Established in 1758, Leesburg (population 37,500) is the seat of government for Loudon County. The town’s rich history spans three centuries. Originally a settlement called George Town in honor of the reigning British monarch, Leesburg was renamed to honor Francis Lightfoot Lee, signer of the Declaration of Independence, who owned property nearby.
During the War of 1812, Leesburg served as the temporary capital of the United States when the valuable papers of the Federal Archives (including the Declaration of Independence and Constitution) were brought to town for safekeeping. President James Monroe resided just south of town at Oak Hill, where he wrote the Monroe Doctrine in 1823. Leesburg was the site of the 1861 Battle of Ball’s Bluff, a bloody Confederate victory which claimed the life of Col. Edward Baker, a close friend of President Lincoln, and spawned a Congressional committee to investigate the conduct of the war. The battlefield is marked by one of America's smallest national cemeteries.
In the 20th century, Leesburg was the home of World War II General George C. Marshall, architect of the famous Marshall Plan that re-built Europe after the war, and radio personality Arthur Godfrey, who donated land for the town's first airport. Today Leesburg continues to serve as the center of government and commerce for Loudoun County, the fastest growing county in the nation. From 1990 to 2001, Leesburg doubled in population from 16,000 to 32,000, a phenomenal growth rate that shows no sign slowing down.
One of the signature heritage preservation projects in the community has been the restoration and interpretation of General George C. Marshall’s home, Dodona Manor, a National Historic Landmark gracing the entrance to downtown Leesburg. General Marshall purchased Dodona Manor in 1941, after being named Army Chief of Staff. It provided a retreat from the tremendous demands of Marshall’s work, after he led the largest mobilization of World War II and during the implementation of the work for Europe’s economic recovery. During Marshall’s residence, Dodona Manor received prominent world leaders as guests, including President Truman, Madam Chiang Kai-shek, Field Marshall Sir John Dill, and Bernard Baruch.
When faced with the imminent sale of the neglected property for redevelopment in 1995, dedicated citizens raised the funds to purchase the property. Funding for restoration has come from a great variety of public and private sources, including the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Federal Republic of Germany, a community development grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a Save America’s Treasures grant, a Department of Transportation grant, the Marshall Family, the Garden Club of Virginia, and many others. Countless volunteer hours supported the restoration and support current daily operations. Now a major heritage tourism site, Dodona Manor has attracted attention from national and international travel writers.
Leesburg’s Old and Historic District, one of the best-preserved and most picturesque downtowns in Virginia, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and expanded its boundaries to include late 19th century and early 20th century resources in the 1990s. The historic downtown offers Colonial and Civil War themed walking tours and an eclectic mix of specialty shops and eateries housed in historic buildings. Leesburg is also a member of the Virginia Civil War Trails program, and the “Journey Through Hallowed Ground” corridor. More information about the Civil War in Loudon County can be found at the Loudon Museum in downtown Leesburg, also known for its collection of southern textiles and schoolgirl samplers. A published guidebook and new wayfinding signage system help direct visitors to city heritage sites and area attractions, including Oatlands Plantation and Morven Park.
Designated a Preserve America Community in Novembr 2006.