Byline: Christina Bellantoni, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The Old Dominion's got a lot of new in it these days: New highways carrying newcomers from shiny towers full of high-tech jobs to McMansionhoods that were little more than meadows 10 years ago.
But new isn't always better in a state where history is woven into the fabric of almost every aspect of life, from politics to education to culture.
In Virginia, the future doesn't happen without the past.
In early May, on a weekend when most of his fellow college students were making the weekly trek to their favorite watering holes, Virginia Military Institute senior Jeff Durham was marching to a different drummer.
The Forest, Va., native - a lifelong history buff - donned a pair of wool socks, steel-plated shoes and strapped on a canteen filled with water. Then the 21-year-old cadet walked 84 miles north of his Lexington campus and ended the weekend re-enacting a pivotal Civil War clash, the Battle of New Market.
The Confederate victory on May 15, 1864, was largely attributed to the courage of 257 VMI cadets who left class to join the fight. Ten students died in combat.
"The entire student body found itself engaged in battle," said VMI Col. Keith E. Gibson. "It's a long, lingering moment in VMI history. It's really about what it represents, about duty and sacrifice. These boys wanted to prove themselves."
Mr. Durham led the VMI Civil War Roundtable Club up Route 11 to New Market, where the cadets re-enacted of one of the last Confederate victories in the Shenandoah Valley.
"We're trying to re-create the march as authentically as possible," said Mr. Durham, who is going into the Air Force. "This is as close as you can possibly come to commemorating the memory and the sacrifices of the cadets."
The cadets, who spent months researching old diaries and photographs, ate salt pork and corn meal and wrote letters home - just as their predecessors did on the way to the fateful battle.
It's a tradition. And in Virginia, especially in places like VMI, such things still matter.
World War II veteran Cabell Brand, 82, knows what it is like to be called to duty. As a VMI cadet in 1943, he and other students were sent to fight in France. He returned to graduate in 1946 and later worked for civil rights in Virginia.
In the 1960s, Mr. Brand, who lives outside of Roanoke, worked hard to persuade VMI to accept black students. By 1968, the three black students in the graduating class were "very visible," he said.
Legendary Civil War Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, a professor at VMI in the 1850s, might not recognize the school's 2005 graduating class - which, like its predecessors, shouted out the names of the men killed in the New Market battle during May's commencement. Six of those cadets are buried on campus.
VMI, founded in 1839, was once all-male and all-white, but now boasts more ethnicities than ever. Of the 1,251 students enrolled in 2005, 66 were black, 39 were Asian and 34 were Hispanic. There were 71 women enrolled this year. Female students were first accepted in 1997. Even more women are expected for the 2006 year.
The changing demographics are visible everywhere in Virginia - from the growing immigrant population in Northern Virginia to the rapidly changing military region in Tidewater.
Many of the newcomers are drawn to the state's top-ranked schools, like the University of Virginia, William & Mary and Virginia Tech. It's there, in the classrooms, where newcomers find out how important history is to the natives.
On a recent sunny day in Lexington, Va., Washington and Lee students in backwards caps and sunglasses unearthed artifacts as they dug out the foundation of a two-centuries-old campus dorm.
"We're hoping to find a glimpse back at student life in the 1800s - what happened and what they were like," said Taylor Alexander, 21, a junior.
By studying and cataloging fragments of pottery and bone, the students learn that the 100 dorm residents - all men - spent their time interpreting the Bible and learning to be ministers.
But Washington and Lee history professor Taylor Sanders has another story to tell.
Though officials running the school at the time were strict, the period between 1800 and 1815 was one of "real student unrest," he said.
John J. Crittenden, who later became a U.S. senator, was expelled for attacking an official with a knife. Another student was expelled for impersonating the devil.
Perhaps the most infamous of the school's students was George William Crump, who is credited with the invention of "streaking," Mr. Sanders said.
"He frolicked in the nude in the town fountain," he said. Mr. Crump, suspended from the school in August 1804, went on to become a congressman and U.S. ambassador to Chile.
The streaking tradition has carried on for centuries, and is now part of student life at the University of Virginia (UVa.) in Charlottesville.
"Officially, it's illegal, but everyone does it," said UVa. senior Chris Ray, 21, a financial math and financial economics major.
Mr. Ray described the tradition of streaking across the school's lawn from Thomas Jefferson's rotunda to a statue of Homer yards away. When students reach it, they must kiss the statue's backside.
Jefferson wouldn't have minded the tradition, nor would it bother him that students use the lawn for outdoor recreation, said UVa. student Catherine Neale.
