Phillips Farm


The rolling vistas of farmland surrounding Waterford have been part of the village’s visual history for hundreds of years. Walking in the village today, you see rural field patterns that would be very familiar to villagers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.


Footbridge to Phillips Farm Trail.
Phillips Farm Self-Guided Tour

In 2003, the Phillips Farm, 144 acres of farmland southwest of the village, was slated to be subdivided into multiple lots. Had that development occurred, destroying the pastoral viewshed beyond the South Fork of the Catoctin Creek, Waterford’s National Historic Landmark status would have been seriously jeopardized.

The Waterford Foundation and its many supporters secured nearly $4 million to purchase the Phillips Farm. It is now preserved as open space in agricultural use forever, through a conservation easement held by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation. The Phillips Farm hosts Loundoun Center Apiaries and the hay fields are tended by a local farmer.

Education and Management

The opportunities on the Farm to further our understanding of this region’s agrarian past are numerous and fascinating. Protection of the site’s natural resources and agricultural use of the Farm are requirements of the conservation easement. Much of the Farm is leased to a local farmer for haymaking. Beehives on the farm managed by Loudoun Center Apiaries produce honey that can be purchased at the Foundation.

Old John get a trim

The “Old John” tree gets a trim.

The Waterford Foundation has released a Phillips Farm Management and Land Use Plan carefully developed to ensure responsible stewardship of the Farm in accordance with the requirements of the conservation easement. (In 2010 the Virginia Department of Forestry recognized this work by designating the Farm a Certified Stewardship Forest.) Protection of the site’s natural resources and support of agricultural uses of the Farm, key requirements of the easement, are highlighted. So is its historic significance to the area. The plan also contains directions to the Farm, an Access Policy, and Rules of the Trail for visitors. A copy of the complete plan is available upon request from the Foundation office.

Educational programs for historic preservation and natural resources protection are underway on the Phillips Farm. Habitat restoration (the Farm is a Monarch Butterfly Waystation), forestry management, water quality monitoring, and riparian buffer planting are ongoing efforts coordinated by the Phillips Farm Committee. The Foundation partners with the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy on several of these programs. Bird and butterfly counts and bluebird nest boxes provide additional educational opportunities. An interpretive trail provides visitors with an opportunity to study the history and natural beauty of the area.

Interpretive Trail

Phillips Farm interpretive trail in Waterford VA

Phillips Farm interpretive trail

An interpretive trail goes through the Phillips Farm details the natural and cultural history on the property, with numbered posts corresponding to points of interest. This trail project was funded by a generous grant from the Peter M. Howard Memorial Fund through the Piedmont Community Foundation and the volunteer efforts of Rob Hale, John Souders, and Committee Chair Mimi Westervelt.

We welcome visitors and ask their help in preserving this special place. You may download a Self-Guided Trail Walking Tour brochure (or pick up one at the trailhead behind Waterford’s Old Mill) to learn about the cultural and natural history of the Farm. Follow the marked trail to learn about the history, geography, habitat restoration and monarch butterfly waystaion found on site. As you hike the trail, you will understand the relationship of the Farm to the growth of the village, and why this property is so important to Waterford’s status as one of America’s National Historic Landmarks.

Phillips Farm Map
Introduction to Phillips Farm Self-Guided Tour

Keyed Markers on the Trail

1.  South Fork of Catoctin Creek
The power potential of the South Fork of Catoctin Creek helped draw skilled Pennsylvania Quakers in the mid 1700s to settle what is now Waterford.  For 200 years the stream powered grain, saw and woolen mills, including the three story brick mill still standing.  But the creek was also an obstacle to transportation and dangerous to ford during high water.  The current bridge is just the latest of many.  A covered wooden bridge panned the creek from the 1830s until it was swept away in the 1889 storm that caused the Johnstown Flood disaster in Pennsylvania.

2.  Tannery Branch
As you look upstream, Tannery Branch flows from springs a few hundred yards to the left, beyond Bond Street. From the late 18th to late 19th centuries it supplied water to a tannery at Main and Liggett Streets that processed hides into leather for cobblers, saddlers, and harness makers. Visible in the eroded banks here are gray seams of clay. Such deposits were dug, shaped and baked into the bricks that built much of Waterford. In the mid 20th century, clay drain pipe was installed under much of the nearby floodplain to make it suitable for farming. Water still pours from pipes visible along the eroded creek bank. The modern plastic pipe you see drains water from cellars along lower Main Street.

3.  Monarch Butterflies
In the summer, common milkweed is in bloom here. Female monarch butterflies will lay their eggs only on milkweed, the sole host plant for monarch caterpillars. In the fall, the adult monarchs migrate 1,900 miles from here to central Mexico, a feat of stamina and navigation unmatched in the insect world. The plentiful milkweed on the Phillips Farm has earned it formal recognition as a “Monarch Way Station” by the Monarch Watch Organization.

4.  Various Habitats
Phillips Farm offers a wide variety of habitats for wildlife — floodplain, stream, riparian buffer, deciduous woodland, hedgerows, and meadows. Here on the floodplain, you find such water-loving plant species as the graceful river birches, willows, and the majestic sycamores. You can find over 30 species of birds, including belted kingfishers, red-winged blackbirds and great blue herons.

