By Emma Young
Along the Potomac River in Prince William County is a hidden town where the residents talk about their unparalleled security, enchanting riverfront park and that the hamlet will always have a small-town feel.
Business owners there speak about their polite and patient customers, and the mayor posts his personal cell number on Facebook as a contact for any resident needing an emergency grocery run when a snowstorm seemingly shuts down the county.
While Prince William County elected officials, including county Supervisor Maureen Caddigan, represent the town, and Prince William County Public Schools serve it, “no piece of Virginia touches this town,” John Clair, the community’s police chief, aptly phrased.
Yet while secluded, this town is no secret. The Town of Quantico is the only U.S. civilian town surrounded by a military base. Marine Corps Base (MCB) Quantico envelopes the community, which dates to 1654 when land patents were issued. In 1918 the U.S. Marine Corps purchased neighboring land. A Marine installation has encircled the town ever since.
Quantico Town, as it’s commonly referred to, is “an island of the commonwealth in an ocean of the federal government,” Clair said. That has uncommon challenges and rare benefits.
Nestled Safely inside an Armed Fortress
You first realize the rarity of the Town of Quantico while driving there. “We’ve got a Marine with an M16 at the gate to our town,” said civilian Quantico resident and business owner Fred Willar.
“Because the town is confined by the base, visitors must adhere to base access requirements when coming through the [base] gates,” said Marine Corps Base Quantico Commanding Officer Col. David Maxwell. “When on the installation, all base orders, regulations and policies are applicable to service members and civilians alike.”
Showing your driver’s license to the military security officer stationed at the gate and stating your destination and reason for visiting are expected. More thorough searches and checks may be in line, according to the discretion and authority of base security, but ingress and egress rights exist for all town residents and visitors. (Don’t let the security deter you. In my experience, base security is professional, friendly and expedient.)
For residents, gate security provides tangible benefits. “Being surrounded by the base and having to go through security to get onto base and to town gives a sense of safety and security,” said civilian town resident Jaime Head.
Kelly Zimmerman, an Army wife and town resident, agreed. She said she feels safe knowing that every driver in town has a valid driver’s license. “Everyone that comes into town has been stopped by a security guard at the front or back gate and [has had to show] a military ID or driver’s license,” she stated. Drivers without a current ID or valid driver’s license are not allowed through the gate.
Also, “the security guard will warn you if there is something wrong with your vehicle, to prevent you from getting a ticket out in town,” Zimmerman added.
“We reap the benefits of that security, and it keeps crime down,” said Kevin Brown, the town’s mayor.
Of course, the town’s crime rate could be lower still. Noted Clair, “Overall, the vast majority of crime [in the Town of Quantico] is domestic related, and we are planning to implement some intervention measures this fall, such as community counseling opportunities and education.”
Includes Multiple Jurisdictions
Such security also comes with unique, multiple jurisdictional considerations. Ask Town Clerk Rita Frazier for the number of streets in town, and she will respond, “You could say nine, and you could say 10.” According to the town website, the answer is 11.
All could be right. As a municipality surrounded essentially by another municipality, the town does not own entirely every street that runs through it, Clair said. For instance, River Road runs prominently through the Town of Quantico, and yet town police have no authority over it because the federal government owns the road, which, consequently, the Marine Corps police.
Civilian police can assist to stop loss of life or property on River Road, but otherwise call the Marines. “It’s an opportunity for [any officer] who comes down here for the police department, to learn [about] dealing with multiple jurisdictions. It requires understandings and working closely with the Marine Corps Base,” said Clair. “An officer here gets a lot of exposure to the FBI, to the Marine Corps Base police, to the DEA [U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration], to all those different branches of law enforcement.”
The Town of Quantico is easy to miss, even while driving on base. According to 2010 U.S. Census figures, the town numbers a little less than 500 residents. Based on MCB Quantico’s figures, the base serves a population of 6,560 active duty, 3,460 family members, 1,227 students and 2,232 civilian employees (excluding contractors).
What is striking is the number of barber shops, dry cleaners and tailors in the town, despite its small size. The town brochure lists nine locations to get a haircut and seven businesses under “Tailor and Laundry.” There’s also about one restaurant for every 40 residents.
Marines interviewed who live on base said they go to Quantico Town for food, dry cleaning, haircuts and to purchase uniforms. Former Marine Capt. Kaitlyn Zivanovich, who lives on base with her family and Marine husband, explained the town’s popularity with service members. “It is nice because you can go there in uniform,” she said. “If it’s off-base, [normally] you have to change clothes to get a haircut or pick up dry cleaning.”
According to Marine Corps regulations, Marines can only wear their utility or working uniforms off base when on official Marine business or other brief stops specified as appropriate (www.marcorsyscom.usmc.mil). The Town of Quantico is a rare exception.
At Quantico, said Maxwell, “it’s nice for those who work [on] the base to have some different places to go without having to leave the installation entirely, whether it’s for a casual lunch or to run some errands.”
To civilians, mingling with Marines in uniform at lunchtime may be a pleasurable novelty. That’s not the Town of Quantico’s only pleasure, though. Another is a walk to “the beautiful park with the pier and the waterfront,” as Frazier suggested. Head noted: “If you’re into paddling, you could put in your canoe or kayak on the river at the park. There’s also fishing.”
