Unison Village History
The Unison Historic District is located in the village of Unison, in a rural area of southwest Loudoun County, Virginia. The village is centered on
a dogleg crossroads and contains approximately twenty properties that front along Unison and Bloomfield Roads.
The linear district contains a collection of building types and architectural styles that tell the story of the village’s development from
the early nineteenth century to modern times. The town was officially named Union when it was established in 1813, although it had been referred to as Greenville and Butterland
in 1802 deeds. It underwent yet another name change in 1829, when it became known as Unison. This change occurred because another
town in Virginia named Union had been established earlier and therefore had precedence when the postal system did away with duplicate town names.
Nevertheless, maps, diaries, letters and other documents referred to the village as “Union” well into the late parts of the 19th century.
The Civil War played no part in the naming, or renaming, of the village.
Although Unison has no official limits and was established by the General Assembly in 1813 containing 20 acres, it now generally encompasses
a much larger area that takes in properties in the surrounding rural landscape. The approximately 70 acres that are included in the district are
ones that are historically and visually associated with Unison. Unison’s layout is not based on a formal grid pattern, but instead is dictated by
roads, property lines, and landscape features. A comparison of the current configuration of the village with depictions of the village on
mid-nineteenth-century maps shows that Unison has remained unchanged since that time.
In the early 1700s, Quakers settled much of the area of western Loudoun County between Leesburg and the Blue Ridge and above Welborne Road.
They came to Unison, then called Butterland at that time, and farmed the area and worshiped in local homes. In 1771 the local Quakers bought
a 10 acre tract of land about a mile south of the village for a meeting house and burial ground. The Quakers had strong feelings about many
social issues and would not participate in military service or vote. During the Civil War they became part of the Underground Railroad
helping escaped slaves reach safety in the North. By the mid 1800s, however, the Quaker numbers had diminished considerably, and by 1889 the South Fork Meeting was abandoned.
By 1900 the building was in ruins and in 1916 the property was sold.
Methodists began meeting formally in the Quaker village of Unison in the late 1700s, about 50 years after the village was first settled. After meeting for several years in a private house, they built their first chapel here in 1785, 4 years before George Washington became President.
That first 1785 chapel, known as the Old Bethesda Church, was built of rough-hewn oak logs and poplar boards about 300 yards from the current building. Men and women, blacks and whites all worshiped in the same building, but sat separately as was the custom. The early names associated with that chapel are familiar today in Loudoun County – Gallaher, Beavers, Plaster, Seaton, Brown, Taylor and Lovetts.
In 1832 the Unison Methodists built a new large brick building. constructed using slave labor, under the direction of William Benton, President Monroe’s business manager and a well known brick mason, who also built Oak Hill, Monroe’s home, and other Loudoun County buildings. That building is still in use today.
In 1862, on Sunday morning, November 2nd, the Civil War swirled around the Methodist Church as infantry and cavalry of the Federal Army of the Potomac clashed with JEB Stuart’s Confederate forces in the streets of Unison. Shells from both sides exploded all around as the worshipers fled. As the large Federal Army continued its march southward, they took over the church as a hospital. When the Methodists returned they found the pews stained with blood and the loft covered in graffiti from the soldiers recovering there.
One example dated November 7th, 1862 is by Ellsworth Packer, Co H, 21st Connecticut Infantry Regiment:
“In some lone hour of bliss,
When sorrows are forgot,
Then cast a happy glance at this,
And read forget me not.”
The Unison United Methodist Church is now the most prominent building in this small National Register village.
Now the congregation is smaller, and the building is showing its age. The graffiti in the loft is fading.
The Unison Preservation Society is developing a plan to preserve and record it before it is too late.
In the 1862 Civil War Battle of Unison the Confederates set up their artillery at the Meeting House to resist the Union advance south
from the center of Unison. Later, when the Union forces had overtaken the site, the Confederates shelled the Union soldiers milling
about the Meeting House. Later, fallen soldiers were taken to the South Fork burial ground to be interred temporarily until they could
be turned over to their respective sides. The South Fork Meeting Quakers were, however, a rowdy lot, being cited by one traveling Quaker
preacher as being only interested in cock fighting and horse racing and by others as “drinkers to excess, fighters, gamblers, and in general,
lax morally”. The following is excerpted from a petition to the Virginia General Assembly dated December 22, 1817
“The memorial and petition of the undersigned inhabitants of the town and vicinity of Union in Loudoun County respectfully represent: That the practice of horseracing which as prevailed in the lanes and public roads near the said town is attended with manifest danger and inconvenience to the good citizens thereof . . . . . . .
Your memorialists therefore pray that an Act may be passed to prevent the said practice within one mile and a half of said town, in any public road, by imposing on those concerned therein adequate penalties.”
(followed by 29 signatures of families in and around Union (Unison)).
