Protecting the History and Future of Vint Hill Farm Station
Vint Hill Update
Theodore Roosevelt said, “Nothing worth having comes easy.” This quote aptly describes the multi-year effort to preserve the barracks at historic Vint Hill Farm Station, our country’s first secret listening post. In March Fauquier County’s Board of Supervisors approved Echelon Resources’ special exception for the redevelopment of the Vint Hill barracks using federal and state historic tax credits—an important milestone to preserve the structures while creating 183 upscale but affordable apartment units.
For CFFC however, this preservation effort began much earlier.The former military base was already planned and zoned for redevelopment and many of the historic structures were run down. Preserving these buildings would take a huge effort—the kind that usually started once plans were already submitted for approval. But CFFC had a better idea. What if we could get the community excited about Vint Hill’s history earlier in the process?
In 2013 CFFC began uncovering and promoting recently declassified stories that brought these buildings to life—from intelligence for D-day’s success attributed to transmissions captured at Vint Hill’s secret intercept stations, to radio operators covertly monitoring Vietnam War protestors.
CFFC’s idea worked. Not only was the public excited by Vint Hill’s history, but Vint Hill’s potential developers were too. Despite all the positive momentum however, preservation of the barracks, the largest group of buildings at the station, seemed a hopeless cause. Refurbishing them was estimated to cost in the range of $20- $30 million. Six developers looked at the project between 2007 and 2012 and concluded that it was not economically viable.
Prospects changed in 2018 when Fauquier County’s Economic Development Office received a call from Echelon Resources looking for eligible properties for their next historic redevelopment venture. When the barracks project was suggested, solid community support had already been established by CFFC, easing the difficult process ahead.
The hard work required to see this project to fruition is not over. Plans must pass muster not only with Fauquier County, but also with the
Virginia Department of Historic Resources and the National Park Service. Adding to the challenge, requirements of one approval authority are often at odds with those of another.
If the next round of hurdles is overcome, construction could begin as early as October. In the meantime, excitement grows among young professionals looking for housing that meets their lifestyle and budget and those who value the preservation of a national treasure. Thanks to all the individuals and organizations who joined with CFFC in this worthwhile effort.
The History of Vint Hill's Rebirth
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 the 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, then 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.”
CFFC performed the necessary work to preserve the core of Vint Hill Farms Station (VHFS), a mid-20th century United States Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) post, significant for its intelligence gathering groundwork during World War II and its role as a center for research, development, and maintenance of intelligence equipment during the Cold War (1945-1991). 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.
CFFC determined that a military historian should be retained to see if the site might be eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. CFFC hired Mr. John Salmon, who began combing through records in the U.S. Army archives, the Library of Congress, Virginia Historical Society, and the National Archives. His findings were instrumental to the preparation of the preliminary information form required by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources to begin the National Register nomination. The Vint Hill Farms Station Historic District #030-0020 is comprised of 40 military buildings on 125 acres.