But evening brings on an entirely different feel as few places are open. That’s when a visitor begins noticing some of the challenges that the Town of Quantico’s uniqueness creates.
You Live Where?
“I’ve lived here 10 years and still meet people who don’t know there is a Town of Quantico,” said Brown. “If I say, ‘I’m from Quantico,’ they think I live on base.”
While noting the benefits of MCB Quantico’s existence, Caddigan acknowledged that “the challenges that come with [the base’s] unique position include access to Quantico Town.”
If civilians can’t see the town inside the base, they don’t necessarily know it’s there, and if they perceive that the town is not easy to reach, they may not want to visit. So the town’s businesses gear towards Marines and civilian federal employees working on base.
This means a weekday lunch-and-errands crowd with a particular taste. Willar owns two restaurants in the town: Harry O’s and La Reveille. A French-trained pastry chef and baker, he has a refined palate. Harry O’s, though, gears towards the midday military crush. Explained Willar: “They want protein. They want a lot of food, and they want it cheap and fast. You have to fill them up.”
His popular black-and-white (steak and chicken) panini, po’ boy varieties and meatball sub served on his fresh-baked bread are great finds for a hungry Marine, but a gluten-free vegan may find the town lacking in options. And Willar’s restaurants are only open weekdays from 5 a.m. until 3 p.m. Willar explained why the dinner crowd doesn’t support being open at night. “There’s a mess hall right across the street, and they came here for lunch already,” he said.
Increasing Tourism without Losing Charm
Drawing more visitors and business is a challenge the town is actively addressing. Community leaders are hoping that “in 10 years the town is a place to come for the weekend,” according to Brown. When people ask themselves what they can do over the weekend, “hopefully Quantico is on that list” and attracting visitors to its shopping, restaurants and park, Brown said.
Caddigan agreed. “The vision of the town is established by the mayor and town council. They have done a fabulous job adding a waterfront park, refurbishing some of the commercial properties—all while maintaining the unique character and charm of this historic town,” she said. “I think in 10 years, you will see increased tourism as more people come to experience the Town of Quantico.”
Caddigan said she meets regularly with the mayor and council to “discuss issues of joint concern, and we have accomplished many goals together, including the streetscaping in the Town of Quantico. … The town is a great tourist destination, located right on the Potomac River.”
Some town residents think so, too.
Head, who moved to Quantico last year, commented, “In my short time here, I have realized there is a lot of potential for growth in this town for businesses and recreation programs.”
Town Events Attract Visitors
Town of Quantico events are already a big draw, said Brown, who is expecting up to 1,500 people at the community’s “Salute to Our Troops” concert series kickoff and fireworks on May 24 and as many as 1,000 at each subsequent concert this year. (See the list of town events accompanying this article for additional information.)
The town’s restaurants and other businesses and services, most usually closed at night, are more apt to be open in the evening on event nights, according to town officials.
“Having the town within the confines of the base makes it convenient for our Marines and sailors and their families to support and attend Quantico Town events, like their … concert series, kayak races, the Father’s Day Flotilla and annual Christmas parade, to name just a few,” Maxwell said.
The music concert series is a favorite of those interviewed.
“I truly enjoy the events in the park. You walk down [and] listen to a concert on the shore. It’s a truly nice venue,” said Clair. “They had great music, and it was a friendly laid-back atmosphere,” recalled Head of past Town of Quantico concerts she attended.
Marine wife Priscilla Schrubb, who lives on base with her family, fondly remembered last year’s inaugural concert. “There was a live band. The weather was great. It reminded me of when I was a kid. It was a good time. It was relaxing, not like driving up to D.C. It was easy and in a nice small town,” she said.
Life in a Tiny Town that Really Isn’t
The community’s friendly small-town feeling is notable. “I had met more neighbors living here within the first few weeks after I moved [here] than I ever met living in Oregon for seven years,” Head stated. “The fact that it is surrounded by a military base keeps it pretty small.”
Zimmerman concurred. “Living in the Town of Quantico gives you the [rare] feeling of living in a small town in such a large metropolitan area,” she said. “[It’s] a feeling that will never go away because the town is surrounded by a military base, and the town will not grow much bigger.”
Emma Young is a stay-at-home mother and freelance writer residing in Dumfries. She can be reached at [email protected].
Town of Quantico 2014 Special Events
May 2: Quantico Classic Fishing Tournament: 26-hour event that starts at 2 p.m.
May 3: Quantico Yacht Club Open House. Quantico Classic Fishing Tournament concludes at 4 p.m.
May 24: “Salute to Our Troops” music concert series begins at 7 p.m. Fireworks show follows.
June 15: Annual Father’s Day Flotilla Canoe and Kayak Event.
June 28: “Salute to Our Troops” music concert series.
July 4: Annual Town Community Picnic.
July 19: “Salute to Our Troops” music concert series.
Aug 16: “Salute to Our Troops” music concert series.
Sept. 20: Annual “Blockade Run” Kayak Race. “Salute to Our Troops” music concert series.
Oct. 18: Annual Fall Festival and the final concert in the “Salute to Our Troops” music concert series.
Dec. 6: 68th Annual Christmas Parade.
This calendar is based on information provided by the Town of Quantico mayor and town office. See “Town of Quantico” on Facebook for event details and updates.