"He didn't want it to be some architectural marvel," she said. "Where else can you play Frisbee on a world history site?"
Miss Neale, 21, said her mom describes her as a "born-again Southerner" because she is immersed in Virginia's history.
Born in London but raised in Richmond, Miss Neale is a history and American-studies major. She received a UVa. Kenan Award research grant for her study of slave ownership at the school in the 1800s. She said little is taught about whether slavery existed on campus.
"I knew there had to be slaves here, and we just didn't talk about it," she said.
She has scoured the minutes from the Board of Visitors and studied receipts of the school's purchases - which included slaves.
"Every professor who worked at the university either owned or rented slaves," she said.
Miss Neale said she is sometimes troubled by the celebration of Confederate history and heritage.
"People need to understand and appreciate all the implications of Confederate history ... heritage and family pride are important, [but] people have to understand what that means to others," she said.
Tobacco, like the Civil War, is a pillar of Virginia's past. But while the Civil War still shapes the state's present and will continue to do so into the future, tobacco seems to be headed for the history books.
"If you had said 50 years ago tobacco would not be king, they would have laughed at you," said Robert Hurt, a state delegate and lawyer in Chatham. They aren't laughing now, though: The decline of tobacco in the Southside region along the North Carolina state line has nearly crippled the area.
Residents are scrambling to adapt and transform the region in an attempt to save what was once the most populated part of the state.
The Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission was formed in 1999 to disburse $14.2 billion in tobacco-settlement money over 25 years.
Many states just plug the tobacco-settlement money into their operating budgets, but in Virginia, the commission spent $15 million to help build the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, where scientists are studying uses for advanced polymers, in partnership with the plastics companies still operating in Southside. Their research in other fields helps make faster cars for the nearby Martinsville Speedway and find higher-value crops for former tobacco farmers.
"We really are transforming from an industrial economy to an innovation economy," said Nancy E. Franklin, senior director of technology at the institute. "The future is not going to be what the past was. What made this region strong in the past, most people have come to terms with, is not a viable future. People are accepting they need to change, and you'll find a lot more hope than despair."
Curtis W. Callaway of the institute said one day the region could be like the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. "You never know," he said.
The institute's modern building isn't far from the broken "Home of Dan River Fabrics" sign along the river. The "D" is falling off the sign, symbolic of the region's decline.
Once the town's largest employer, with 16,000 workers, Dan River Inc. has shrunk to 2,000. The town, once a hub of tobacco activity with theaters and restaurants, is now littered with abandoned warehouses.
Carthan F. Currin III, executive director of the tobacco commission and a grandson of a tobacco farmer, said people must not cling to the past.
"No one is going to help us but ourselves," the Chester, Va., native said. "The old ways are not going to work."
The commission is also funding a project to help Southside attract companies looking to relocate: a 700-mile fiber-optic, broadband network spread across 20 counties in the region.
Other symbols of hope are blooming.
Furniture-maker Jeffry Blaesing was employed by Lane Co. for 15 years, but was one of thousands laid off when the company moved its manufacturing to China.
He didn't want to leave the region he loved, so Mr. Blaesing and his wife bought an old mill and transformed it into an art and furniture studio. He now designs home furnishings for Virginia-based Pulaski Furniture.
"It's very inspirational to work in this environment," said Karen Blaesing, an artist.
The glue that holds the fabric of the Tidewater community together has always been the military.
Hampton's Fort Monroe, built in 1609 and active since 1823, has been tagged for closure by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.
"The military is the heart and soul of this entire region," said Charlie Hartig, who works for the city of Norfolk. "We are hoping and praying Fort Monroe will remain open."
Consequences for the businesses surrounding Fort Monroe would be immediate and direct, but for many residents, the real impact is more emotional.
Phillip Grantham, 42, of Newport News, has been coming to the dock on Fort Monroe since he was a child.
"It was just a part of growing up," he said while fishing for flounder. Mr. Grantham, who does commercial tile setting for a living, wondered whether the public will still be able to fish on the dock.
"It's almost that you take it for granted. It's always been here, and I never thought about it not being here," he said.
The base-closing process will go on for months, with a final decision not likely until this fall. President Bush and Congress must approve the recommendations. Virginia officials are fighting to save Fort Monroe from closure.
Nearby Norfolk is home to the world's largest naval base and is the second-largest port on the Atlantic. The USS Wisconsin, which served the country in World War II and in the Korean and Persian Gulf wars, is docked at the harbor.
"It's like walking on a piece of history," said Dave Holladay, a docent.
Retired U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Jack Kavanaugh devoted hours to raising money for the Nauticus museum next to the battleship.
