MARSHALL IS GETTING MIDDLEBURG’D
by Julie Reardon
Although its location in Northern Fauquier County is blessed by the same beautiful scenery and bordered by similarly beautiful estates and Blue Ridge views, the unpretentious little town of Marshall existed for years in the shadow of the flashier and better known hamlets of Middleburg and The Plains, both just minutes away. While Middleburg and The Plains have become tourist destination towns and their zip codes home to some of the most expensive in the state, few outsiders made a point to visit Marshall. Locals and farmers went there to buy feed and seed at the farmer’s co-op, shop for groceries at the IGA, and buy or repair their weed whackers, chain saws and other farm tools at the Stihl store, Piedmont Equipment. Several restaurants served country cooking at reasonable prices. Just outside town, between Marshall and The Plains, was one of the area’s best kept secrets: the grill at the Fauquier Livestock Exchange. It was a popular gathering place for a hot dog or burger at lunchtime with locals before a fire destroyed it a few years ago.
Change was inevitable, as Marshall is strategically located on State Route 55 between two I-66 exits, only 50 miles west of Washington D.C., and minutes to the county seat of Warrenton via Rt. 17. Additionally, it’s the only town designated as a service district in Northern Fauquier County, so development could only be kept at bay for so long. The exponential growth of Loudoun County to the north and indeed the entire region, will forever change this sleepy little agricultural town. While the beautiful people (and their money) flocked to see, be seen and spend in the chic little hamlets of Middleburg and The Plains, until very recently Marshall stayed pretty much the same, and change came slowly at first. A few townhouses, and the addition of a Food Lion, Tractor Supply, and McDonalds, all located near the eastern I-66 exit, came first. A few other businesses, including the old IGA grocery, closed. At the outskirts on The Plains side on Rt. 55, a local feed store expanded from its grubby little in-town building to a brand new, fancy complex and branched out into all manner of country and equestrian themed clothing and apparel. It still sold horse, cattle and pet food, but greatly expanded the selection, especially the premium brands. Needless to say, it was an immediate hit. Even their advertising slogan, “I got it at the feed store,” reflects the new residents’ desire to fit in and embrace rural chic.
Next to the feed store, on the corner of 55 and the road to Middleburg, was an eyesore: the ruins of the sale barn, auction ring and holding pens of the Fauquier Livestock Exchange, burned to the ground in a fire a few years ago. When rebuilding was in question, other livestock markets picked up the slack for its weekly fat cattle sales and monthly horse sales. But local farmers didn’t want to have to travel to Front Royal or Culpeper to buy and sell livestock, so a brand new facility was rebuilt on site and is open for business. Adjoining these two new complexes is a new park. Previously, the park was 88 acres of vacant farmland, owned by the late philanthropist Paul Mellon as part of his vast land holdings in Northern Fauquier. Mellon lived on a 4,000-acre estate in nearby Upperville. He willed the land to the county on his death to become the showcase recreation facility it is today. The Northern Fauquier Park has picnic areas, fishing ponds, pavilions, hiking trails and ball fields.
Still, until very recently Marshall wasn’t exactly a haven of “chichi” little boutique shops and spendy eateries; it remained stubbornly blue collar even as the farms got subdivided into farmettes and fewer people actually farmed. Marshall was a working mans town. When the fox hunters and equestrians dismounted and handed the reins over to the stable hands, and the nouveau riche wanted to step out, they flocked to Middleburg and The Plains, or sometimes Warrenton. The help went to Marshall.
The now unincorporated town of Marshall was originally called Salem when it was settled in 1797. It was renamed in 1882 in honor of our country’s first Chief Justice, John Marshall, who grew up at Oak Hill Farm just west of town. The town and surrounds have a rich history, much of it intact. It is home to the Fauquier Heritage and Preservation Foundation, and the area’s only surviving one-room schoolhouse, called simply Number 18 School. Originally whites-only, No. 18 became a school for blacks until the 1960s, when it was closed after desegregation. The little clapboard building has been restored and is visited regularly by school groups and history buffs. And the nation’s oldest continuously operating Ford dealership is still open for business on Main St. as it has been since 1915.
More change is coming and new businesses in Marshall are already catering to the new residents who will soon swell in number. All around town, signs announce openings this year and next of several large housing developments. Luxury homes and townhomes are planned by local and national builders. Already in the past 12 months, trendy eateries and food purveyors catering to today’s health conscious consumers who are willing to pay a premium for local and organic have opened. Warrenton’s Red Truck Rural Bakery, a local and national award winning bakery, opened a second store on Main Street.
The Whole Ox butcher shop is another new business serving up certified organic meats, as well as the recently opened Field & Main, the area’s newest farm to table restaurant. Nearby, Gentle Harvest offers natural food to eat in or take out. An eclectic old building on Main St. got a facelift and was renamed Gone to Ground (a fox hunting term); it houses an art gallery and a pilates and equisates studio (the latter, presumably pilates for the horsey set). Another old Victorian house on Main St. now houses Little Fox Java and Gifts. Across the street, a local developer has already broken ground for over 100 new luxury homes; as a proffer some land was donated to a local low income housing group and as a new home for a local high end pet sales boutique. The approval of 22 acres of in-town land for this boutique has annoyed some. Operating under the guise of rescue, this local organization is incorporated in the state of Delaware and earns over 7 figures of tax free money annually from selling animals to wealthy area residents and calling the high sale prices “adoption fees”. That the two closest county-run animal shelters are well managed and rarely have surplus animals indicates that while Marshall didn’t need a shelter, there’s real money to be made here. For now, Joe’s Pizza, the Marshall Diner and a few other hold outs remain with their reasonably priced offerings, but Marshall and the landscape around it are changing quickly.