There was a post on the Fauquier Community Facebook group last week debating whether Fauquier County is technically part of Northern Virginia or not. It received hundreds of comments, and eventually had to be taken down because the discussion became too heated.
People in Fauquier care about this distinction. A lot.
Fauquier County is not part of Northern Virginia. It is in the Piedmont. Geographically, culturally, and philosophically.
The Piedmont (meaning” foot hills” in French) is a geographical area in Virginia between the Tidewater and the Blue Ridge Mountains. The western border is the crest of the Blue Ridge-so roughly where Skyline Drive is.
The eastern border is harder to visualize. It runs along the “fall line”, which is a geographical feature that separates the Tidewater (low country) region from the Piedmont, where the rivers become much shallower. Historically, this meant that the larger, oceangoing ships could not navigate into the Piedmont, which affected its development and economy. The fall line in Virginia begins roughly a little west of Great Falls (the waterfall, not the city), and meanders southward to the cities of Fredericksburg, Richmond, and Petersburg.
But far more importantly than the geographical designations, it is the cultural differences that Piedmont residents feel so strongly about.
I am also the editor of The Piedmont Virginian Magazine, which covers the northern part of Virginia’s Piedmont as a distinct area separate from Northern Virginia and Shenandoah Valley.
The Piedmont Virginian was founded by Walter Nicklin in 2007 with the goal of celebrating our region— its history, landscape, wineries, local agriculture, and people. The editorial mission is supportive of historical, agricultural, and open space preservation.
Walter, if I remember correctly, grew up at “Paradise”, a historic house on Winchester Street. He also spent significant time throughout his life in Rappahannock County. His appreciation and love for this area resulted in this magazine as well as other writings on the subject.
Walter wrote: “We are inspired, and aim to inspire others, by giving voice to this special—even magical—place that is the northern Piedmont region of Virginia. Boasting both a rich history as well as today’s cultural diversity, the Piedmont’s storied past and vast beauty are celebrated by the artists, restaurants, winemakers and others that occupy this amazing region—a place appreciated and celebrated by those who live here and those who visit. Affinities, not simply geography, create the Piedmont’s unique regional identity.”
Most Fauquier residents take great pride in being separate from Northern Virginia. We value the qualities that make us different. We resist development and value our landscape, agricultural values, community, and history.
Fauquier County has residents whose ancestors have been here for generations and are buried in local cemeteries or in family cemeteries on private land. These are people from all varying economic statuses, class distinctions, and races. They have have heard stories of prohibition, moonshining, and the Free State first hand from parents and grandparents who lived through it. There is immense pride of place which, I think due to the transient nature of people relocating for employment opportunities, has become lost in the more populated Northern Virginia communities to the east. I feel that is such a shame, and I’m glad to reside and work in a county with such devotion to its unique character and past.
But using the term Northern Virginia to describe our area is also correct, in that we are located in the northern part of the state, rather than, for example, the southwest. Towns further to our west—Front Royal, Berryville, and Winchester—also, therefore, can be said to be in Northern Virginia.
My personal solution is to use a lower case n when writing about Fauquier County and the general area located at the top of the state (northern Virginia), and an uppercase N when referring to the more populated area around the city (Northern Virginia). Hardly a huge distinction, but it makes me feel better.