Protecting the History and Future of Vint Hill Farm Station
During the Second World War, the Army’s Signal Intelligence Service established a 700-acre base in the northeast corner of Fauquier County. The Vint Hill Farm Station was one of the most vital intelligence-gathering installations of the conflict, intercepting enemy messages so important they shaped the US strategy at Normandy.
Fifty years later, the Army was finished at Vint Hill. Fauquier County braced itself to lose tens of millions of dollars in tax and sales revenues, as well as approximately 3,600 jobs. Foreboding headlines dominated area newspapers and officials warned of ballooning unemployment rolls. The panic encouraged the newly-formed Vint Hill Economic Development Association (EDA) to be given permission to issue tax-free bonds in an effort to update infrastructure and replace lost jobs, despite lacking the collateral to back up those bonds.
But as the panic subsided (unemployment actually fell significantly the year after Vint Hill closed), it became clear that taxpayers were going to be on the hook for redevelopment of the old base. Private industry would turn up its nose at the un-sewered, asbestos-laden buildings and the EDA wouldn’t be able to afford the interest on their bonds, transferring the burden to Fauquier County residents. If taxpayers were going to be held responsible for the costs, CFFC thought, than they should at least have a say in what happens at Vint Hill.
In a letter to the Fauquier Democrat, Hope Porter likened CFFC to “the skunk at the garden party, asking the hard questions, requesting information, and seeking outside, unbiased advice from experts.”
In fact, CFFC did hire an expert, a Washington-based economist, to conduct a study about the best way forward for repurposing Vint Hill.
Over the next decade, development at Vint Hill happened slowly; the EDA focused on but had little success in attracting warehouse and research and development facilities. The FAA located some of its operations at Vint Hill in 1998, but otherwise, growth had stalled.
In the early part of this decade, it became clear that the EDA wanted to get the property off their hands. Residential developers began eying the site.
“We were paying close attention,” says CFFC board member Amy Trotto. “We didn’t want to see what happened at Brookside, happen at Vint Hill.” Brookside, Fauquier’s largest residential development, was supposed to have been built with an incorporated commercial component to serve the new households and ease the traffic that its residents would create. More than a thousand new houses were built, but the commercial development remains unseen.
To encourage responsible redevelopment, CFFC worked to engage the public with the important history of Vint Hill. Collaborating with a contracted historian, CFFC developed a walking tour of the largely preserved base. Visitors were able to see what base had looked like during the long and uncertain days of WWII.
For three years, CFFC also hosted Vint Hill Farm Station Days, an event that commemorated the base and its units’ important contributions to the war effort.
“We want to make sure it is remembered and celebrated,” says Trotto.
Meanwhile, the new owners of Vint Hill were working to alter the comprehensive plan and rezone the area to add more than 400 homes.
As of this writing, that proposal is dead. But Vint Hill stands poised to be Fauquier County’s next development faceoff. CFFC is ready to fight to ensure that the property is developed responsibly and with respect for its unique history. The work done at Vint Hill helped defend our country from great peril; today, we’re working hard to defend Vint Hill.