Oatlands, a National Trust Historic Site, is a place that is witness to some great American stories. The family who owned Oatlands in the 20th century included David Finley who played a founding role in multiple national, cultural treasures including the National Gallery of Art, the National Portrait Gallery and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In 1965, the family gave the extraordinary gift of Oatlands to the National Trust to be visited and loved by hundreds of thousands of visitors over the past 50 years.
In the 18th century, the owner of the land now known as Oatlands, Robert Carter, decided to free over 500 people whom he and his family enslaved. He broke from the prevailing attitudes of his time, as one of the wealthiest and most powerful men during the early years of our nation. How different America’s history might have been had his outlook and actions prevailed in the larger society of Virginia.
In the 19th century, Oatlands was a very different place. Robert Carter’s son, George Carter, enslaved 18 people in 1800. By the mid-century, his wife Elizabeth Carter enslaved more human beings than any other place in the county. By the 1860 census, over 130 people men, women and children lived and labored in slavery at Oatlands.
Most of the stories of the enslaved at Oatlands have been lost to time. We do not know where they lived, and we do not know where they were buried.
But we actually do know more than we realized. We know many of the names of the enslaved, from Elizabeth Carter’s diary, George Carter’s will and other similar documents. We are working with their descendants, and we are hoping to connect with many more through a new project that Oatlands has launched called Telling All of Our Stories. You can find more about this project at http://www.oatlands.org/enslaved-community.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation is strongly dedicated in the 21st century to telling the diverse stories of its historic sites. Under the leadership of Michael O’Connor, the chair of Oatlands Board of Directors, Oatlands has revamped its mission to tell its full history. We invite the community to join us in this vital journey, as we strive to tell the stories of all the people who lived at Oatlands.
I met a gentleman at a dedication for our new Civil War Trails Marker about slavery at Oatlands this past weekend. He told me he had come many years ago and never expected to come back. He said there was “a chasm.” He said now things are different, and he will be back. I hope so.
I end with the thoughts of my friend Kevin Dulany Grigsby, who is descended from Sophia and Jacob Howard. Mr. and Mrs. Howard were enslaved at Oatlands and founded Howardsville in Loudoun County as free people. In Kevin’s words, “The database of the enslaved community at Oatlands is simply amazing. The painful legacy of slavery is that it denied human beings of their dignity, language, names, and culture. For their descendants are often denied that connection with simply knowing the names of those who sacrificed so much.
The records and stories uncovered by Oatlands can in many cases provide descendants with sometimes just a small piece of a larger picture about those once enslaved at Oatlands and other Carter and Grayson family plantations. We understand how having the name of an ancestor is a powerful connection to one’s past.”
Executive Director of Oatlands
April marks the start of pleasant spring weather and dreaded SOL review sessions. We’re all too familiar with the grueling process of testing children’s knowledge of math, science, history and writing. Although the fast-approaching testing season is looming over the heads of students and teachers alike, I’d like to call attention to a different subject area that has been largely overlooked in the elementary education program: food literacy.
The CDC estimates that over a third of American children and adolescents are either overweight or obese. Childhood obesity drastically increases risk of poor health outcomes in adult life and is a public health issue that deserves attention from all levels of government.
Loudoun County Public Schools’ recent nutrition initiatives and guidelines for school lunches address this problem by simultaneously increasing access to healthy food and decreasing access to unhealthy food, thus creating a healthier environment for all students. But there’s a catch. Many students don’t like the new healthy foods that are being served.
School vegetable gardens can help bridge that gap. Research demonstrates that incorporating gardening into the elementary school day increases knowledge and consumption of fruits and vegetables. These programs have also been shown to improve science test scores. In addition to improving health and academic performance, gardening is an activity that fosters teamwork and other social skills. Finally, gardening programs create an opportunity to form relationships between elementary schools and local Loudoun farms.
School gardening programs are an opportunity to invest in our children’s health and our community.
Hoping to bolster economic development and pressured by developers, homeowners and special interest groups, our Board of Supervisors voted three years ago to accept a funding agreement to expand Metro’s Silver Line to Loudoun.
Initially, the financing was reasonable. Metrorail Service Districts limited additional taxation to those landowners directly benefiting from Metro, low-interest TIFIA bonds provided construction funds while deferring payments for years, and the promise of future commercial development beckoned.
“Metro” is a euphemism encompassing an array of organizations. Two key organizations are the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). To oversimplify, MWAA builds the Silver Line and WMATA runs it once constructed.
But the silver lining is fading. The financial landscape of Metro and the benefits to Loudoun have considerably worsened.
Particularly alarming is MWAA’s attempt to develop its own property – something MWAA CEO Jack Potter promised our board would not happen – and cut Loudoun out. MWAA desires authority to build a “Dulles City” on federally-leased airport land, and they declared their intent to receive “unsolicited” proposals last month.
Loudoun’s problem is that airport-located commercial properties would mostly be exempt from local taxation. Such an arrangement would cripple Loudoun’s metro-oriented development efforts. What developer wouldn’t chose to build on tax-exempt airport land?
As predicted, WMATA drifts toward insolvency.
Their annual audit is months overdue. They have not for an entire year provided mandatory quarterly financial reports to the jurisdictions that subsidize it.
They have an unsustainable $500 million in short-term debt.
Moody’s again downgraded Metro bonds last month. WMATA funds its growing pension obligations with its operating budget, a dangerous fiscal behavior. An expenditure audit found Metro awarding millions in no-bid contracts and ignoring contracting rules. Senior officials quit or were forced out. The list goes on and on.
What can our board do? To start, don’t go wobbly on us. Don’t make a bad deal just to close the deal.
Our current board endeavored to expand commercial development but has had limited success. Commercial vacancy rates hover around 17.5 percent. The baseball stadium is engulfed in years of litigation hampering One Loudoun’s development. MWAA is stealing Loudoun’s commercial revenue stream. It’s time to play hardball, and not get desperate.
Loudoun and the other jurisdictions still hold the power of the purse. Loudoun must demand a contractually binding guarantee that MWAA will not even attempt to commercially develop airport property or Loudoun will nullify the funding agreement. If such tactics delay the project, so be it. Future commercial revenue flowing to Loudoun’s coffers is too important.
Upon reconsideration, Arlington recently canceled its multi-year public transportation trolley project after considerable expense. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan threatens to delay or halt Purple Line expansion. MWAA and WMATA have seen their reputations publicly thrashed with financial and ethical lapses of biblical proportions. We have the upper hand. The board made a tough decision to enter into the funding agreement. It might have to make a tougher call to get out.
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