Waterford, Virginia, (population 1,115), is located 47 miles northwest of Washington, D.C., near Catoctin Creek. It was originally a Quaker village, founded in 1733. The town became a center of commerce and diversity in the early 19th century, where Free African Americans lived alongside their white neighbors in defiance of the standards of the time. This fundamental difference in philosophies and loyalties persisted during the Civil War, when Waterford, in Confederate Virginia, raised a cavalry unit to fight for the Union.
Marginalized after the war, Waterford remained essentially a time capsule, and by the mid-20th century, its historic homes and pastoral surroundings provided a pristine view of a time long past. In 1970, Waterford became a National Historic Landmark District.
For nearly 70 years, the Waterford Foundation has brought together the local community, government, and civic organizations to present the annual Waterford Homes Tour and Crafts Exhibit. The Waterford Fair, as it’s called, is the oldest juried crafts fair in Virginia. Each year, between 25,000 and 30,000 adults and children tour historic homes and watch more than 150 juried craftspeople provide hands-on demonstrations. Entertainers offer continuous music and dance performances, and Colonial and Civil War-era militias encamp and stage demonstrations as well. Children’s activities occur throughout the weekend.
Waterford’s Old School, rebuilt after a fire in 1910, and its auditorium, added in 1928, were long the center of community life in the village, and later the hub of the Waterford Fair. In 2007, another fire destroyed the auditorium, and the Waterford Foundation has launched a rebuilding campaign to create a new Culture and Education Center to take its place.
Visitors are welcome to explore the village at all times of the year, and the foundation has published a walking tour guide interpreting dozens of historic houses, the Waterford Mill (1817), the Post Office (circa 1880), and the John Wesley Church, completed in 1891. Other sites include the Waterford Market, built in 1883, and the Livery Stable (1851) and Red Barn, added in 1921.
In 2003, the Phillips Farm, 144 acres of farmland southwest of the village, was slated to be subdivided into multiple lots. The Waterford Foundation raised funds and purchased the farm, which is now preserved as open space in agricultural use forever. Volunteers come to the farm several times a year to plant a riparian buffer to protect the environmentally fragile Catoctin Creek watershed and to control invasive plant species on the farm. Outreach activities for children include bird and butterfly counts and guided nature walks.
The village’s Chair Factory houses an extensive collection of locally made furniture as well as a wide range of materials, from books to buggies, with historical significance.
Designated a Preserve America Community in January 2011.
For more information
From Mill Town to National Historic Landmark: Teaching with Historic Places Lesson Plan
Discover our Shared Heritage National Register Travel Itinerary: Journey through Hallowed Ground