Pieces of the Past

Pieces of the Past

Clyde's Restaurant plans to preserve dairy barns which were once part of Loudoun's largest farm industry.

Fifty years ago, Loudoun County was peppered with dairy farms. Thousands of lowing cattle lumbered into big, red barns as the sun rose where fathers and sons waited to milk them.

These days, dairy farms are hard to come by in the suburbanized area east of Goose Creek. The closest most eastern Loudouners come to a dairy barn is about 50 yards.

Just off the Dulles Greenway, west of the Claiborne Parkway exit, are the shells of two of the county's once-ubiquitous dairy barns. Ashburn residents headed to Christmas shopping at the Leesburg Outlet Mall have probably passed it dozens of times. During the summer the structures are cloaked by the leaves of nearby trees, but in winter, the barns face the highway with open, faded, rust-colored faces.

In the larger barn, the rafters are exposed to the sky, the window panes gone and the inside littered with fallen beams, but the barn itself is relatively untouched.

WHILE CONSTRUCTION presses in from all sides, the barns will not be destroyed. The property has recently been approved for a Clyde's Restaurant, which sells "upscale American saloon food," according to its Web site.

The barns will be "stabilized" and used as a backdrop for outdoor events such as strawberry festivals, said Tom Meyer, executive vice president for Clyde's Restaurant Group.

"I think it's going to be a nice accent to the property," Meyer said.

The restaurant itself won't be open for at least a year and a half — more than 40 years after Bill Harrison started as the county agricultural agent in 1963. Back then, dairy farms were practically a dime a dozen. Harrison was the son and grandson of dairy farmers in Fairfax; at the time, there were 160 grade-A dairies in Loudoun.

But by the time he started work with the county, Harrison, now president of the Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum, had already seen the heyday of the dairy industry in the county. The construction of the Dulles International Airport in the late '50s and early '60s had already dealt a blow to farmers.

"Dulles Airport displaced a lot of farms because it took a lot of the farms in the eastern part of the county," Harrison said.

The airport also provided better-paying jobs than the family farms.

"Labor became a real problem for the farms," Harrison said.

NOW, THERE are two dairy farms in Loudoun County, one in Purcellville and one in Hillsboro. The last farm east of Goose Creek sold out more than a decade ago, said Harrison.

Eric Larson, curator of the Loudoun Museum and former curator at the Farm Museum, estimates the barns on Clyde's Restaurant's property were built between the 1930s and the 1950s. Inside the barn, metal rods that were set on either side of a cow's neck to still it for milking remain in varying conditions.

The two-layer concrete floor, Larson said, is the "dead giveaway" that the barn housed cattle. Having one layer about 6 inches below where the cows stood expedited the cleaning process.

An old bathtub, still sitting, albeit crookedly, in the smaller of the two barns could have been used for more than washing up, said Larson.

"That could have been a cooling system, where they put the cans [of milk] in water," Larson said.

THE FUTURE of the barns is secure, even if the dairy industry in Loudoun in long gone.

The barns may be used for some storage, Clyde's Restaurant's Meyer said, but the main emphasis is just to have something nice to look at.

"It's a kind of landmark," he said. "I think it's better to have it there than not have it there."