Abdo World! You’re gonna love it!

The plans that Abdo has for our town — and it is “our” town — have been made in private, without public input or discussion, and no understanding of the scope of his self-professed “vision.” Those plans, and Abdo’s public description of our town and county have rankled old timers and newcomers alike. This ain’t what we want and we don’t need Abdo to trash up Paradise.

Longtime friends are at each other’s throats and a genuine palpable anger is roiling through the hollows. To tell you the truth, I am simultaneously outraged and brokenhearted at what the future holds. It is Rappahannock’s worst nightmare.

Now, I know that people can get used to just about anything. But why should we have to get used to something that is only going to benefit a few wealthy men while destroying the quality of life that brought us here in the first place?

Let’s get this straight from the get-go. The Inn at Little Washington is here because of the town; the town is not here because of the Inn. The charm of our village and the beauty of Rappahannock County was drawing visitors here before the roads were paved. The Inn is a great success story, but most folks who live here have never been in the joint. The weekend “come-heres” and the D.C. in-crowd think it is the raison d’être of Rappahannock, but that’s because they don’t get out much, I think.

Sometimes there seems to be a palpable snobbery that leaks from the Inn, and the uptight behavior of their employees scurrying about Main Street is very un-Southern, to say the least. It has always bothered me that they don’t wave and smile like everybody else. So though the Inn has many D.C. devotees, its local reputation is mixed, at best. This power play by Abdo is not going to help matters.

For Abdo and the Inn, it has been a public relations disaster. The Post story interviewed no Rappahannock natives, and none of the townies interviewed would say a discouraging word about the crude takeover of a proud county seat by a man who says things like this about Washington, Virginia:

“It was hollow. It was vacant. It was empty . . . There was no pulse. And I thought to myself: ‘I’ve been going into corridors with bigger problems than this. And I’ve also gone into corridors that didn’t have a catalyst like the Inn at Little Washington. And why isn’t that property being leveraged?’”

Really? Hollow? Vacant? Empty? No pulse? Corridors? Catalysts? Leveraged? Do what?!

Abdo says, “I work really hard and my mind never stops. It can be exhausting just for people to be around me.” I don’t have to worry about that. I am never going to be around him if I can help it. If he likes to work really hard, he should spend a day or two in a coal mine.

He explained to The Post about his relationship with the town: “People are staying on campus, in the compound. None of that is trickling into the economy for the town. And I said, ‘I’ve got to figure this out.’ There needs to be a rhythm, a rhythm of life that extends beyond just what Patrick has. And I want that clearly to be good for him and good for the town . . . . I want to come here and help elevate the town and make it something that is extremely compatible to him. I want more people to access his brilliance.”

Fellow citizens, how in the world have us hillbillies survived since 1749 without Jim Abdo to elevate us?

Abdo sneaks this one in there: “I can dine at two other restaurants Jim Abdo is contemplating with top talent from the city.” But wait a minute! The guy talking is Jim Abdo! Yes! This guy is so famous he refers to himself in the third person! And he is coming to elevate our town! Gosh, that’s exciting. I’m so happy I just might frow up!

The Post asks: “How much have you invested so far?” His answer: “Millions. And when you see what we did with the White Moose Inn, we didn’t cut any corners. I wanted to try a new product that had never been tried in the countryside before.”

Have y’all seen the White Moose Inn? If I were to put on my architectural hat, I would say that Abdo is right. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a building with some sort of thin white primer on it with a yellow door that looks like it came from a Mexican cathouse. Yep, that’s a first all right!

The Post asks: “What has your reception been like here?” His answer: “Initially people were thinking, ‘Gee we need to look into this guy a little bit more. We’ve read about him in the paper with what he’s doing in the city but holy mackerel now we’re talking about a serious developer that wants to come and invest in our little town.’”

No, Jim. We weren’t thinking that we need to look into you “initially.” We’re thinking we need to look into you now and look into how you and Patrick O’Connell and John Sullivan conspired to turn our town into a little upscale theme park like Carmel or Stockbridge, “with a rhythm that extends beyond just what Patrick has.”

How could this have happened without a few Machiavellis who claim they are trying to elevate us and solve a problem we didn’t have when in fact they are seeing an opportunity to get rich — no, make that “richer.”

Meanwhile in Rappahannock people take hay and pick apples and build cabins and volunteer in the food pantry and at the fire halls and they haul lumber and plow gardens and work in stores and cook food and sell produce and make sculptures and lay asphalt and teach children and put on shows and volunteer with emergency services and so on and so on and so on.

You have insulted us, Mr. Abdo, cluelessly and arrogantly insulted us. Apparently these deals are done and there is not a hell of a lot we can do about it. But you are in the South, my friend. We have long memories.


  1. I hope the above people were able to attend the town meeting last night, hosted by the Rappahannock News. Varying views and information was shared and lots of people had the opportunity to speak what was on their minds, concerns they had. I hope many came out of that time with a new & positive outlook on what’s happening in Our beautiful Washington, Virginia, and how they might participate more fully on its behalf in the future. Congratulations to Roger & Rappahannock News for holding this important gathering.

  2. Abdo deserves to be run out of town on a rail and I hope Ben’s wonderful manifesto inspires it! Oh right, now he owns the town. Why can’t people like this apply themselves to helping people and places that can really benefit from the infusion of their wealth? Because all they care about is making money and aggrandizing their egos by erasing the character and identity of a place and replacing it with their own.

  3. Re. your comment about the contradictions in my comment…it’s because I have mixed feelings. I like the result but I don’t like the arrogant execution. Both matter.

  4. I am sorry. My comment was about what Caroline said,
    not Up In The Hollow.
    Jim Warwick

  5. So, you like what he does.
    Your last paragraph seems to contradict
    your first sentence.
    Jim Warwick

  6. I’m sorry to hear about your troubles with Jim Abdo in Rappahannock.

    Similar experience here in my neighborhood of Brookland in northeast DC. Wonderful old streetcar neighborhood with a proud history, beautiful homes, adjacent to a Metro station, trees, long-time institutions, and lots of home-grown community enterprise and spirit. Abdo discovered us and is now building his newest, biggest development project here.

    The re-branding and Abdo mythology has begun. One day, a huge new old-timey warehouse-style BROOKLAND sign appears the length of a building adjacent to our Metro station. Then, a puff piece in the New York Times Magazine describes the Abdo revival of our “shabby” neighborhood. Then, the announcement of a new “Historic Brookland Farmers Market”. It’s all just plunked down upon us.

    I credit Jim Abdo with having a good business sense. He saw Brookland’s potential and jumped on it. I’m, actually, I’m glad he’s here. But, he’s here because we did just fine for 125 years without him.

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