On Common Ground: Tempests in Paradise

Photo by Tom WoolmanTom Woolman

In 2010, my wife Sarah and I moved full-time to Rappahannock County from Washington, D.C. Of course we were drawn by its beauty, but perhaps one of its biggest attractions was its incredible diversity of people. Living and working in New York, Chicago and D.C. for more than 30 years, we found that most people there seemed to live in professional silos and socialized only with people who are just like them.

Among the residents of Rappahannock were federal judges, movie directors, politicians, painters and artists of all type, cattle breeders and farmers, a thriving gay community, hippies (some former, some current), educators, craftsmen, woodworkers, sculptors, writers, horse people, hunters, PETA people, herbalists, musicians, publishers, sustainable farmers, one of the world’s great maestros, and of course there was the Inn. One of the first things I did when we moved here was join the volunteer fire and rescue, mainly because I wanted to drive the truck, but I quickly developed a deep respect for the volunteer company members.

The longer we live here, the more we discover terrific and interesting people.

Rappahannock also felt like a part of my childhood. While I grew up in Indianapolis, attending public schools, and graduating from Shortridge High School where the student body was 75% African-American, I spent parts of my summers in small towns in southern Indiana where my grandparents lived. Greensburg, where my mother grew up, was the county seat. My grandfather managed the local flour mill and was considered the unofficial mayor of the town. My father’s parents lived in Mount Vernon on the Ohio River, where my grandfather ran a small sporting goods store and spent most of his time hunting and fishing. My father grew up in a house about the size of the settlement houses here in Rappahannock.

While the particulars differ, probably most people in the county have a similar story. Whether your family has been here for generations or just arrived, we have a sense of being connected to the place.

Not only are the people of Rappahannock diverse but so also is where in the county they choose to live. Flint Hill, Chester Gap, Amissville, Laurel Mills, Sperryville and other spots all have a different feel, and most of us don’t even live in towns, but in the countryside or on the mountain. We respect the choices people have made about how and where they want to live. But when it comes to the town of Washington, whose principle source of revenue is tourism, a few people seem offended by the choices it makes.

First, it was the Washington School, then Jim Abdo and now the Trinity Church parking lot. From my perspective, the town is doing what most small towns do that depend on tourists: spruce the place up to attract visitors. And maybe some will come to stay, and bring their families.

Remember, the county’s population fell from 8,100 in 1920 to 5,200 in 1970 and has recovered mainly because it has attracted new people from all walks of life. The town is part of that diversity. And the Inn has been here longer than many of its critics. Let’s stop defining what is and is not “authentic” Rappahannock.

Live and let live used to be considered a virtue. I think it still is.