Hardly the ‘Town of Wash­ing­ton’ any­more

County seat to­day would not qual­ify as a town in 1796 or 2017

Rappahannock News - - FRONT PAGE - By John Mccaslin Rap­pa­han­nock News staff

It’s a good thing Wash­ing­ton be­came a “town” in 1796 be­cause there aren’t enough folks around to­day to earn the des­ig­na­tion.

The newly re­vised Town of Wash­ing­ton Com­pre­hen­sive Plan, which was ap­proved by the Town Coun­cil on Mon­day evening, points out that when es­tab­lished as a “town” by the Gen­eral Assem­bly in 1796, Wash­ing­ton had the “nec­es­sary pop­u­la­tion of 200 per­sons.”

Not any longer. Whereas 300 peo­ple lived in the town in 1900, the 2015 es­ti­mate can muster only 128 — down from 183 cit­i­zens in 2000 and 247 in 1980.

And, the plan­ning doc­u­ment warns: “With­out adop­tion of plans to in­crease avail­able hous­ing that meet the needs of a wider age range of fam­i­lies, the town is likely to con­tinue to ex­pe­ri­ence a de­cline in its pop­u­la­tion.”

Among rea­sons for the de­cline: dis­ap­pear­ing fam­i­lies, es­pe­cially those with young chil­dren.

“In the 1990 cen­sus, the town had 33 chil­dren be­tween the ages of 5 and 17,” the plan states. “The 2010 cen­sus in­di­cated the town had only six chil­dren be­tween the ages of 5 and 17.”

As re­cently as 2000, 14 per­cent of the town’s

res­i­dents were un­der 18 years of age, while 20 per­cent were age 65 years and over. In 2010, the most re­cent cen­sus year, 7 per­cent were un­der 18 and 26 per­cent were over 65 years old.

Also in 2000, 15 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion was of African-Amer­i­can or His­panic ori­gin, yet by 2010 that num­ber had dropped to 7 per­cent — and is ar­guably even lower to­day.

“Th­ese num­bers clearly show an ag­ing pop­u­la­tion and a de­clin­ing mi­nor­ity pop­u­la­tion,” the doc­u­ment states.

One fac­tor in the pop­u­la­tion shift, in keep­ing with cur­rent trends, is “the con­ver­sion of some homes to al­ter­na­tive uses such as B&B, rental prop­erty, guest rooms, or pur­chase by ab­sen­tee own­ers that use the prop­erty for week­end use and are not full time res­i­dents of the town.”

In­deed, since the 2010 cen­sus, only one new res­i­den­tial prop­erty has been built within the town’s bound­aries.

Even his­toric Avon Hall, which was sold more than a year ago to a couple that is painstak­ingly restor­ing the man­sion to its orig­i­nal splen­dor, “will only in­crease the town’s pop­u­la­tion by two, whereas years ago the prop­erty had a fam­ily,” the doc­u­ment sees fit to point out.

Quite the change from the 1930s, when Franklin Clyde Bag­gerly’s “The His­tory of the Town of Wash­ing­ton, Vir­ginia,” put the town’s pop­u­la­tion at nearly 500, and if not quite that many within the town’s bound­aries enough peo­ple to sup­port three gen­eral mer­can­tile stores, three garages “with Ladies’ Rest Rooms,” a ho­tel, 10 tourist homes, a bank, two au­di­to­ri­ums, five churches, a high school with over 200 pupils, two way­side restau­rants, a bar­ber shop, nu­mer­ous other busi­nesses, pro­fes­sional of­fices, an ac­tive Ma­sonic Hall, and of course a row of county court build­ings.

Which ac­tu­ally isn’t too dif­fer­ent than to­day, mi­nus the mer­can­tiles, garages, school, ho­tel and bank. Given Wash­ing­ton re­mains the govern­ment seat of Rap­pa­han­nock, and is also home to the county’s largest pri­vate em­ployer — the renowned Inn at Lit­tle Wash­ing­ton — it comes as no sur­prise that the town hosts a daily commuting work­force of about 250, about twice its pop­u­la­tion.

The Inn “brings a great num­ber of vis­i­tors to the vil­lage . . . [and] also very pos­i­tive and valu­able pub­lic­ity to the town through its in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion and mar­ket­ing and pro­mo­tion,” the plan ob­serves.

“The town also serves as a cul­tural and en­ter­tain­ment cen­ter of the county,” it con­tin­ues, cit­ing two live per­for­mance the­aters, stu­dio art gal­leries, an­tique shops, and a new but quickly pop­u­lar Sun­day farmer’s mar­ket.

And, the doc­u­ment fur­ther points out, while change has “seemed to oc­cur grad­u­ally in the town of Wash­ing­ton, change has in fact oc­curred con­tin­u­ously. The Inn has re­fur­bished a num­ber of build­ings as well as part­nered with the town to beau­tify the town cen­ter and stub street. Since 2010, $12 to $14 mil­lion has been spent on the ren­o­va­tion of up­wards of 35 build­ings in the town. On Main Street alone, there have been ren­o­va­tions to 13 build­ings by both busi­nesses and pri­vate own­ers.”

In ad­di­tion, the Inn has also re­cently “es­tab­lished a three-eighths of a mile cir­cu­lar trail for town res­i­dents and visi­tor use, a model for fu­ture trails through­out the com­mu­nity.”

So while the com­ing few years could, in fact, see a fur­ther pop­u­la­tion de­cline, don’t look for a lull in in­fra­struc­ture growth to con­tinue very long — not with the bur­geon­ing na­tion’s cap­i­tal ex­pand­ing out­ward by the day.

“There will con­tinue to be pres­sure for some growth, in or­der to meet the num­ber of res­i­dents nec­es­sary to sus­tain ser­vices the pop­u­la­tion seeks and be­cause the county’s plan­ning fun­nels growth to the town of Wash­ing­ton and five other vil­lages in the county,” the doc­u­ment re­minds. “The county in its com­pre­hen­sive plan has en­cour­aged de­vel­op­ment in or near the county’s town [of Wash­ing­ton] and vil­lages, and that puts pres­sure on the town to ac­cept this pop­u­la­tion in­crease and to plan for it ac­cord­ingly.”

The Code of Vir­ginia re­quires that ev­ery lo­cal­ity pre­pare, adopt and pe­ri­od­i­cally re­vise a com­pre­hen­sive plan, in part for “the pur­pose of guid­ing and ac­com­plish­ing a co­or­di­nated, ad­justed and har­mo­nious de­vel­op­ment.”

The plan this go-round was over­seen by Fred­eric F. Catlin, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Montes­sori Chil­dren’s Com­mu­ni­ties of Vir­ginia.

“The town [of Wash­ing­ton] has the op­por­tu­nity through this com­pre­hen­sive plan and other ef­forts to es­tab­lish more strongly its brand — what kind of town it chooses to be for the next 5 to 10 years,” the doc­u­ment con­cludes, en­cour­ag­ing that the brand be de­vel­oped by its cit­i­zenry and not out­siders.

“The town must be proac­tive and col­lab­o­ra­tive in this in­cre­men­tal process rather than let­ting oth­ers char­ac­ter­ize, de­fine, and la­bel the town,” it states.

By the way, new towns in­cor­po­rated in Vir­ginia to­day must have a min­i­mum pop­u­la­tion of 1,000 res­i­dents.

Since 2010, $12 to $14 mil­lion has been spent on the ren­o­va­tion of up­wards of 35 build­ings in the town.

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