Declared one of Money magazine’s “100 Best Places to Live,” Greene County, Virginia is, beyond its busy intersection where US 29 meets US 33, a picturesque, rural place bordered by the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah National Park.
First settled in 1722, Greene became a county in its own right in 1838, and when Stanardsville was named its seat, the Town began to flourish. Plans for the courthouse, jail and clerk’s office were drawn and hotels, taverns, shops, offices and elegant private homes would come to line its streets.
But the young county would be divided by three cultures.
A hub of social activity, Stanardsville was the site of parades, tournaments, beauty and talent contests. A literary society held debates, reviewed the works of well-known authors, recited essays and produced plays. Baseball leagues were organized to play against neighboring counties, fundraisers were held to better the town, and both adults and children held house parties.
To Stanardsville’s east, Ruckersville was home to wealthy landowners, who assembled large plantations, dependent on slave labor which were, in effect, little villages unto themselves. This community reached its zenith in the early 1900s as a well-to-do community that settled its own disputes and whose members brought teachers into their homes to educate their children, even after public schools came to the county. Its small business center consisted of, according to various sources, a tavern, a general store, a wheelwright, millinery, and a shoemaker’s shop.
To Stanardsville’s west, the Blue Ridge Mountains were home to people who kept small, subsistence farms on stony soil. While travel was difficult throughout the county, it was more so in the mountains, where roads were trails over and around big boulders that were frequently moved by freshets, either in the spring or following heavy rains in the summer months.
For all practical purposes isolated from the rest of the county, small, independent communities would develop around small stores at the base of the mountains. Some stores doubled as post offices, and some saw flour mills, grist mills, saw mills, corncribs, meat houses and even schools erected nearby. These “stores” were the place for many mountain people to go to trade, play cards and horseshoes, and maybe to get teeth pulled or hold a funeral.
The plantations in Ruckersville fell victim to the War Between the States. Like most farming areas, the community was in deep depression, given the demise of slavery and the fact that Confederate money had no value. Bankruptcy, according to historians, was not uncommon, and plantations were broken up for the provision of survival income.
The fate of the mountain communities was sealed in 1926 when the United States Congress authorized Shenandoah National Park in 1926 with the stipulation that all inhabitants leave the area. Mountain residents were effectively ordered to sell their property and move elsewhere, or be forcibly removed.
Stanardsville would prosper until the 1950s, when large agricultural productions springing up around the country led to the demise of the Town as a center for county farmers.
The county’s population declined in the 1960s, and then, in the mid-1970s, Greene County was “discovered.” Workers from neighboring Albemarle found the short trip up 29 to a less crowded, less expensive area worthwhile, and retirees found it a refuge from busy city life and high taxes.
The “new” Greene County would experience phenomenal growth over the next 25 years, as Albemarle expanded north along 29 and commerce moved with it. More school space was needed, as were a library and services for the elderly, along with a new wastewater treatment facility.
In 1979 the Nathanael Greene Elementary School opened its doors, and in 1997, the newly-constructed Ruckersville Elementary School was added to the county’s public school system.
The county purchased 69 acres between Ruckersville and Stanardsville for the establishment of a community park, and improvements for Greene’s historic courthouse were written into the county’s capital improvement plan.
In the late 1990s a fundraising effort began to create a new space for the county’s branch of the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library and the Jefferson Area Board for Aging. The two organizations took up residence on the first floor of a newly-constructed two-story building on Main Street in Stanardsville in 2003.
Soon afterward, Fried Companies Inc. (FCI), a real estate development and management firm engaged in residential communities, office complexes, shopping centers and industrial parks, landed in the county in a big way.
FCI brought the county Tierney Plaza, located directly off 29, just seconds from the Albemarle County line, where it constructed the 122-room, award-winning the Best Western PLUS Airport Inn & Suites. The company also acquired property off 29N on which to construct the Rapidan Center, a planned mixed-use commercial project approved for 500,000 square feet of retail and office space.
Over the course of the next several years, FCI would become one of the largest landowners in the county, with more than 1,150 approved single-family residential lots ready for development throughout the county – all strategically located to provide easy access to US29.
In 2006, the new Rapidan Wastewater Treatment Plant and Conveyance System went into operation, and Walmart announced that it would build a SuperCenter in the coming Gateway Market Center on the northwest corner of Ruckersville’s 29-33 intersection.
This same year, the Stanardsville Area Revitalization (*STAR*) effort, a public-private partnership based largely on the nationally-recognized Main Street program, set about working with property owners to breathe new life into the county’s seat.
A dormant Greene County Chamber of Commerce was reawakened and new membership was actively solicited.
And the Greene County Board of Supervisors held public hearing after public hearing dealing with land use.
With growth in the county continuing at an unprecedented rate, FCI and other developers requested rezones that would bring still more commercial growth to the county, along with the residential growth necessary to the support of economic development.
Some residing in Ruckersville neighborhoods argued against more housing there, while some retirees argued against more development anywhere, and some who had lived here for generations argued against proposed restrictions on their property rights.
Requests were approved selectively, and, even in the face of the recession that struck in 2008, plans for development continued to be laid.
A master plan for the community park that includes community and aquatic centers, tennis courts and a skate park, baseball, softball and multi-purpose fields, basketball and volleyball courts and more was approved by county supervisors.
In 2008 Lowes opened its newly-constructed home improvement center in the Gateway Market Center, and Walmart followed by building its promised SuperCenter in 2010.
Also in 2010, response to anticipated demands for rental housing due to the completion of the United States Defense Intelligence Agency’s Joint Use Intelligence Analysis Facility just two and a half miles south of the Greene-Albemarle county line, FCI began construction on the Terrace Greene community – the county’s first, and only approved, garden apartment community.
About the same time, FCI began quietly meeting with officials from Piedmont Virginia Community College, the county, and the county’s public school system in an effort to bring a PVCC center to the 14,000-square-foot space on the second floor of the library building in Stanardsville.
In early 2011 county supervisors gave their go-ahead to a $5 million project that would upgrade the public school district’s athletic facilities and performing arts center. The track was rebuilt, fields were regraded, new baseball and softball and practice fields were created, and new bathrooms and a concession area were constructed.
This year, the new Art Guild of Greene was officially recognized as an incorporated entity by the Virginia State Corporation Commission. The organization, based in Stanardsville, expects to hold arts festivals, workshops, performances and other arts activities in the county.
FCI announced that it will be constructing townhouse condominiums – another first for the county – and PVCC’s Center opened in August.
And, county supervisors have recently approved a new regional water and storage system to be called the White Run Pump Storage Reservoir, which will allow for sufficient raw water storage to meet projected of the county and town of Stanardsville through 2050. Startup for the $35 million facility is estimated to be December 2014.