In 1817 Unison became the seat of a “respectable seminary” as seen from this local advertisement:
Union Academy in Union (Unison), Loudoun County, VA, Dec 13, 1819 ....
“John M. Monroe, Principal in the Union Academy acknowledges with pleasure, the handsome and very liberal encouragement he has received, for the two years past, from gentlemen patronizing the institution. Her would, likewise, express his sense of the obligations he is under to several gentlemen of talents and abilities, who, feeling interested in “the right education of youth” have united their experience with his to render the Academy a seminary of public utility.
He assures them, and the public generally, that it has ever been and still continues to be his intention to make the Union Academy “a permanent literary institution” and as his third year will commence on the twenty seventh of the present month he solicits and by assiduity and strict attention hopes to merit the further patronage of a generous and enlightened public.
Mr. Monroe pledges his honor to those who may place their children or wards under his care, that no exertions on his pat shall be wanting to forward them in their various studies; he will likewise be equally attentive to their morals and deportment.
The terms for board and tuition will be $180 per year, payable quarterly.
The terms for tuition only, are – For Spelling, Reading, Penmanship and common Arithmetic - $3 For English Grammar, Geography, & c. - $4 For the higher branches of Mathematics - $5 And, for the Languages - $6
per quarter, payable quarterly”
Unison School 1910 photograph
Although there was settlement and religious activity in the area during the eighteenth century, it was not until after 1802 that most of
the buildings in Unison were constructed. The period of greatest development in the village occurred shortly after its establishment and
continued until the Civil War. During that time, houses were built along with commercial, religious, and transportation-related resources.
For the period of its greatest activity, Unison served the surrounding rural area as a commercial, religious, and social center.
While its location miles away from major highways and railroad lines curbed its growth during the latter half of the nineteenth century,
these same influences later helped to preserve it. The 44 contributing resources in the district are made up primarily of residences and their associated domestic and farm-related outbuildings.
Some of the other contributing resources include a church, former school, store, and saddle-maker’s shop.
From 1790 to 1920 the total population of Loudoun County remained amazingly consistent in and around 20,000.
In "A New Comprehensive Gazetteer of Virginia - 1835" the 1830 population of Unison was recorded as 135 residents with 25 houses, 2 mercantile stores, 3 churches (one still existing as of 2009),
a school and a post office, a hotel, 3 physicians, and 1 lawyer. There were also 6 mechanics and artisans living and working in the town
who would have been in trade for any of the following occupations: tanners, saddlers, tailors, house carpenters, cabinetmakers,
tin plate workers, coppersmiths, locksmiths, wagon makers, milliners, and coach makers.
During two weeks of August each year from 1850 to 1928, the Unison Methodists moved 3 miles up Bloomfield Road to the annual Camp
Meeting at Benton’s Woods. This major event attracted many thousands of attendees from all over the region. Prominent visiting
preachers led services in a tent tabernacle seating 2000 people. Businesses of all sorts serving the attendees were run from the
Camp Meeting site during the 2-week period. A close by “dirty camp” sold liquor.
The Unison Farmer’s Hunt, organized at the old Unison Store was merged around 1900 with the Piedmont Hunt, the nation’s oldest hunt,
which acquired Unison’s hounds and members, and moved to Unison. Piedmont still hunts the area around Unison and their kennels are located
just south of the village. Around the turn of the last century Unison was the location of Charlie Osborne’s Saddlery where the famous Osborne
fox hunting saddle was produced and sold for about $25, or half a month’s typical wages. Osborne produced his saddle in Unison from the late
1890s until his death in 1925.
The store in this photograph was one of many businesses operating in Unison around 1870-1930. While this store is sadly long gone, with only the foundation still extent,
a similar building - known as the Unison Store - remained to become the sole commercial enterprise of the village well into the 1980's. The building, a twin sister
to the one in the photograph above, was erected in the late 1800s for Henry W. Saffel, who ran it until 1937 before he was tragically killed in a robbery at the store. His wife Luvinia then ran
it until she died in 1961. It continued to run as a store well into the 1980's, and became an office complex in the late 1990's to well into the 2010's.
One of several stores in Unison in the 1880's
Throughout the early part of the 1900's Unison village remained a thriving town and close knit community with schools, stores, businesses, and even their own sports team -
the Unison baseball team.
As the century progressed, however, Unison, like many of the small towns of Loudoun County and Northern Virginia, was left behind in the
rush of civilization towards big cities fed by super
highways. By the 1980's the town had relinquished its role of being one of the most populated to become the quiet enclave it is today, still surrounded by beautiful horse
farms and estates that are little changed from the 1860's.
The Unison Baseball Team - 1957
photo courtesy of the Thomas Balch Library - Rust Archives
Description excerpts from the National Park Service OMB No. 1024-0018