Creating a future from Ashburn’s past
Tom Burson and his business partner, Cary Lichtman, are looking to revitalize key historical structures and integrate them into a bustling new community.
Burson’s Corner, tentatively named for the family of its preservationist creator, is planned to open in early 2015 at the intersection of Ashburn and Hay roads on the site of the former Weller Tile and Mosaics
“Ashburn is developing so fast and quite a bit of our past has been bulldozed. I am trying to promote a renaissance that brings the best of the past and create a feeling of authenticity for the future,” Burson said.
“I’ve spoken to a number of people who grew up here, and have read the words of the Ashburn old timers at the Thomas Balch Library, and this is the place where people came together to discuss the important developments of the day and generally socialize. We want to create that kind of atmosphere again and give the local residents as well as those who are traveling through Ashburn on the bike trail a place to sit, relax and unwind,” Burson said.
Burson said the plans are centered around two main buildings at the site of the old Weller Tile and Mosaic Building, which date back to 1870.
The first step will be to knock down a burned out building that cannot be saved. The white building on the corner would be restored to lease to an experienced restaurant operator to create a coffee shop/bistro, “so people can sit out on the patio and have a coffee in the morning and a beer or glass of wine later in the day,” Burson said.
“I want to create a fun place where people truly know your name, a place for local residents to walk to. It is ideally suited for that,” he said.
In addition, there is an empty space behind the buildings that has been designed by Main Street Architecture. It will hold a small eight-unit residential apartment building in a Dutch Colonial barn-style that is similar to what is there now.
“We are importing the same design elements. It will be high-end living for people who want to be right on the bike trail. The blue building will be retail space,” Burson said.
Jack Harding, who at 59 has lived his entire life on Ashburn Road, said he's impressed with the plans so far.
“This is the first time someone is saying they want to take into consideration the old part of town and to revitalize it. I’m very excited,” Harding said. He added that his family once owned one of the buildings Burson is restoring.
Burson explained that this is a by-right development, which means they do not need Board of Supervisors' approval.
“We have rural commercial zoning, and everything we are doing is within the permitted uses. Our little neighborhood is basically the only place in eastern Loudoun with rural commercial zoning, which is one of the main reasons I found the property so attractive,” he said.
“Our site plan is under review by the county and we have received comments from everyone. These comments address relatively minor issues related to landscape buffering, stormwater management, etc. Nothing out of the ordinary. The site plan is on file and is publicly available.”
There will be a public meeting scheduled by the state in a few weeks. However, this is to discuss the historic designation of the street.
“I feel strongly we have an opportunity to preserve the past and create a past for the people who are here now,” Burson said. “If I can help to bring attention to that and preserve our history, I’ll feel I’ve done something meaningful for Ashburn and Loudoun County and leave a legacy that my son, Willie, can be proud of.”
Burson grew up in Arlington and remembers hearing the trains as he went to sleep at night near the W&OD.
“I’ve always had a fascination with that,” he said.
After college and grad school, he ended up coming back to the area and became interested in cycling. He used to ride through the intersection in Ashburn by Partlow’s.
“I always thought what a cool place and how cool would it be to have a business there,” he said. “In the past, these places were centers of congregation,” Burson explained.
“Local history is so important for any community,” Burson said. “In Ashburn we have a rich local history that many people aren’t aware of. This history dates back to as early as the French and Indian War, when the Virginia Regiment marched up part of what is now Ashburn Road on the way to Braddock’s disastrous battle with the French in 1755. It includes the time when the entire Union Army of the Potomac was camped in and around Ashburn for a week in late June of 1863, waiting for the right moment to cross the river and, days later, defeat the rebel army at Gettysburg. These are dramatic moments in our national history. But I’m equally fascinated with the descriptions of day-to-day life in the 20th century, prior to the great suburban build out of the last few decades. There was a close knit community here. They supplied milk to Washington D.C. Look at the Loudoun County flag. Those little white drops around the edge? Those are milk drops. And Ashburn was the center of the dairy industry in Loudoun. Names like Partlow, Harding and Weller. These families are still here, and are very much a part of the future of Ashburn as well.
“I think Ashburn has been developed into an outstanding place to live. That’s why I chose to live here. But now is perhaps the last opportunity to preserve what remains and integrate it into a vibrant new community. The best part about this is that we are doing this on our own initiative with private funds. The business case is strong. We do not support additional rules and regulations in this community. There’s enough of that already,” he added.
“There are so many stories,” said Burson. “From the Freemasons who met on our site for much of the 20th century, to the ‘Silver Senator’ who engineered a steam-powered fan to keep flies away from his cattle. We’re going to bring those stories back and create some new ones of our own. After all, the little kids of today will be the old timers of tomorrow.”
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