david kerr H&S

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Seventy-seven years ago, Stafford County’s population was approximately 10,000. While many people, particularly in South Stafford, worked at the various factories in Fredericksburg, the county’s economic base was still predominantly agricultural and there were dozens of farms. 

Aquia Harbour, now home to over 6,000 people, and the county’s largest residential development, was Woodstock Farm.  A nearby road still bears that name. In the Stafford County of 1942, there were only a few paved roads and only one stop light — at the corner of U.S. Route 1 and Courthouse Road — and all it did was flash red to warn of a four-way stop. Amazing to anyone in modern Stafford, most people in our community had never been in a traffic jam before. 

However, big changes were coming.  By the middle of 1942, the war that had begun unexpectedly in the Pacific the year before was now a world war.  Many of Stafford’s young men had already volunteered for service. Others had waited to finish high school before joining. Many others would follow in the years to come.

But 1942 is noteworthy for another reason. The U.S. Marine Corps had occupied a base at Quantico, in Prince William County, since 1912, but with the start of the war, the Marines considered it critical that the base be expanded in a big way. They needed room for individual training, small unit training, maneuvers, joint air and ground training and ranges. And so, in a sweeping move, the Navy (who handled the purchase for the Marines) announced that it was forcing the sale of 50,000 acres of land in Fauquier, Prince William and Stafford counties. Thirty-thousand of that total acreage would come from Stafford. That’s was 47 square miles out of a county, that in 1940, had a total of 270 square miles. 

The 350 families who lived in this far northerly part of Stafford were given six weeks to move out.  Six weeks was kind of the normal “pack and move on” time allowed by the military in those days. Property owners were compensated but clearing off the land was a no-nonsense proposition.  This was war. In those days, and particularly during the war, there was no such things as public hearings, public comments or any of the other niceties that are now usually common place in a government purchase.  For that matter, there wasn’t any relocation assistance either. The government told the owners how much their land was worth, they paid it and moving was their problem. There are still a few in Stafford who remember the event. Former County Supervisor Lindbergh Fritter was one. Surprisingly, they don’t seem that angry about what happened. After all, there was a war on.

The move dramatically altered the county map and demographics.  Familiar locations, including a school, two churches, three stores, and two post offices – places that had been on the map for a century or more – ceased to exist. Stafford Store, a functioning general store, which served as a voting precinct by the same name, was no more. All of the stores, homes, barns and outbuildings were demolished or left to decay. However, for years, and I am told even into the 1980s, there was a remnant of a fence, with a gate, that still carried the name, “Stafford Store.” 

The only references to this part of Stafford before the Navy purchased the land are some old maps, voting records and census reports.  While the move proceeded apace, one man who sold his property in early 1942, was more than a little annoyed the next year when he got a notice from the Commissioner of Revenue with his tax assessment.  He hadn’t been happy about selling the land and was even more unhappy about being taxed on a property he no longer owned. No doubt the Commissioner of Revenue at the time, George Gordon, an icon of county politics who didn’t retire until 1999, used his well-known diplomatic skill and readily fixed the problem.

It would take years for the Navy to settle on a final price for all the properties it had taken, but the move and the relocation was swift and complete.  Some people relocated to other parts of Stafford and others to various parts of Virginia. Some left the area entirely, never to be heard from again. There was a booming war economy getting underway and jobs were everywhere.  The move was accomplished on schedule and Stafford, now missing an entire segment of its community, would never be the same.

David Kerr, a former member of the Stafford School Board, is an instructor in political science at VCU. He can be reached at staffordnews@insidenova.com.

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