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Got a few minutes? Great. Come ride with me. I want to
take you to Buckingham Court House. We’ll turn off the GPS and I’ll be your
guide, with or without a fake British accent.
Why go? Well, because — because Buckingham rests
comfortably in the geographical center of Virginia, where country living
reigns and history comes alive.
Moreover, the quaint, unincorporated village district of
Buckingham Court House has it all — historic homes, churches, shops, and
museums. And, there’s a courthouse that’s steeped in Jeffersonian
architecture and history.
Need more? Well, Buckingham is the twelfth largest county
in the state yet it only has two stoplights. How rural is that?
Headed west on U.S. Route 60 from Richmond, Sprouses
Corner offers the first sighting of the Blue Ridge. Those familiar with this
exquisite view know the welcome mat is out and Buckingham Court House is
right up the road. Just past the intersection of Routes 60 and 15, which
long-ago served as a major crossroads, is one of Buckingham’s newest
enterprises, Sprouses Corner Ranch. Managed by LaRue Sprouse Dowd, the ranch offers a
symbolic representation of Buckingham’s rural nature while reinforcing that
agriculture is alive and well. After working the horse-racing circuit as a physical
therapist, Dowd, with degrees in equine therapy and veterinarian technology,
returned home in hopes of owning her own horse farm where she could raise,
train, and board horses, offer riding lessons, and provide programs for
youngsters. Her hopes were fulfilled when her grandmother suggested,
“Why don’t you start it over in the pasture?” Gazing across the gently rolling land that has been in
her family for generations, she says, “I want to see this farm flourish.
I’ve always dreamed of this.”
And, see that gigantic water tower bearing a huge, red
heart? That reiterates the county’s location in the heart of Virginia while
subtly marketing its capability to provide water utilities for new homes and
Embracing All Ages
Farther west we pass Buckingham Middle School, which
opened in 2003 and offers a concrete statement about this community’s
commitment to its youth and public education.
Not far from the middle school is Buckingham County High
School, bordered by the Vo-Tech Center and a recently revitalized athletic
field. Plans are currently underway to renovate and expand two schools on
Route 20. Once completed, the facility will include lower and upper
elementary schools that share a media center and cafeteria. All six of the
county’s schools are accredited and provide a nurturing environment for
Linda V. Paige, a retired educator and administrator,
says, “Buckingham is a rural area with people who really do care about the
children and the county.” She continues, “If you would like for your child
to be in a small community school with personalized attention and
instruction, Buckingham County is the answer.” Paige is an unofficial ambassador for retirees and loves
to point out that Buckingham offers an abundance of volunteer opportunities.
Describing Buckingham as a community where people take
time to speak to one an-other, Paige says, “It’s so nice when you are out
and about and are greeted by people who are smiling and so friendly.”
Buckingham is also attracting young professionals looking
for a rural setting within commuting distance of Charlottesville, Richmond
and Lynchburg. One such couple is Katie and Bryan Davis. Although each
is from neighboring states, they relocated in Buckingham and have purchased
a home in the courthouse area. “We love living in Buckingham because of the people and
good old-fashioned values,” notes Bryan. Buckingham is a supportive
community where everyone knows everyone.”
Agreeing, Katie adds, “It’s a perfect place to raise a
family if you like a little slower pace of life and rural living.”
Our next stop is Lee Wayside. For years, this wayside has
offered travelers — including its namesake, Gen. Robert E. Lee — respite. A
monument marks the area where Lee’s tent was pitched on April 12, 1865,
following the surrender in nearby Appomattox.
Accounts of what is called Lee’s “most painful journey”
contend that the general was invited to stay at Rose Cottage, a nearby
tavern, but he chose to camp with his troops.
Rose Cottage was destroyed by fire in the late 1980s;
and, the United Daughters of the Confederacy donated the property to
Historic Buckingham, Incorporated (HBI), the county’s equivalent of a
The donation included 40 acres that comprise the Historic
Village at Lee Wayside, a unique living-history project of HBI.
Thus far this extraordinary grassroots effort has yielded
a park that contains eight relocated buildings, including a post office, an
office from the slate quarry, a tobacco barn, corn crib, privy, smokehouse,
general store, and a one-room schoolhouse, which is on the Civil Rights in
Education Heritage Trail. A blacksmith shop and carpentry shop are currently
under construction. Open every weekend, the park also hosts special events
such as Civil War and frontier encampments, and Cowboy Day. Martha Louis, a local historian and preservationist,
presides over and energizes HBI. “The purpose of Historic Buckingham,
Incorporated is to foster and create an interest in historical and literary
events — past, present, and future of Buckingham; and to promote and
preserve all historical aspects of the county,” says Louis.
Along with the Historic Village, HBI operates the
Housewright Museum located across from the courthouse.
Slowing to the posted 35-mph speed limit, we enter the
one-mile stretch of Buckingham Courthouse. We’ll stop at the county administration complex where
County Administrator Rebecca Carter has been at the helm since 1995.
“Our county offers the best of
both worlds,” she says with pride, “an easy-going lifestyle with convenient
access to Virginia’s leading cities, the nation’s capital, and other major
markets on the East Coast.”
