It is  now some 50 years that Margaret and Dr. John Washington invited my wife and I to Jefferson County and Harewood for a visit.

As a historian, a former trustee of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation and of the National Trust for Historic Preservation (chartered by Congress) I and my entire family were captivated by both the natural and cultivated landscape of this unique and respected environment that has now been settled nearly 300 years.

Not long after the visit to the Washingtons we found the dilapidated farm and house still called Hazelfield given by General Adam Stephen to his daughter Anne as a dowry in 1780 when she married Alexander Spotswood Dandridge  cousin of Martha Washington. General Stephen is well known in these parts for his exuberant exploits in the French and Indian War, general in the American Revolution as well as the founder of Martinsburg.

After more than 40 years Hazelfield has, with most of its original materials and craftsmanship in tact, been restored and placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is also the subject of measured drawings by Historic American Building Survey for the files and online records of the Library of Congress.

In the interest of full disclosure. my farm Hazelfield borders on nearly a mile of Jefferson Orchards now leased to Rockwool, where the heavy industry zoning was changed without notification or with any recognition of its official historical status at the state or federal level placing the manufacturing facility and its towering smokestacks and  24- hour lights less than a mile from the house built in 1815.

As a Danish corporation this heavy-handed indifference to Danish history would never have  been tolerated in the home country.

Even today I am still finding historical references in the roads, towns, place names and houses within the precincts of both Jefferson and Berkley counties that is, in my judgment, one of the most resonating landscapes of American history in the Valley of Virginia and beyond.

Like all of us we pay our taxes in the courthouse where John Brown was tried and convicted. Up the street from the post office F. Scott Fitzgerald, the author of “The Great Gatsby,” spent weekends with his Princeton classmate the poet John Peale Bishop. JFK, who campaigned in the streets of Charles Town, claimed that his 1960 primary victory in West Virginia sealed his national nomination as president.

While I know that everyone  has been briefed on the chemical and hazardous pollutants that will unquestionably be introduced by the Rockwool plant, I would call attention  to the longterm damage and degradation to our shared heritage of Jefferson County that embraces a major period of the settled history of our country.  

It is this “clear and present” threat to the very character of the county that should be thoughtfully weighed along with the other dangers posed by heavy industry before any blind, irrevocable steps are taken by the Jefferson County Commission. Corporate welfare in corporate tax cuts at the expense of education and the environment is not what the majority want.

“Jobs” like patriotism is the politician’s shibboleth but with one of the lowest number of unemployed on record, the county can justifiably recognize other important conservation  elements such as history (so ubiquitous that it is taken for granted) as a telling key to a community’s spiritual and emotional health.

Gas lines are not the only measure of “civilization.” We don’t want to see Jefferson County to become one of Gertrude Stein’s empty, characterless places she famously dismissed because

“there’s no there there.”

Respectfully, I write to the County Commissioners and to the community to use whatever political persuasion you have to oppose the insidious depredations that will follow the misguided county plan to introduce heavy industry into this beautiful but fragile valley.

Conservation of history should rank with the other environmental challenges that threaten our very survival. Make no mistake, Rockwool is only the “camel’s nose under the tent.”



Hazelfield, Shenandoah Junction

(1) comment


Jobs are what allow each of us to enjoy the great liberty we are blessed with. It seems terribly short sighted to stop the progress of business and industry in the area. Typically large corporations tend to invest in the community and community groups.

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