Preservation Victory in Loudoun: Mrs. Paxton Prevails
Rachel Paxton was a wealthy woman who died in 1921, adamant about leaving one legacy--a place where the poor children of Leesburg and Loudoun County would get the care and love that might, in some cosmic fashion, ease some of the pain visited upon her family when her grandson Charles died when he was just five years old.
Paxton's handwritten will left her estate and magnificent 1872 home in the center of Leesburg to a foundation that was to run the Margaret Paxton Memorial for Convalescent Children, a facility that would take in orphans and afflicted children without charge. For most of a century, that's just what the Paxton home was--but in 2004, its trustees shut down the place, saying they could no longer afford to operate it--even if they were sitting on $6 million in assets--and anyway, the building was too old and the land had become too valuable. The trustees proposed to bulldoze the home and sell the 16-acre property to the highest bidder.
Now, there's splendid news for lovers of the Paxton estate and for Loudoun's kids: After considerable pressure from residents and preservation groups and assists from Rep. Frank Wolf and state Sen. Mark Herring, the Arc of Loudoun has signed a 10-year lease to take over the Paxton house and turn it into the new campus of the Aurora School, a facility for autistic children that has operated in Purcellville since 2003. The school will now be able to double its enrollment of 24 students.
"This is a tremendous victory," said Rev. John Ohmer, rector of St. James' Episcopal Church a few blocks away, who sued the trustees in an effort to save the house. (This came after the trustees sued the town, and after the home's two governing boards dissolved into a not-so-civil battle.) Ohmer said it will be more than a year before kids can move into the home, which has fallen into disrepair and which requires several million dollars in work. But given the rising number of autism cases and the relative lack of facilities devoted to caring for autistic kids, the preservation of a grand property is a bright first step.
By Marc Fisher |
February 19, 2008; 7:45 AM ET
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