Offering that Buckingham is rich in natural resources —
land, minerals, timber, and water — Carter stresses that the county’s most
important resource is its people, “people with integrity and an
old-fashioned work ethic.”
“Easy living and opportunity are traditions we like to
share,” says Carter, noting that the county’s wealth of outdoor recreational
activities complements that lifestyle. Carter’s administrative skills and budgetary vigilance,
along with those of the board of supervisors, were recently revalidated
during the annual audit report that demonstrated the county’s sound
financial standing, even in this difficult economy.
Moreover, the county anticipates a boost in revenue with
the construction of Dominion Resources’ new 580-megawatt,
natural-gas-powered facility, Bear Garden Power Station.
According to Dominion, which purchased the site from
Tenaska in 2008, the $619 million project should be completed by the summer
of 2011. Dominion anticipates the facility will generate approximately $1
million annually in property taxes.
The construction is creating approximately 500 temporary
jobs. When the power station begins operation, it will provide about 25
Dr. Brian Bates, a member of the board of supervisors who
initiated talks with Tenaska, says, “This is the biggest investment
anybody’s ever made in Buckingham — nobody’s come close.”
He adds, “I am proud of the way the community embraced
this project. And, because of this project we are able to move forward with
the school renovations.”
Our next stop is Buckingham Courthouse. Flanked by the
Housewright Museum and Maysville Manor, two buildings that are part of the
Courthouse Historic District, the courthouse is indeed a jewel.
Finding something lost, especially if it’s revered, is
exciting and rewarding. And, sometimes the story of that find turns into a
treasure in its own right. Such is the case with the revelation that Thomas
Jefferson did indeed design a truly spectacular courthouse for Buckingham.
The discovery, a result of an archeological dig in 2003,
uncovered the footprint of the original courthouse. That evidence has
yielded an interpretive landscape of the actual layout of one of Jefferson’s
Now, with the aid of colored bricks and pavers along with
some of the original column bases, visitors are offered a sign-guided walk
into an illustrious era of Buckingham’s past.
Built circa 1824, the Jeffersonian courthouse obviously
laid the groundwork for its replacement that was completed several years
after a fire gutted the original in 1869. However, for decades some experts
contended that the replacement did not match the description of the design
found in letters writ-ten by Jefferson. Others pointed out that the existing
courthouse did not bear the distinctive characteristics seen in buildings
designed by Jefferson.
Dr. Brian Bates, director of the Longwood University
Archeology Field School (and, yes, he’s also on the board of supervisors),
oversaw the dig that confirmed oral history was correct. Bates and his
students dug for the truth and found it when they uncovered some of the
foundation from the original structures. “What we found in the ground
is now represented in the interpretive landscaping,” says Bates. “And we can
see that the front portico of the Jefferson courthouse would have been a
much more substantial structure than what we see today both in terms of its
depth and its width.”
Working hand-in-hand with HBI and other organizations to
promote Buckingham are the newly formed Tourism Commission and its sponsor,
the Chamber of Commerce.
Janet Miller, president of the chamber and a member of
the commission, explained, “The tourism industry could be one of our most
lucrative and attractive industries. We see our work with the commission
making it easier for businesses here to survive.”
Sandra Moss, one of the founders of the chamber, says,
“One of the main goals of the chamber is to make people aware of all county
businesses, not just the 95 businesses and professional offices in Dillwyn
and immediately south of the town.” She adds that the chamber felt funding
the creation of the commission would, in turn, expand and strengthen the
county’s business hub.
Miller concludes, “Buckingham has a lot to offer — there
are many multi-generational, family-oriented kinds of things to do here.”
One More Introduction
At 95, Allen Gooden, Jr., continues to manage his cattle
operation and tree farm. After serving in WWII, Gooden came to Buckingham
with his bride Christine to visit her parents. “I came for two days,” notes
Gooden. He stayed a lifetime.
Focusing on the width of his driveway, Gooden talks about
his native Alabama and noted, “I never lived on a place any bigger than
this. And I wanted to do whatever I could so this would be at least an
Looking at the home he designed, the fields he plowed,
and the forest he continues to manage, it is far more than “acceptable”:
picturesque and pastoral easily come to mind.
He and Christine taught school. He became an
administrator and, after retiring, served on the school board. They raised
seven children. All earned college degrees and most achieved advanced
I’ve accomplished I’ve done with the help of people in Buckingham County,”
notes Gooden. In turn, he felt it was imperative that he help others. And,
Gooden served on the board of the Central Virginia Health
Center during its formative years; he received national recognition for his
work with Boy Scouts; and he was appointed by three governors to serve on
the Virginia Board of Social Services. Moreover, he is credited for his role
in the school division’s smooth transition during integration. And, this is
just one paragraph from his good-works file.
Truly personifying the spirit of this community, Gooden
says, “Life has been good and the people here in Buckingham County have been
very, very good to me.”
Okay, so there you have it —
friendly, caring people living easy is what we’re all about down home in
Buckingham Court House. Hope you’ll come back real soon.