I love the Town of Occoquan.  It’s like a walk back in time.  I enjoy checking out the shops looking for things not available anywhere else.  Puzzle Palooza is a great place to get out of the heat and spend some quality time with friends and family solving “puzzles” other than those in the news.  

After lunch at the Secret Garden Cafe, maybe a slice at Third Base Pizza, or a snack at one of the other eateries, you will usually find me sitting on the front porch of Mom’s Apple Pie enjoying a piece of cherry crumb and a cup of coffee.  

I wanted to learn more about one of my favorite places, so I asked Occoquan’s mayor, Earnie Porta, to go for a walk and talk about his town.  It was obvious from the start just how much Porta loves Occoquan.  Porta is a long-time member and treasurer of the Prince William Historical Society.  He “knows stuff” and is easy to find.  Porta knows his town and its thousand or so residents.

We started our walk on Porta’s front porch.  My first question was, “What does the word Occoquan actually mean?”  It is documented in many places as meaning “at the end of the water.”  Porta shared that more recent research indicates it probably meant “grove of trees.”  That is probably news to a lot of long-time Occoquan residents.

As we walked down Mill Street, I asked Porta what his biggest challenge as mayor is.  He quickly replied, “COVID-19.”  Occoquan residents pay both Prince William County and town taxes.  The engine of maintaining its charm, beauty and services is the revenue generated by businesses, and COVID-19 has significantly affected that revenue stream.  

Porta was quick to point out that Gov. Ralph Northam’s policy allowing non-essential businesses to remain open and adapt was important to Occoquan’s recovery.  Occoquan businesses were quick to follow the rules, develop new business models based on curbside delivery and other ideas, and evolve as stages of re-opening allowed businesses and restaurants to serve more customers.  

Porta gave a “shout-out” to the current Prince William Board of County Supervisors for its support through these trying times.

As we approached Occoquan Park, I noticed quite a few people were enjoying its amenities.  Social distancing was the norm.  When guidance came out, Porta personally painted the social distancing lines in the park to ensure residents and guests stay safe.  

We walked on a Sunday afternoon, normally a busy day.  I usually have to search for a parking spot, but had no trouble finding one this time.  Shops and restaurants had customers, but not to capacity.  For those wanting a break from self-quarantine or looking for a place to get out where businesses and customers are wearing masks, social distancing and following the state’s guidance, head for Occoquan. Occoquan is open for business.  I can’t think of a more pleasant break during these “interesting COVID-19 times.”

If you want to learn more, check out the Occoquan Historical Society.  Porta is also the treasurer of this group.  The society operates the Mill House Museum and promotes preservation of the town’s character and interest in its heritage.  If you are lucky, you might run into Porta wandering around his town.  Ask him anything about Occoquan.  My walk just “scratched the surface.”

After my walk with Mayor Porta, I headed over to Mom’s Apple Pie for a slice of cherry crumb and a cup of coffee.  I love the view from their front porch.  

Al Alborn is a political and social activist in Prince William County. His column appears every other week.  You can learn more about Al at www.alborn.net.

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