Grist for History

Loudoun's Mills Share a History of Love and Loss

Article by Meredith Bean McMath

Photography by Amie Ware, AWare Photography

Originally published in Midlothian Lifestyle

Few of Loudoun’s glorious old mills survived the Civil War, but those that did have stories to tell. The Union Capital was just over the Potomac River, but Loudoun was in the heart of Confederate Virginia. Most joined the Confederate Army, but another group joined the Union Army, and Loudoun soon became a battleground, frequently dividing families.

1. A Divided Community

An event just two months into the war helped illustrate the schism. Confederates ambushed Union soldiers at the Waterford Baptist Meeting House. The battle lasted all day, and when the Union finally surrendered, one Confederate soldier came at them waving his gun and yelling he had a right to kill his Union prisoner. His commander stopped him, sparing the would-be executioner's brother.

For the next few years, Loudoun's mills saw many battles and skirmishes. Confederate foragers regularly emptied the pantries of pro-Union people, even as the mills continued to grind. In 1864, to cripple the South's food supply, the Union Army marched through the county burning as many mills and barns as they could—regardless of owners’ loyalties. North of Leesburg, Taylorstown Mill and Waterford Mill survived the raids, as well as Aldie Mill to the South, while Potts-Neer Mill of Hillsboro and dozens of others did not. (Charred ruins of Potts-Neer Mill are visible from the corner of Stoney Point and Woodgrove Roads southwest of Hillsboro.) 

2. Making Women's History

Three young Quaker women of Waterford—Lida and Lizzie Dutton and Sarah Steer—started a newspaper to boost Union Soldiers’ morale, establishing them as Virginia’s first female journalists. Lida's own powers of persuasion were made clear when she met Union Lieutenant William Hutchinson in disguise as a Confederate while on a scouting mission. He asked Lida for directions, and, being a Quaker, she had to tell the truth. Not wanting to aid a Confederate, she gave him directions only a local could understand. When William asked which side she’d like for him to be on, she blurted that, if he was a Southerner she hated him, but if he were a Northerner, she loved him. After 50 years of marriage, Lida often argued with William whether she promised to love or only like him.

3. The New Waterford

A stroll through Waterford today provides gorgeous views of rolling hills and stately homes, the bleating sounds of contented sheep and a chance to visit the local market for organic foods, fine art and skeins of local wool. The annual Waterford Fair is Oct. 4-6 and features live artisans and a craft sale. 

4. Sites to Visit

Aldie Mill, just east of Middleburg, boasts a working mill complete with miller happy to show you the ropes. One significant historical footnote to Aldie Mill concerns "mill boy" Daniel Dangerfield who escaped slavery and began a new life in Pennsylvania as Daniel Webster. When recaptured in 1859, Daniel was jailed, but the judge ruled that there was insufficient proof of his identity, prompting thousands of citizens to celebrate his release. 

End your day at Tuscarora Mill Restaurant in Leesburg. Built from a post-war mill in 1899, the restaurant offers fine dining in a cozy setting of hand-hewn beams, linen tablecloths and an excellent choice of local and other fine wines.

This article is written by prize-winning playwright and award-winning historian Meredith Bean McMath. Her play, All for the Union, based on the Civil War experiences of Virginia’s first female journalists, appears at the Capital Fringe Festival this July and at Aldie Mill in August. Find out more at Lida and William Hutchinson photos courtesy of Waterford Foundation Archives and Local History Collection.

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