Open Forum: ‘Litmus test’

Posted: June 24, 2013

Thus runs local lore:

George Washington spent his early days surveying the then-bi-coastal expanse of the colony of Virginia. When he happened upon would-be Winchester, he laid out the plans for a settlement around an ideal depression. This cranny would funnel to a town plaza, a central space, where the community would gather.

The town sprung up around this centralized planning and prospered.  Being as it was the confluence of Native American trails, at the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley and, at that time, on the western edge of the frontier, things surely looked fortuitous.

Progress went smoothly, as far as frontier towns go, up until the Civil War. Then that same nestled nexus became a Bosporus of Appalachia. Ideal for trade. Ideal for war. The town traded hands daily, sometimes more often.

In the aftermath appeared John Handley. Carpetbagger, benevolent Yankee, a loving philanthropist — call him what you will, he funded a library and two schools. Things became eponymous.

Out of this crucible of circumstances the basics of where we live today were fairly well hammered out. Town, suburbs, businesses, and the like fleshed out the details over the last century.

I’m a Generation Y kid, so I may not have all my facts straight. I know Handley High School, Old Town, and Handley Library are a few of the attractions that catch Winchester tourists’ eyes.

I do remember the rise and fall of the Daily Grind empire — the steady persistence of Brewbakers anchoring one end of Old Town and the vanguard of Cork Street Tavern keeping watch over the other.

A lot of businesses have come up, failed, and disappeared — many when they had barely been patronized.

Coming back to Winchester after a stint on the West Coast, it’s obvious to me the downtown is changing.  Brewbakers is now colossal and sports a new dance hall stocked with faux V.I.P. couches and the like.

Snow White Grill is now blasphemously open at absurd hours. In my childhood, you only got their burgers on snow days.

So, the new downtown renovation intrigues me. Shenandoah surely has a much stronger presence now than a decade ago. The George Washington looks like it has a nice pool. There are new fountains. It’s harder to park your car.

One development I enjoy is the downtown busking scene. It’s nice, in my opinion, to have people out playing violin, bluegrass, and the like for passers-by.

I remember though when all that downtown music started. One man would stand out on the corner in front of The Daily Grind and play for eight hours at a time.  Before him no one really did that.

I wonder what came first, the chicken or the egg?  The money spent downtown to make it more hospitable, or the permission to treat it as a hospitable place?

That point might be a good one to hash out over a cup of tea and a long conversation, but which side we take is merely our opinion.  One thing I know for sure, Old Town is always a Winchester litmus test.  Everything just seems to end up there.

Andrew Washburn is a resident of Winchester.