Perhaps like nowhere else in the DMV, Buckland gives us a remarkable contrast of past and present. Steps from Highway 29 lies a tavern from the 18th century. On the other side, a gravel road leads to the east side of the historic district. If you stand and read its main historical marker, your concentration is drowned out by the seemingly constant roar of vehicles speeding past. Crossing the highway to see the other side is not recommended.
With temps soaring into the seventies, the better half and I paid a visit yesterday to Buckland.
Buckland, you say? Where is that?
I know. I had never heard of it either.
Buckland is a unique residential historic district that lies about 25 miles west of Washington. Its neighbors include ever-growing Gainesville and Haymarket, as well as New Baltimore, a sort of sister village with similar historic roots.
Running past on the same route as the old Warrenton Turnpike (also known as the Fauquier and Alexandria Turnpike), Highway 29/Lee Highway bisects the town’s sloping and historical landscape. Making a button-shaped bend, Broad Run's calm waters puts an arm around the northern part of the village.
Buckland is a blink-your-eyes-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of place. My guess is most of those who pass by it are oblivious to the fact it has more than enough history to be on the National Register of Historic Places.
A couple of months ago a google search for Richard Bland Lee revealed Buckland to me. Lee and his descendants owned Buckland Hall from 1853 until 1935. We got to know more about Lee with our visit to Sully earlier this year.
Concerned about losing its historic assets to developers, a group of concerned citizens organized and formed the Buckland Preservation Society in 2003. Archaeology uncovered its colonial history as well as evidence of a Manohoac Indian Settlement.
One of the leaders of the preservation effort was the late Richard Bland Lee V, who grew up in Buckland. His father also lived there. David Blake, who owns Buckland Farm, is also a driving force in saving the town.
In a simplistic kind of way, the eighteenth century in northern Virginia can be seen as a two part play. The first half witnessed patriarchal planters using enslaved humans to grow and harvest the sticky leaf on tidewater lands. In the second half, more and more settlements grew up in Virginia’s piedmont hills and mountains. Many a stone mill sprung up along waterways, grinding the wheat into flour, which replaced tobacco as a cash crop.
One of those Piedmont settlers was Samuel Love, who purchased a tract of land along Broad Run. The county courthouse in Alexandria stood more than two dozen miles away. This was the beginning of Buckland.
In 1774, the year the first Continental Congress met in Philadelphia and a time when patriot anger reached a fever pitch, Love bought land from the descendants of Robert “King” Carter. Love and his three sons founded the town as a mercantile center. The first house they built was a single pile stone type More than a dozen built in the 18th Century still stand and form the core of the historic district.
The Love family also put up other structures along side and near by. They included a blacksmith, tannery, store and second mill. The town grew and added a church, tavern, tailor, an apothecary, cooper and wheelwright.
John Love inherited the main house from his father in 1787. He laid out a handful of streets in the classic grid style. Houses went up on the 48 lots. Some sources say Buckland was the first inland town in Prince William County. Love farmed the land, bred horses, operated a stone quarry, grew wheat, ground it in the mill and imported Arabian and European horses. According to his bio at congress.gov, Love served as a Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives (1807-1811) and also practiced law in Alexandria, where he passed away in 1822.
Buckland prospered in the 1800s, drawing in weary wagon hands and travelers along the turnpike that passed by. In the 1820s, the road was laid with crushed stone, a new process invented by John Loudon McAdam. 135 whites and 50 free blacks with skilled labor owned land and homes.
In her book, Anne Royall details her travels to Buckland from Washington in a coach. She described the town as “a romantic, lively, business-doing village, situated on a rapid, rolling stream, which rushes through uneven ground, broken into charming complex swells.”
Eppa Hunton lived in Buckland in 1841 and 1842. In his autobiography, he tells us he opened a public school there. Hunton went on to wear a star for the Confederates during the Civil War and served as a member of the United States House of Representatives and as a U.S. Senator, both in Virginia.
On October 19, 1863, Buckland residents hear the booms of war when Major General J.E.B. Stuart and his calvary forces routed those of Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick of the Union.
Buckland’s uniqueness lies in the fact it is a “substantially intact late eighteen and nineteenth century entrepreneurial turnpike town.” The NHRP points out “it survives as one of the best preserved such places in Virginia.”
Millwood is a better known counterpart to Buckland. The difference between the two is the setting. The former lies peaceful away from traffic while the latter is invaded every day by thousands of vehicles gunning back and forth from Warrenton to Gainesville and points leading to Washington.
Buckland packs a mean punch. There are 17 structures from the eighteenth century. The problem, however, for anyone wanting to see some of them is that Buckland is not set up for visitors. We found one spot to park but were not even sure if it was allowed.
Saving the Town
The future of Buckland is uncertain. Residents are grappling over the proposal of a bypass. The idea has merits but also drawbacks.
We can testify to the current situation. You will risk life and limb to see some of Buckland. Perhaps traffic calming measures as seen along Highway 50 near Middleburg would be a solution.
For now, one sees that incredible contrast of time capsule and hell-bent, modern day life.