5.  Riparian Buffers
Riparian buffers are vegetated areas along waterways that help protect the water from pollution, stabilize stream banks, and provide streamside habitat for wildlife. Water loving shrubs (such as gray and silky dogwood, buttonbush and elderberry) have recently been planted here by the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy to restore the riparian buffer.

6.  The Civil War
During the Civil War, Phillips Farm suffered. Quaker Thomas Phillips was a pacifist, but troops from both sides helped themselves to his horses and crops. A sister lamented, “. . . it is really too bad for him to be treated so.” In October 1862, after the Battle of Antietam, a Federal infantry division paused at Waterford for several days on its way south. Soldiers camped here and on nearby farms. In July 1863, after Gettysburg, thousands of Union troops poured into Waterford; many set up camps along Catoctin Creek. Quakers offered “grass for thy horses, a fine spring for thy men and beasts, and ricks of cordwood for thy cooking.” But the following year Federal troops burned the Phillips barn.

7.  Eroding Stream Banks
The eroding stream banks here offer nesting habitat for northern rough-winged swallows. Please be aware that the banks are very unstable. This accelerated erosion, as well as area land use practices, impact the quality of Catoctin Creek. Volunteers assess the quality of the creek and the surrounding environment three times a year and provide the data to appropriate state agencies. Bottom-dwelling aquatic insects such as mayfly, caddisfly and stonefly larvae are biological indicators of good water quality.

8.  Bluebird Trail
Eastern bluebirds dwell on the Phillips Farm year round. Their numbers have declined nationwide due to habitat loss and competition from invasive bird species. If you follow the tree line along the millrace, from the mill to this point, you can see a “bluebird trail” of seven nesting boxes. The stovepipe below each box blocks climbing predators. Volunteers monitor the boxes from March through August. Ten baby bluebirds fledged from these boxes in 2008, the trail’s first year. With the help of man-made trails such as these, bluebird populations are recovering.

9.  Ball’s Run
Ball’s Run, which here joins Catoctin Creek, once powered two Waterford mills a few hundred yards up-stream. But it presented a problem for owners of the mill at the foot of Main Street, who had dug a channel or millrace to carry water from a dam farther upstream on Catoctin Creek and needed to get that water past the Run, which flowed at a lower level. In the early years they probably built a wooden trough or aqueduct to carry the water over Ball’s Run. By the early 1900s, though, they had dammed the Run to bring it up to the level of the millrace. Then, by way of sluice gates, they could divert its water into the race to augment the flow to the mill in dry seasons. The over-flow was known as “The Chute,” and below the dam was a favorite swimming hole until time and repeated floods took their toll. Today only a stone buttress or two and scattered chunks of concrete mark the site of the dam. A short path to the left takes you to the spot.

10.  Family Farm
For 150 years this property flourished as a diversified family farm. In 1850 it produced wheat, corn, oats, beef, milk, butter, wool, hay, horses, pork, poultry, eggs, fruit and honey, as well as potatoes and other garden crops. The small white barn you see on the hillside shelters the machinery used today for haying the surrounding fields.

11.  Invasive Plants
Invasive plants such as multiflora rose, tree of heaven, autumn olive, Japanese barberry, and Canada thistle have been encroaching into the Phillips Farm environment for some time and are overtaking habitat of native flora. The tallest tree in front of you is a tree of heaven. The Management Plan for the Phillips Farm includes efforts to control the growth of invasive species, particularly in this area.

12.  Millrace
Here a small wet weather stream intersects the old hand-dug millrace, visible from the path at the left. Hikers can follow the dry bed of the race back to Ball’s Run at the site of “The Chute.” This channel, some two-thirds of a mile long, in all, was dug by hand, probably around 1760. Etched in the cement cap of the low stone containment wall here, is the date October 28, 1928, the initials of the last miller, William S. Smoot, and those of his 17-year-old helper, John E. Divine, who later helped preserve much of Waterford’s history.

13.  Green Ash
The large tree here is a green ash, an aging survivor of the 19th century. It and other ashes on the farm face an uncertain future with the recent arrival in the Washington area of the emerald ash borer, a destructive beetle native to Asia.

14.  White Oak
The glorious white oak in front of you may have witnessed the Quakers’ arrival her in 1733, as well as construction of the dam. Its long, low branches indicate that it did not grow in a forest. Local villagers have nicknamed it “Old John” in memory of John Hough (1720-1797), a Waterford Quaker who owned thousands of acres and a number of mills in Loudoun. White Oaks were favored by early settlers for building baskets, barrels, flooring, furniture, and many other uses. Native Americans made flour from the acorns.

15.  The Mill Dam
The mill dam, like the race, dates from 1760. Consider how laborers managed to collect, move, and place such large boulders with no more than human and animal muscle. The dam once stoop a few feet higher-enough to raise the level of the impoundment more than 12 feet above the outflow from the wheel at the mill. In 1908 at the near end of the dam, miller William M. Fling signed his name in wet concrete he used to cap and reinforce the dam. A bit beyond the dam, in 1814, African American Benjamin Kins and wife Letitia bought two acres spanning the creek and build a house. They were among the first black families in the area to own their own land. Benjamin had been born a slave in Calvert County, Maryland, about 1770, but owner John Talbott freed him when the Quakers abolished the use of slave in 1776. Talbott Farm remains today just southeast of the village.