Waterford Fair

Take a look at the soldier in the center of the picture below.  See anything unusual?

“He” is a she.

An article in the magazine of the National Archives says that approximately 750 women took part in the Civil War, disguised as men.  “…[W]ith so many underage boys in the ranks, women…could pass as young men.”

I saw the reenactor and the rest of her company, the Independent Loudoun Rangers, at the Waterford Fair earlier this month.  Waterford is a small Virginia village about an hour northwest of DC.  Every year, during the first weekend of October, the entire village turns into one big country fair, with juried crafts, home tours, food trucks, and period entertainment.

The artisans — 155 traditional crafts people (weavers, silversmiths, painters, potters) –are required to exhibit their skills as well as sell their wares.  The food is sold mostly by local civil organizations and range from kielbasa to portabello wraps to apple butter.

If you’re one of the couple of hundred who live in Waterford proper, you have three choices that weekend: leave town, barracade yourself inside, or give up and volunteer for the fair.  The fair is sponsored by the Waterford Foundation, which works to preserve the buildings and open spaces of Waterford.  Waterford is a National Historic Landmark District.

Waterford was founded in 1733 by Pennsylvania Quaker farmers.  They actually were cereal grain farmers.  Quaker cereal farmers.  They were followed by Pennsylvania Scotch-Irish, who built much of the town as it exists today.  Quaker pacifist beliefs aside, some Waterford Quakers fought in the Revolutionary War.  After the war, the town grew to be the second largest in Loudoun County.

During the Civil War, Waterford was harassed by the Confederates because of its anti-slavery, anti-secession beliefs and by the Union for being in the midst of Virginia plantation country.

The Independent Loudoun Rangers was a Waterford cavalry unit formed by Waterford mill owner and lapsed Quaker Samuel Means, to fight off the Confederate raids and fight for the Union in general.  I don’t know what they did about the Union raids.   I couldn’t tell that there was a woman amongst the reenactors until she came in second in a mounted sharpshooting and saber target contest and the announcer mentioned it.

Today, it still seems like Waterford is marching to the beat of its own drummer.  From the signs around town, it looks like Waterford is an oasis of blue in a red State.

The arch enemy of the Independent Loudoun Rangers was the 35th Battalion, Virginia Cavalry, raised in the same area.  The Waterford Union Cemetery — despite its name — holds both Union and Confederate soldiers.

There was a large community of free blacks in Waterford both anti- and post-bellum.  The Second Street School was built in 1867 to be a school and church for Waterford’s African-American community, funded by the Quakers.  Children attended the school until 1957.

Among the African-Americans living in Waterford during the late 19th century were Marshall and Angelina Claggett and their nine children. The Claggett house was one of 12 Waterford houses open for tours this year, although not all of the houses are open every day. I generally don’t do the house tours, because I don’t have the patience to stand in line to take the tour.  The line at the Claggett House wasn’t as long as the ones at some of the grander buildings, so we gave it a shot.

After a 30 minute wait, we went through a kitchen and bedroom addition in the back, into the original cabin. The log cabin had two room — one downstairs and one in the eaves upstairs.  We weren’t allowed upstairs — the 6 foot tall docent said that he could stand in the center of the room upstairs with a couple of inches clearance — but stood in the downstairs room as the docent told us the history of the house.  It was built  18th century on a nearby farm and Marshall Claggett had it dismantled and moved to Waterford around 1870.  The house stayed in the family until 1950.  Today, it’s owned by a family who lives down the street, who use it as a guest house for friends and family.

Tickets were $17 per adult per day this year (less in advance, or for multiple days).  Yes, you have to buy a ticket to wander around town.  There are ticket booths near each of the roads leading into town although really, it’s an honor system.  No one would stop you if you didn’t display a ticket, unless you were trying to get into a house tour.  The fair draws about 30,000 people each year.  They’re very well-organized, however, so as much as I hate crowds, it’s actually not so bad.

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2 Responses to Waterford Fair

  1. Kathie Shattuck says:

    I think it’s absolutely brilliant to have an outdoor crafts fair that supports historic preservation. And in such a beautiful setting. The best early crafts fair we have up here takes place in a huge warehouse type function space. No ambience at all.

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