Adm. Kavanaugh, executive director of the USS Wisconsin Foundation, talks like a proud father when he reminds people on tours that the Wisconsin is larger than the Titanic and is the largest battleship in the world.
"The battleship is a real visible symbol of everything the military fought for," he said. "It saves lives and is very meaningful to people."
Change is coming, whether Virginia wants it or not.
As more people move to the Washington suburbs, the definition of Northern Virginia expands and residents debate the consequences of urban sprawl.
Commuters fight traffic down Interstate 95 in the evenings so they can secure a lower cost of living in communities like Fredericksburg and even as far south as Spotsylvania.
The growth has strained the state's roads and driven home prices up.
The state has the fifth-fastest-growing revenue stream in the country, owing in part to unprecedented home sales.
In Loudoun, the third-fastest-growing county in the country, officials are still feuding over growth. Loudoun County supervisors in May began debating new zoning rules as a compromise between those who want to require housing developments be built on at least 10-acre lots and those who want a 3-acre zoning rule.
According to the Virginia Department of Transportation, Loudoun, Fairfax and Prince William counties will see a 70 percent jump in population by 2020. Officials in these areas are exploring ways to build new roads and create a better public-transit system.
The 104 Jamestown settlers - all men from England - would be shocked at the 7.4 million population the state boasts today. Immigrants from Central and South America are reshaping towns and regions.
Virginia's Hispanic population was less than 1 percent of the total in 1970, according to U.S. Census data. The 2000 census pegged the Hispanic population at about 350,000, or 4.7 percent.
It is not known whether those figures include illegal aliens. There are an estimated 200,000 to 250,000 illegal aliens in Virginia, according to a June 14 study by the Pew Hispanic Center.
The recent Arlandria-Chirilagua Festival had an estimated 40,000 attendees visiting food booths and vendors from Honduras, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, El Salvador and many other countries.
"The goal behind it was to unite the Latino community," said Sue Hernandez with Tenants' & Workers' Support Committee, which organized the festival. She said the idea was to unite the Mariachi traditions of Mexico with Guatemala's different musical and social customs and toss it up with the traditions of their new adopted culture.
"This part of Alexandria is the heart of the Latino population," she said. "It was all blended into one festival, mixed with native Virginians. It's a way to share our culture with other people and show them we're not just all Latino."
Other regions have also seen more immigrants.
In Harrisonburg, the Asian and Hispanic store in town recently expanded into a larger space because of high demand for ethnic products.
"Most of the people I see are immigrants," said Sandy McCafferty with the town's Immigrant Resource Center. "Harrisonburg has become very immigrant rich."
In Danville, officials recently added a Spanish version of the city bus guide to keep up with the changing demographics.
Some city bus drivers are taking Spanish classes to better communicate with passengers.
Everett "Obie" Obenshain was sheriff of Salem for 31 years.
"It used to be when someone showed up for jury duty, I could tell you their whole family tree," he said. "It used to be a hometown, but it's not the hometown people anymore."
VMI's Civil War Roundtable members stood at attention in front of a statue of George Washington before marching 84 miles to New Market, Va., as 257 VMI students did May 11, 1864. Roundtable members re-created the battle that followed. [Photo by Daniel Rosenbaum/The Washington Times]; Land is being developed off Ryan Road in Loudoun County, Va., the fate of many farms. [Photo by Daniel Rosenbaum/The Washington Times] Catherine Neale, 21, a student at the University of Virginia, examined Thomas Jefferson's rotunda in Charlottesville. [Photo by Daniel Rosenbaum/The Washington Times]
Charlie Clarke, 20, searched for clues about vanished Union Hall during archaeology class at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va. [Photo by Daniel Rosenbaum/The Washington Times]; Friends and family hung the flag of El Salvador from the George Washington apartments in Arlington June 12 during the fifth Arlandria-Chirilagua Festival, held to celebrate Hispanic culture. The last 35 years have seen a surge in Virginia's immigrant population. [Photo by Daniel Rosenbaum/The Washington Times]
The guns of the USS Wisconsin overlook the revitalized downtown of Norfolk, where a downtown initiative is bringing back restaurants, businesses and high-end apartments. [Photo by Michael Connor/The Washington Times]; Cadet Jeff Durham of Forest, Va. dressed in a Confederate Civil War uniform in his room at the Virginia Military Institute before marching 84 miles to New Market, Va. - as VMI cadets did May 11, 1864 - to participate in a re-enactment of the Battle of New Market. [Photo by Daniel Rosenbaum/The Washington Times]…