Repair bill brings into question who owns White Post’s post
Posted: December 3, 2012
WHITE POST — Since George Washington first pounded a wooden post into the ground at the village of White Post in the 18th century to point the way to the home of Thomas Lord Fairfax, the single white column has faced a number of threats to its existence.
With the arrival of the automobile, it has been toppled many times from its station in the center of a four-way-stop intersection.
For at least the last 50 years, the owners of White Post Restorations, the only large business in the village, have always rebuilt the landmark that harkens to the village’s past as a colonial crossroads.
And that’s the sequence of events that followed Sept. 13, when the signpost that sits slightly off center at the intersection of Berry’s Ferry and White Post roads was toppled again.
According to John Elsea, a member of the White Post Village Association which helps maintain the parks and other amenities in the National Historic Register landmark community, a truck hauling silage to a local dairy farm made a wrong turn that night. The driver attempted to back up to correct the error, Elsea said, and drove right over the landmark post.
“Snapped it right off at the base,” said Billy Ray Thompson IV, vice president of White Post Restorations, which specializes in authentic restorations of antique and classic automobiles.
Thompson’s father, the late Billy Thompson, was White Post’s unofficial “mayor” for many years and a lifelong booster for his native place. He always made sure that the post was rebuilt each time it was damaged.
“It’s a tradition,” the younger Thompson said, so when the accident occurred, he had the pieces picked up and brought back to the shop to be reconstructed.
That was important, Elsea said, because the last time the post was rebuilt, the association got a log from George Washington’s Mount Vernon to be used as the base.
Because of Washington’s connection to the village, “They worked with us,” Elsea said.
When Washington was a teenager, Lord Fairfax gave him a job surveying some of the thousands of acres he owned in Clarke and Frederick counties and beyond into what is now West Virginia. Washington was often at nearby Greenway Court, Fairfax’s home, and began to learn the civilian and military skills that would help him become the hero of the American Revolution and the first president of the new country.
The Mount Vernon log was covered with the six-sided panels that have been used for many years on the white post, which supports sign boards pointing to Berryville, Stephens City and Greenway Court.
As has been done in the past, after the accident, the pieces of the post were loaded into a truck and taken to White Post Restorations.
It was a “load of toothpicks” when it arrived, Thompson said, but he put a carpenter to work to rebuild the it the way it looked, based on what was left of the Mount Vernon pole.
Thompson said the owner of the truck, William French of French Brothers Dairy in Woodstock, was contacted and sent word that he would need to cover the damage.
“He said, ‘Just send me the bill when you’re done,’ which we did,” on Sept. 26, Thompson said.
Contacted at French Brothers Dairy, French debated the $2,500 cost of the reproduction job, and then insisted he could not pay for the post until the village demonstrated who actually owns it.
Thompson said the accident report lists the amount of damage at between $2,500 and $5,000. The actual bill, he said, was $2,515.
Thompson said French told him that the price to repair the post apparently was a way to raise money for the village.
French called the price “pretty exorbitant,” saying that if someone’s vehicle is damaged, the person gets several estimates.
However, French said, his refusal to pay for the restoration has a different basis.
“I’ve never said I wouldn’t pay it,” French said, adding his question is, “Who gets to sign the release forms?”
He said he has contacted the district superintendent for the Virginia Department of Transportation in Edinburg and couldn’t get a definitive answer on whether the post belongs to VDOT, since it was in the highway right of way.
He said neither VDOT nor Clarke County has been able to tell him who owns the post, and without an entity to release him from damages, he won’t be sending a check any time soon. He has not submitted a claim to his insurance company, either.
Elsea said he can’t figure out why the village must prove it owns the post.
The bill for restoration would be paid to White Post Restorations, not the village. The hamlet of White Post is unincorporated and there are no taxes to the association. Its members volunteer to do upkeep on village amenities, such as several parks that were created by the late Billy Thompson during the county’s 150th anniversary in 1986.
“I do the mowing,” Elsea said.
Elsea said the association has spoken to the Clarke County Historical Association and asked that it inspect the post and approve of the repairs to calm French’s fears.
Thompson said Clarke County has already had the rebuilt post inspected and approved it. The bill to French was tendered by White Post Restoration, Thompson said, and he’ll be glad to sign a release for French that the bill has been paid. After that, if the post does not meet expectations in any way, Thompson said he’s responsible.
As for the cost, he pointed out that the post is always reconstructed of cypress wood, which resists weathering, and the center post came from Mount Vernon, not a local lumber yard.
Thompson said his father’s firm has always repaired the post as the only business in the village with the skill and expertise to do it.
He’d repair it even if he wasn’t paid to do it, Thompson said, but French’s truck and driver caused the damage, and everyone else who has ever damaged it paid for the repairs.
The white post in the center of the village’s only intersection “is our symbol,” Elsea added. “It was here before the country.”
— Contact Val Van Meter at firstname.lastname@example.org