FOUNDED IN 1728 by an act of the Virginia Assembly, Falmouth was created as a port town on the Rappahannock River. One decade later, a 6-year-old George Washington moved to Ferry Farm just down river with his family.
The nonprofit George Washington Foundation and Stafford County have invested substantially in developing the farm as a historic site that draws visitors from around the world to see where the first U.S. president grew up.
Archaeological digs determined the location of the farmhouse where Washington lived and research allowed for a concept to be developed for what that home looked like. The foundation, which also operates Kenmore Plantation in Fredericksburg, is building a replica of the house while raising public awareness of Ferry Farm’s historic significance.
I mention this because, remarkably, at the port of Falmouth historic district, we have structures still standing that date back to the 1700s and 1800s. We don’t have to do archeological digs and recreate these buildings. They’ve withstood war and floods. I believe we should treat these buildings and the land on which they stand with the same reverence we treat Ferry Farm.
So, while Stafford County is making plans for the redevelopment of old Falmouth and adjacent areas, we have to carefully consider the proposed Falmouth Redevelopment Overlay District and make sure it actually protects the integrity of the old village.
The Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on proposed ordinance 016-24 at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the government center at Stafford Courthouse.
The intent of the overlay is to provide redevelopment opportunities through new construction and reuse of existing building “while maintaining the historic nature and cultural context.” However, when “new construction” is mentioned, one wonders what new construction will do to the historic character and the preservation of authentically historic buildings.
The overlay plan also allows for some “by-right” and conditional uses. It takes much research on the part of concerned residents to learn what might be allowed, and they know that business investors are astute about how to work the system to their advantage.
Some of us remember how Wal–Mart was going to build on the Ferry Farm site until residents brought attention to the absurdity of building on such historically significant land.
As the county makes plans for the old port town, I urge residents to stay engaged. Place yourself in the 18th and 19th centuries. If you owned a business, what kind would it be? I think whatever commercial development is allowed should be tied to Falmouth’s Colonial or Civil War history. Auto repair, for example, would not fit, as there were no automobiles back then.
Those of us who have expressed that Falmouth village should be planned by historic planners and architects are told, “It’s OK, the Architectural Review Board will approve the designs and materials used.” Oh, really? Remember when the ARB rejected plans for the new porch and deck at Amy’s Café and the Board of Supervisors’ overruled them? The ARB is now made up of a new team with credentials more suited for an area Realtors board.
Remember the surprise when a huge, new home appeared on the banks of the river near the Falmouth Bridge and everyone wondered how in the world it got approval? Well, the owner of that home has submitted for additional development in Falmouth. That’s one application that certainly warrants watching.
With my casual interest in history, I reviewed positively the Falmouth Master Redevelopment Area Plan when it was first presented. I also was thrilled when the new Falmouth intersection at U.S. 1, 17 and Butler Road was completed.
With out-of-place buildings removed now, the character of the old village is much more apparent, and I’m seeing the redevelopment plan in a new light.
When local preservationist Irma Clifton mentioned that several of Falmouth’s historic homes are vacant, all of a sudden I had visions of a tourism village similar to one I visited as a child at New Salem, Ill. I had walked through Abe Lincoln’s old hometown and saw what life was like back then. That village, however, had to be recreated. Amazingly, Falmouth has structures still standing.
Rather than making historic Falmouth a modern commercial center, let’s renew the village that once was. A tightly controlled historic overlay will help.
Southeastern Stafford has Chatham, Belmont and Ferry Farm, all being protected and promoted for the world to see. The recently completed Yankees in Falmouth weekend successfully showcased Falmouth’s history, and it was a delight to tour the 1770s Shelton Cottage.
With citizen advocacy, one day the old port of Falmouth town could be recognized as a national treasure and unique tourism destination.
Alane Callander has lived in the Falmouth area for the past 36 years and is active in many local causes.