For much of their history the Northern Piedmont counties of Loudoun and Fauquier were largely rural and agricultural, a gentle, rolling landscape of fertile fields, riverine valleys, and small hills that rise to the Blue Ridge Mountains. The English settled there in the early eighteenth century, but a substantial German settlement also grew up in the western sections. Despite the odd attempt at manufacturing, through the nineteenth century the area focused on agriculture, large estates sharply contrasting with smaller farms. Beginning in the late nineteenth century small summer resort colonies began to appear; in the twentieth century an influx of wealthy northerners either purchased the large estates or built new ones. Horses and fox hunting followed, and the area today is best known in the popular mind for the large estates in the Middleburg, Plains, and Warrenton areas. Vineyards have also made an appearance.
Beginning in the 1960s, Washington, D.C.–northern Virginia suburban sprawl began to spread, and it has intensified in recent years. Fauquier County has tried to stave off sprawl with a tough zoning requirement, the so-called eighty-five-percent rule, which requires developers to leave untouched 85 percent of any rural property on which they build and to focus large developments in towns and villages. In contrast, Loudoun County, which lies closer to Washington, has more “McMansions.” Its population grew an estimated 55 percent between 1990 and 2000. How long this charming landscape will last is open to question.
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