You know, when you look at a body of water, you never really know what lies beneath that often peaceful-looking surface; in Loudoun County (our little locality of contradictions and seeming time vortexes) the same can be said of many of its solid landforms. I don’t know if I ever saw the ruins of the historic Woodburn General Store before it was demolished almost 15 years ago. If I did, it may not have really registered that the artifact held any more importance than an old, rotting fence line or nameless shack along the roadside. Heck, I didn’t even recall its existence – or that of the community of Woodburn itself – until a little research unearthed the machinations of the State Highway Department- going over the heads of our local government – in widening and paving Woodburn Road – and in so doing – demolishing all that was left of the former General Store. The County Board – otherwise far less poetically known as the Loudoun Supervisors – had made an earlier decision to leave the Road unpaved; whether we’d have seen an organized effort to save the Store or not – is left – I surmise – to the imagination.
But– even in the 21st Century – there’s still good reason to climb that ridge from Dry Mill Road in the north and go up that slope to the furthest eastern hump of the Catoctin Mountains as they sweep down from Maryland and into Loudoun County; Woodburn Road just happens to skirt the ridge just west of Leesburg and offer a sense of elevation and distance – as you glance off in the direction of the rising sun – where the piedmont meets the coastal plain, and the land levels out in what some might call a more civilized fashion. But up here, the topography offers enough challenging variation to prevent the rate of bulldozing, cementing, asphalting and building that we’ve seen just to the east. Not that all that stuff’s bad – I like to have a roof over my head at night – not to mention places to buy socks and groceries – as much as the next guy; I also like having that almost-inaccessible rocky outcropping covered in pines on my western horizon. And, if you follow Woodburn Road for its entire length – just a few miles, actually – all the way to Route 704 – Harmony Church Road – you’ve got limitless options for exploration to the south and west – whether on- or off-road.
So: as in other portions of our lives – we’ve lost some of the physical manifestations of our history on Woodburn Road; rarely can we move into the future while maintaining all the amenities of the past – unless you’ve a much larger attic than mine. Perhaps the improvements made on Woodburn Road outweigh the loss of the historic Woodburn General Store; maybe I’d have driven past it, thinking, “Why doesn’t somebody just tear that old eyesore down and put in something new – something useful?” Maybe.
Then again, I may have thought it was a really cool little milestone along my way. I won’t lose too much sleep over it, but I do wonder what it may have looked like, and if there was any chance to salvage this artifact before the swing of the wrecking ball.
Loudoun County has the blessing of being very popular – both to newcomers and a rapid birth rate among current residents. It’s a good problem – in many ways; with ongoing change comes varied opportunity – and with the ability of foresight – if we use even our most limited talents – we can choose which parts of our past to store in our attic, so to speak: do we want that old, falling-down Woodburn General Store?
We let the State Highway Department, in all its wisdom, make that decision for us. What other – perhaps more cherished sites along our path – would they (and maybe other, less benevolent agencies) choose to eliminate in favor of that new overpass, parking lot or utility? I once heard a wise man say that a growing community will always need jails and toilets. These institutions – both popular and unpopular – are all well and fine, but I’d need to hear some real fancy selling before I’d put in a prison or a sewage plant on some of my most favored locations across Loudoun County. How ‘bout you?