This past Monday afternoon in The Great Hall of Stratford Hall, the Northern Neck Planning District Commission conducted the inaugural launch of the Northern Neck National Heritage Area, which was established by an Act of Congress last December. The occasion marked the culmination of a long process, begun in 2000, to obtain national recognition of the multi-sided significance of the Northern Neck throughout the course of our national history.
Designation as a National Heritage Area (NHA) is a great benefit to the Northern Neck in a variety of ways. First, it signifies the profound historical importance of our region, the birthplace of three of the first five American Presidents, two of which sites are open for public visitation; of Stratford Hall, the home of the two Lee brothers who signed the Declaration of Independence and birthplace of Robert E. Lee; of Christ Church built by Robert “King” Carter; and of numerous other places and sites of regional and national importance.
Secondly, the designation enables NHAs to leverage federal funds for sustainable economic development and conservation measures. NHAs are not part of the National Park Service, but rather can be the beneficiaries of park service grants.
Thirdly, NHAs have an educational component in bringing the history, culture and economy of such areas to national attention, thereby instilling in the public consciousness an understanding of the role these places have played in the unfolding of the fabric of American history.
A fourth component is the benefit the designation brings to the local economy in the form of tourism by instilling in the public awareness a reason to visit and learn of an area’s historic, cultural and recreational offerings. Many years ago, the late Frank Raflo, longtime mayor of Leesburg, spoke to Northumberland Preservation Inc. about the value of historical tourism. In his talk he advanced the concept that tourism was the proverbial goose that lays the golden egg in that it brings visitors to an area to spend money thereby enhancing the local economy without being a cost to the resident taxpayers and sends them away better educated as ambassadors to encourage others to follow in their footsteps.
A fifth benefit of the designation is an intangible, namely the factor of community pride and concern. Living in a NHA should give us all a better understanding of the wealth of resources at hand, and our opportunity to engage them for an ever-increasing quality of life across the scope of our long peninsula from the mother county of Northumberland through Lancaster, Westmoreland, Richmond and King George.
As I listened to the presentations at Stratford Hall Monday afternoon, I thought of two individuals who had advanced the appreciation of the Northern Neck’s illustrious past. The first was the late Miriam Haynie, whose book, The Stronghold, A Story of Historic Northern Neck of Virginia and Its People, first published in 1959, and reprinted many times, opened the way for scholarly study of the Northern Neck.
The second was the late historian and attorney C. Jackson Simmons, who alongside his eminent legal career maintained an equally vibrant life as a diligent researcher and historian. His last book, Speaking of the Northern Neck of Virginia & Life in its Long-Untrodden Ways During Three and a Half Centuries is a compendium of the many addresses he gave to various groups.
Haynie and Simmons, both now long deceased, contributed mightily to the process that came to fruition with the passage of the legislation that established the Northern Neck National Heritage Area. All of the many attributes that have come together to make this designation a reality can be described quite accurately in Simmons’ name for the Northern Neck, “Our Moated Eden.” His words continue to ring clearly.