Purcellville History

 
 
 

History of Purcellville

 

Situated approximately 50 miles west of the nation’s capital, Purcellville is one of several historically distinct small towns in  western Loudoun County, Va.

Twenty years or so before the first recorded settlers arrived in Purcellville, Lord Fairfax, Baron Cameron –at one point the largest single landholder in Virginia– began parcelling his expansive estate, which included the Purcellville area, into grants.  This didn’t sit well with the colonial government which hotly contested who had the right to issue grants.  Despite the disagreement Lord Fairfax continued to issue, and have grants issued on his behalf.  Word spread and people began traveling south and west from the more populated settlements along the coast in search of rent-able farmland, entrepreneurial opportunities, and the chance to purchase land.  This was the case for a fair number of Quakers from Bucks County, Pennsylvania (just north of Philadelphia).  Feeling the pinch of available farmlands in their area Bucks County Quakers slowly began relocating to Loudoun.  By the mid eighteenth-century a handful of Bucks families were documented as land owners or renters and were farming, and establishing new communities and new Meeting Houses in western Loudoun.  James Dillon was one of these many Friends: Dillon purchased his land in 1764, making him and his family the first official settlers of Purcellville.   

By the early nineteenth-century the small enclaves of farmers spread throughout western Loudoun were connected by a series of rough roads.  One of the most notable of these was the Big Road, or later the Great Road (today’s Main St.) which loosely connected Leesburg to the Winchester.  Several important arteries intersected the ‘Big Road’ in Purcellville and members of the Vickers, Dillon, and Taylor families (all Quakers) took advantage, establishing the first stores and ordinaries (inns) in town.  

One of note was Purcell’s Store.  In the early 1820’s Stacy Taylor rented his store and the adjacent residence to Valentine Volney Purcell who then ran the shop. In 1822 Purcell was appointed post master of the region at which point the store as became the local post office.  In 1830 Stacy sold the store, adjacent residence and two acres of land to Valentine.  By this point, because many goods and the mail travelled through the store, the area had earned the name Purcell’s Store.  In 1852, three decades after Valentine’s initial appointment as postmaster, and during his son Edgar Rodney’s tenure as postmaster,  the town was officially named Purcellville.

During Valentine’s time as postmaster and well into the mid nineteenth-century, farming supplies, goods and the mail moved along a series of rough pitted roads that connected the surrounding area.  Travel could be inconvenient at best.  It was the arrival in 1874 of the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad that forever altered Purcellville’s landscape, ushering in what became a golden age of growth for the town.  The line, which extended from Alexandria, Va to Purcellville, opened western Loudoun’s farm communities to a faster more secure means of transporting their goods to the larger markets in the east.  Mills popped up in the surrounding area and along the line, and the agricultural business expanded and diversified.

It also brought to the west vacationers who proved to be a huge commodity.  Those able to afford to afford it would hop the westbound train in search of relief from the summer’s stifling heat. It was advertised that once in the area they could breath fresh country air, drink fresh water (at least in the areas surrounding Purcellville: Purcellville has long been, and continues to be, plagued by varying “water issues”), and in general revive themselves.  The now easier transport system thus solidified a tourist industry that quickly became an important underpinning of Purcellville’s financial foundation.

 The rapid expansion of business and of the community led prominent members  in 1902 to fund and open the Purcellville National Bank, the town’s first bank.  Shortly there after in 1908, Purcellville incorporated.

From the 1910’s through WWI the train remained a vital component of Purcellville’s growth and prosperity.  The train line however, had always been plagued by financial and structural woes and ridership and use dropped steeply during these two decades.  With close of WWII, and the push to connect the country via a structurally sound and efficient transportation system, the car truly won out over the rail and after decades of litigation, the W&OD ran it’s last cargo trip to Purcellville in 1968 (the last passenger line had run in 1951). 

By the mid twentieth-century, the boom had long ended and Purcellville was once again a small comfortable town surrounded by farmland. It remained so until the end the twentieth-century when wine producing efforts finally took root.  For centuries Virginians (most notably Thomas Jefferson) had attempted to cultivate grapes for wine.  The largely long failed efforts were finally bearing fruit in Loudoun County, and the Purcellville-region saw the inception of the next big boom.  Within the first five years of the twenty-first century, vineyards (along with population growth courtesy of the Dulles Corridor) had sprung up all over the county replacing and displacing the diary and grain farmers that preceded them.  

During this same time, a reflection on food origins and health was sweeping the nation and small local farmers began reaping the benefits of their ecologically minded farming practices.   

For three hundred years, Purcellville has been home to farmers and their businesses.  For nearly one hundred and fifty of those years it has hosted, in varying degrees, people who still come to enjoy the breezes blowing over the mountains, and the small town atmosphere.  We look forward to seeing you soon!