Controversial plan for large solar farm near Culpeper to be reworked

After sustained opposition from March through late August 2019 by a local group to a utility scale solar project proposed for the agricultural and forested areas surrounding Raccoon Ford, the developer, BayWa, pulled the application. This development occurred shortly after the citizens’ group had gathered in Raccoon Ford to review their efforts and learn more about the area’s significance from a local historian.

Below is an excerpt of an article by journalist Clint Schemmer on the meeting and application withdrawal. The article was originally printed in the Culpeper Star Exponent; a link is provided after the excerpt for a full look at the article.

RAPIDAN — People from across Culpeper County and Virginia came to the Raccoon Ford area Sunday evening to advance their campaign against a 1,600-acre power-generating facility proposed there.

And in less than 24 hours, California-based solar developer BayWa yanked its application for permission to build a multimillion-dollar, utility-scale solar plant on farmland and woodland near the Rapidan River.

Coincidence? Surely. But heartening, still, to members of Citizens for Responsible Solar and their guests, as well as the tour’s hosts — the Foshay family of historic Greenville plantation. They’d come to rally their spirits in anticipation of weeks of intense work before the county planning commission held a public hearing on BayWa’s proposal.

Ron Maxwell, director of the Civil War films “Gettysburg,” “Gods and Generals” and “Copperhead,” encouraged those present to continue their efforts to protect historic lands from incursions such as solar development.

The complete article can be read here.

Solar project threatens historic mansions, landscapes along Rapidan River

On June 30, 2019, the Culpeper Star Exponent published an article describing the impact a proposed 1300-acre utility-scale solar project would have on the antebellum properties surrounding Raccoon Ford.

An excerpt:

RACCOON FORD—Before war came, Congressman and secessionist Jeremiah Morton designed three mansions along a few miles of Algonquin Trail in southern Culpeper County.

The stately homes withstood armies’ fighting, encampment and occupation during the Civil War, and still stand today. Restored by their owners, they have storied pasts and anchor former plantations near the Rapidan River, named by a Colonial governor for Queen Anne of England.

Farmland surrounds the graceful houses—Greenville, Struan and Sumerduck—in an area on the Rapidan that’s mostly untouched by time and steeped in early history, including that of Indians and African-Americans. The countryside also yields many accounts from the War Between the States.

“Where else in the country do you have a Civil War laboratory like this? Nothing has changed,” Civil War historian Clark “Bud” Hall said during a visit to the mansions of Algonquin Trail.

Change could be coming, though, as county officials consider allowing a utility-scale solar plant to be built on 807 acres of agriculturally zoned parcels along the rural route.

Cricket Solar LLC, the project’s developer in Irvine, California, says the green initiative will generate enough electricity to power 15,000 homes a year.

The Culpeper County Planning Department is reviewing revisions to an application submitted in December by Cricket that would place more than 270,000 solar panels in the Raccoon Ford area.

Read the full article

Remembering Raccoon Ford

In January 2017, Donnie Johnston, a writer for the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, wrote a summary history of the Raccoon Ford area. I think the heyday was defined as prior to Hurricane Agnes flood of June 1972. In some respects that may be true, but for those of us who live along this section of the Rapidan River, the Raccoon Ford area is alive and well – and still brimming with the history of Culpeper and Orange counties and with the history of our country.

While many current residents of Culpeper and Oranges counties might not be familiar with the name or its location, Raccoon Ford has been at the crossroads of our country’s history.

As Donnie Johnston wrote, during the last 150 years, “the Rapidan, which flows into the Rappahannock River about 15 miles downstream, was both Raccoon Ford’s best friend and worst enemy. The river afforded power for a large carding and gristmill that sat on the Orange County side and a sawmill that prospered on the Culpeper bank. But the Rapidan, whose headwaters are in the mountains of Madison County, has always been prone to flooding and several mills have been washed away, the last one in 1937.”

Whether apocryphal or not, tradition has it that Raccoon Ford got its name in 1781 when the Marquis de (General) Lafayette, while waiting to combine his forces with Col. Anthony Wayne’s command from Pennsylvania to launch an assault on Yorktown in the American Revolutionary War, sought to construct a crossing on the Rapidan River.

While felling trees for the crossing, his troops cut one that housed family of raccoons … hence, the ford, used long before settlers arrived by Native Americans, became known as Raccoon Ford.

Tradition also has it that Royal Governor Alexander Spotswood crossed Raccoon Ford (yet not officially named) in 1716 during his Knights of the Golden Horseshoe expedition. Whether or not he crossed at Raccoon Ford, he and his Knights certainly passed by the ford and through the Rapidan River valley.

Donnie Johnston records some of Raccoon Ford highlights in his 2017 article. He states that “[t]he first known mill was built at Raccoon Ford in 1780 and history records that both the carding mill and sawmill were in operation in 1816. The U.S. government established a post office at Raccoon Ford in March of 1825 and by 1834 the community had eight homes, a shoe and boot factory, a tailor’s shop (where the carded wool was made into clothing), a small saloon, a blacksmith shop and a carriage maker’s shop. The total population was about 80.”

Union and Confederate troops camped on both sides of the river at Raccoon Ford. This can be seen in the several maps posted on this website. Johnston writes that “In 1863 about 10 skirmishes were fought in and around the [Raccoon Ford] village. Upon leaving, the Yankees burned the town, with the exception of the mill and a brick plantation kitchen, which still stands today.”

Johnston writes that after the new bridge along Route 522 was built, the bridge at Raccoon Ford was not rebuilt. Instead, Virginia constructed a footbridge over the Rapidan River using the old bridge abutments. This served as a visitor attraction until the footbridge was destroyed by the Hurricane Agnes flood of June 1972.

While no longer a commercial center or major thoroughfare, Raccoon Ford and the surrounding area is still steeped in history and is a place many of us call home. And each time the Rapidan floods, we feel a certain kinship with those who were here before. If you’d like to read Donnie Johnson’s full article, you will find it on