The Leesburg Town Council could vote as soon as Tuesday, July 28, whether to approve Loudoun County’s request to demolish four historic buildings on Edwards Ferry Road to clear the site for a huge new courts complex.
Loudoun County officials have threatened to move their government offices to Ashburn if the council turns down an appeal filed after Leesburg’s Board of Architectural Review (BAR) denied the county’s demolition request in May.
Leesburg Mayor Kristen Umstattd, also a candidate for the town’s seat on the Loudoun Board of Supervisors, and one other council member said they will vote to raze the buildings to keep the government and its business downtown. Amid charges that county officials are bullying them into a “yes” vote, other council members on July 14 delayed a vote, saying they need more information.
County officials threatened to move government offices to Sycolin Road outside downtown Leesburg or to undeveloped property next to Metro’s planned Ashburn station, the last stop on the Silver Line. After several delays, the line’s arrival has been delayed to 2019. The Leesburg council could wait until late August for a final vote.
Loudoun County is struggling for its racial dignity after the recent disclosure that 42 slave graves in Lansdowne were destroyed in the late 1990s to build amenities for a community center, designed in the shape of a dairy barn, on the site of the old Coton plantation. Slaves powered Loudoun’s agrarian economy before the Civil War. Another slave burial ground, at the former Belmont plantation on the opposide side of Route 7 from Lansdowne, is unmarked but mostly intact, according to Loudoun historians.
On July 18, a small, mostly white crowd on the Loudoun Courthouse lawn protested the presence of a Civil War statue of a lone confederate soldier as five people displayed confederate flags at its base. That display is silent about the history of slaves who were sold, and allegedly sometimes lynched, on the courthouse grounds in the 18th Century. The Loudoun NAACP has asked the courthouse display be expanded to honor slaves and the Union soldiers who tried to free them.
Intermingled in the crowd were hopeful candidates for local office including Umstaddt, Board Chairman Scott York and two of his three challengers, Democrat Phyllis Randall and Republican Charlie King. Also present: Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring; Mike Turner, a Democrat running for Ashburn supervisor; Tom Marshall, running for Leesburg’s seat on the Loudoun School Board against incumbent Bill Fox; incumbent Loudoun Sheriff Mike Chapman; and Leesburg town council members Kelly Burk and Marty Martinez.
Adding irony to Thomas’s comments about the disappearance of a slave cemetery in Lansdowne was the Leesburg council’s impending decision whether to raze historic buildings to build a new courthouse. A historic Episcopal cemetery that fronts on Church Street, adjacent to the proposed new courthouse, will remain intact.