Friday Ride on the gravel roads of the Historic Roadways District in the countryside of Western Loudoun County
The Historic Roads District was created in 2002 to help protect and preserve a network of the gravel roads located in southwestern Loudoun County that are comprised of the original native trails and colonial roads. This 15 mile bike ride will take place on these historic rural gravel roads to allow the cyclists to enjoy the beautiful scenic byways that have remained almost unchanged in the last two centuries.
The gravel roads travel along the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains eastern flank. The Blue Ridge, part of the Appalachian range, was created by the uplifting of the Earth’s tectonic plates 1.1 billion to 250 million years ago and are among the oldest mountain chains in the world. At the time of their emergence, the Blue Ridge were higher than today's Himalaya Mountains. During the last several million years the mountains fell and then rose a second time. They are in the midst of their second fall from age and erosion. The mountains that you see along this route are about 1100 feet high. The highest peak, near Mount Weather, is 1700 ft.
Humans arrived in the Blue Ridge perhaps as early as 12,000 years ago. The Siouxan Nation: Manhouacs, Iroquois, and Shawnee, all hunted and fished the Blue Ridge in Virginia. The Manahouacs were the most prevalent people living and hunting in the area of Western Loudoun County, and even today their grave mounds are still to be seen along the stream beds.
We will start our ride by heading up towards the early colonial village of Unison. When the village was founded in about 1722, it was called "Union" by the Quakers who settled this area. From its founding years, up until the early 1900s, this was a very thriving community of businesses, farms, and trades, cumulating into the village being the third largest in Western Loudoun County. They even had their own baseball team. Midway through the 1900, however, most of the Quakers settlers had left to head further west, and the village slowly lost its importance in the progress of the county. Is now a quiet little village full of century-old homes surrounded by the still pristine fields at once echoed with the gunfire of Civil War soldiers. It was made a National Historic Landmark in the early 2000s to celebrate its unique place in American history.
Our route will take us left onto Furr Road which once bounded the southern end of Unison, and then we will head up Poor House Lane, named for the county’s Poor House which was built in 1814. Once a working farm for the county's indigent, it had a three-story stone house, pauper quarters, smoke house and separate kitchen for paupers. The property also has a barn that had been rebuilt after the original one was burned by Union troops during the Civil War. A small stream meanders next to the property serving as the water source for the poor people who had been housed there. The building is still in existence today as a B&B.
At the end of Poor House road we will turn left onto Woodtrail Road. This road remains almost unchanged since it was created in the 1700s as a byway between Unison and Aldie. We will pass one Native American burial mound just before we intersect with Snickersville Turnpike Road. The burial mounds are a very recognizable feature of the landscape as not being natural in their shape or composition. They are too perfect, and too round to have occurred naturally.
At the end of Woodtrail we exit onto Snickerville Turnpike, one of the few paved roads in the Historic Roads District. When the Iroquois hunted in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, they followed a trail that eventually became the roadbed for Route 734, the Snickersville Turnpike. Land deeds from the early 1700s refer to it as the Shenandoah Hunting Path. From the late 1700s until the early 1800s it was called the Mountain Road.
While still a land surveyor for Lord Fairfax, George Washington traveled this road over Snickers Gap and often spent the night along the Shenandoah River, where Edward Snickers kept an inn and operated a ferry. The increasing use of the road by commercial traffic prompted the 1809-10 Virginia General Assembly to provide state funds for a privately owned 13.7-mile turnpike (now Snickersville Turnpike) with toll gates set up at Aldie, Mountville, and Snicker's Gap (now known as Bluemont). The years encompassed by the Civil War took a huge toll on the road as both armies used it to move troops and supplies. By the end of the war only the five westernmost miles of the turnpike were in any shape to be used. In 1915 only one tollbooth remained, and that was in Bluemont. The construction in 1930 of the current Route 7 from Alexandria to Winchester ended the dominance of the Snickersville Turnpike for commercial traffic. To this day it remains a quiet countryside byway between Middleburg and Bluemont.
Just before Bluemont our route turns left onto Foggy Bottom Road. We will pass both a brewery and a winery set high on the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge, as well as a country farm market on the left. Our route returns to the gravel roads shortly thereafter with a left onto Hollow Oak Road before the route comes to an intersection with Yellow Schoolhouse Road. Here we turn right and follow the meandering gravel roads past farms and through woodlands, over creeks and around bends until we reach Ebenezer Church Road. The views at this intersection are breathtaking as the Blue Ridge marches south towards Shenandoah National Park.
We turn right on Ebenezer Church Road and follow it until we reach the churchyard itself. We will turn right and take a quick tour of the cemetery before we exit out the main entrance at the front of the old churches.
Ebenezer Church was built as a low single story meeting house in 1802. The stone wall encircling the old graveyard were built in 1805, and many of the gravestones residing in that part of the cemetery date back to that time. A disagreement among the congregation resulted in a split that prompted the building of a new church for those who did not subscribed to the doctrine of the old primitive Baptist teachings. The stone plastered Church was built about 1856 in the popular Greek revival-style and was identified as the Mission Baptist Church or New School. In 1863 during the Civil War Colonel John Singleton Mosby and his partisan Rangers robbed a union payroll train in West Virginia of $173,000. The Raiders then rode to Bloomfield and the old Ebenezer Church to divide the loot.
Our route takes us right out of the churchyard onto Rt. 719 (paved) for 1 mile before we reach the village of Bloomfield.
On January 1816 the Virginia General Assembly established the town of Bloomfield less than a mile from the Ebenezer Church, and three years after establishment of its neighbor village to the southeast now known as Unison. Soon enough Bloomfield became a thriving town ended 1830 was recorded as having a population of 59 with 12 dwellings and businesses. Bloomfield was often called by its nickname "Frogtown" because of the early spring peepers in the fields surrounding the area. The last business in the town to remain was Freeman store which operated from 1914 until it closed in 2000 with the death of the last owner. It is now a Pottery Shop devoted to the art of handmade ceramic pots.
We turn left onto Bloomfield Road (paved) and end our ride 1 mile further at Auriga Farm
The route cue sheet will be added to the printed tour guide handed out at the ride.