About this time last year, I was wrapping up a 10-year stay in Georgia and planning a return to the pastoral splendor of Rappahannock. The entire process only took two months: Jobs fell into place quickly, we found a great house right next door to family and my boys were very pleased with their new schools. I thought to myself, “Who says you can’t go home again?”
Sperryville is brimming with people, friendly shops and eateries, a fine coffee roaster — and you can’t throw a stone without hitting some deliciously fresh produce. Flint Hill is in fine fiddle with a rejuvenated grocer, three great dining spots, and more life in its buildings and packing houses than I can ever remember. Little Washington was the only place where I didn’t see commensurate, welcoming growth. Even though many buildings appeared gloriously restored, they looked disturbingly like movie props.
You see, I find myself on an endangered species list, “Working Class Kids Who Grew Up in Little Washington.” My family lived, for a number of years, in the building that now houses this newspaper and after that, Millermead.
In the late 1980s and early ’90s there were so many families in Washington I couldn’t remember them all. With some help from old friends, we figure a dozen to 18 families lived in town at that time — most with two or more kids. Combined with those who came in with their folks who worked in town, Washington was a genuinely wonderful place to grow up.
So many of what were homes to families are now tourist homes that I can almost see how someone might mistake that for feeling “vacant” or “hollow.” But Mr. Jim Abdo missed that families are what makes a place come to life. The ongoing preference of Washington’s town council for business over residential concerns is to blame, not a lack of development.
The town I cherished as a teenager has changed so much it’s almost unrecognizable as a community. It’s no longer a quaint town with a world-class restaurant; it’s a world-class restaurant with a quaint town. Friends who still live in town are treated like second-class citizens.
Short-sighted, poor treatment by the council — grandiose beautification projects, the exorbitant sewer installation and the People Inc. debacle — has driven them from their own town’s meetings. Political influence and wealth in Washington are now so concentrated that the population has dwindled to 135. Of those, only 30 cared to vote in the last local elections — all while the town’s coffers are projected to soon top $300,000 annually in meals and lodging tax alone.
Some people, including the zoning administrator for both the town and the county, will smile and shrug and point out that it’s a “company town.” The Inn is a renowned place, but truly, it’s a delicious restaurant and well-appointed sleeping rooms. I know it wasn’t the town’s past; don’t mistake it for the future.
So what’s the answer? The way I’ve come to frame it is simple: When your fish has gotten too big for its tank, you get a bigger tank. The town’s charter needs to be revoked and Washington should function as part of Rappahannock County, just like Sperryville, just like Flint Hill, except to remain the county seat.
The population of Washington no longer merits town status and the political atmosphere has been irreversibly polluted by the special interests of the business juggernaut. Revoking the charter will dilute this power and restore a healthier balance to commercial and residential concerns.