Middleburg Eccentric Oct 26 - Nov 21, 2017
Believe it or not but this year our great town achieved another milestone birthday. Middleburg is 230 years old and its story is a rich one, filled with ups and downs, triumph and tragedy. Three such stories are examples of this unique history and how it continues to shape our future. From the roots of our founding to the impacts of the Civil War, the Middleburg's Desegregation in the 1960's, in many ways our story is the American story, one where we have been shaped by events but more importantly one where we have shaped those events.
Our beginning is a humble one, born out of the courage and tradition that embodied the Revolutionary Spirit. In 1749 the British Crown appointed a new Surveyor General for the Virginia Colony, a young man of 17 named George Washington. Within a year he was helping lead an extensive survey of the Piedmont and the Shenandoah Valley. This survey, still used by County Planners to this day, includes a small settlement known as Chinn's Crossing. It was a tiny hamlet of four building centered around Chinn's Ordinary a local Inn which welcomed visitors traveling between Alexandria and Winchester. Owned by Joseph Chinn, a local landowner, the "Ordinary" remains today but is known to all of us as the Red Fox Inn.
The Middleburg Inn: Originally Chinn's Ordinary, one of the first buildings
at Chinn's Crossing prior to 1787. Today the is the Red Fox Inn (Credit: the Pink Box)
As the Revolutionary War came to Loudoun County many joined the cause of freedom, sending over 2,000 men to fight with General Washington. One of those men was Leven Powell. Having risen to the rank of Colonel, Powell returned to his wife and children in
Loudoun County after the harsh battles at Valley Forge. It was here, at Chinn's Crossing that Powell had the vision for a new community, situated on a major commerce route and surrounded by fertile fields. Powell purchased 50 acres for $1,250 from Chinn and Middleburg was officially established in 1787 by an act of the Virginia Legislature. Powell, however, refused to have the town named after him, instead settling on Middleburg because of its location. A Delegate for Loudoun to the Virginia Legislature and eventual Congressman of the United States, Leven Powell left a tremendous legacy for Middleburg.
Over the next 80 years, Middleburg thrived as a prosperous farming and trade route town, ideally situated on teh Ashby Gap Road (now Rt. 50). Growing from two dozen residents in 1790 to well over 400 by 1860, Middleburg's furture looked promoising. This outlook changed dramatically wiht the start of the Civil War in 1861.
Col. John S. Mosby. Infamous Raider and leader of the Mosby's Rangers
who's exploits led to the Burning Raid in 1864. (Credit: Library of Congress)
While Middleburg was involved in many skirmishes during the war, one specific event in 1864 changed the fortunes of Middleburg for decades to come. Many are familiar with the raids of Col. John S. Mosby and his Rangers. Originally ordered in 1863 by Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart to "harass the enemy for a few days", Mosby and his Rangers went on to become one of the most successful underground raider units of the Civil War, using Middleburg as their base of operations for over two years. Impossible to find, Mosby's Rangers lived off the land and hid from Union detection in local homes. They focused their hit and run attacks on supply lines, wagon trains, small outposts, and Union supply depots. Within a year their successes had caused so much damage to the Union Army, General Ulysses S. Grant ordered the dispatch of a Calvary Division to lay waste to Loudoun County to "consume and destroy all forage and subsistence, burn all barns and mills, and their cont-
ents, and drive off all stock in the region...In this way, you will get many of Mosby's men." These instructions were given to the local commander, General Sheridan, who had already fallen victim many times to Mosby and his Rangers. On November 28th 1964, the Union Army unleashed its devastating campaign that laid waste to the economy of Middleburg and surrounding areas. Infamously known as the Burning Raid, the campaign lasted five days with disastrous effect: 6000 cattle, 4000 shieep, and 600 horses killed or taken. Added to this was the burning of 8 mills, 230 barns
Map of the Burning Raid on Middleburg
and surrounding Towns, November 28th -
December 2nd, 1864 (Credit: Eugene Shell)
and 25,000 bushels of grain. So effective was the devastation that it reduced the Middleburg economy to a shadown of its former self which did not recover for over 60 years. Farmers left and show owners abandoned their stores. The long-term impacts were real and 1900 the population of Middleburg was just 280 people from over 400 at the start of the War.
This all changed in 1908 as the area was "rediscovered" for its natural beauty and ideal sporting features. By the 1960's Middleburg had become the equestrian and hunting center of the Country. This had driven a revialization of Middleburg and the surrounding areas witha new influx of wealth and prosperity. Unfortunately, there remained the issue of segregation and inequality in Loudoun County and in Middleburg. While Middleburg had many successful black-owned businesses, more than any other town in the County, there still existed two separate worlds.
This was all about to change with the election of John F. Kennedy.
President and Mrs. Kennedy in Middleburg in 1962, after the end of segregation.
Here they are leaving from Sunday Mass at the
Middleburg Community Center (Credit: Library of Congress)
Within months of being elected, President Kennedy and his family began coming to Middleburg as a weekend getaway from the bustle of Washington, DC. An admirer of Middleburg and ardent supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, President Kennedy's home away from home was also segregated. Realizing the significance of this stark contrast, local Civil Rights Leaders began to organize a bus visit and sit-in to Middleburg's four restaurants after black students were refused service at a Middleburg restaurant. They planned to arrive on a Sunday while the President was attending Mass at the Community Center. Revl Albert F. Pereira of Middleburg's Catholic Church and celebrant for Mass when Kennedy was in town was also a staunch oppoenent of segregation. Meeting with Mayor Reamer and the four local restauranta owners, Rev. Pereira outlined the planned sit-in. Realizing the improtance this situation, none of these community leaders "wished to embarrass the President or give the Town a bad name." And with that, segregation was ended in Middleburg and all were welcome. Within a week, blacks and whites were eating together at the Red Fox Inn. The date was April 10th, 1961, over a decade before many other parts of Virginia would integrate.
These stories give us but a glimpse into the rich heritage of Middleburg. Whether it's the Free Church which was founded for all faiths by Leven Powell, the writing of the Monroe Doctrine at nearby Oak Hill, the Middleburg Freemans Bureau which distributed land to freed slaves during Reconstruction, or the regular visits of Presidents, Kings and Queens, to the formation of the National Sporting Library and the Salamander Resort, Middleburg's first 230 years have been nothing short of incredible. As we look to the next 230 years we must preserve our history for the next generation and build on the traditions and community which make this a truly special place.
If you would like to learn more about Middleburgs rich histroy, I strongly recommend the following books:
The History of Middleburg and Vicinity: Honoring the 200th Anniversary of the Town, 1787-1987, by Eugene M. Scheel 1987
Middleburg & Nearby, by Vme Edom Smith, Ph.D. 1986
Images of America: Middleburg, by Kate Brenner and Genie Ford 2012.