Year of Fear, Chapter One: The Mystery of Caroline County, Virginia
Bowling Green, Virginia, the county seat of Caroline County, is about seventy-seven miles south of Washington DC, where Congress recently debated the impeachment of a sitting president, and forty-two miles north of the governor’s mansion in Richmond, where armed gun enthusiasts recently gathered to protest any and all attempts to limit firearm ownership.
Despite this geographic proximity, Caroline County residents appear somewhat insulated from political turmoil. It has been said that the only topics that draw a crowd here are guns, dogs, and high school football, although the Caroline Cavaliers have had some lean years, so even that is in doubt. The county’s 31,000 residents, most of them employed, underemployed, or retired, live in single-family homes within relatively quiet communities or scattered about the rolling rural landscapes. Twenty-eight percent of the population is Black, nearly five percent Hispanic or Latino, and about two-thirds white. A few residents claim ancestry from the Native American tribes that greeted Capt. John Smith and other English settlers in the early 1600s. Over the past fifty years, several gated lake communities, one golf course community, and a Disney-like subdivision called Ladysmith Village have sprung up, bumping up the population somewhat and changing some of its traditional characteristics.
But at heart Caroline County is one of the last rural areas along the Interstate 95 corridor and has yet to be overrun by apartment complexes and commercial development. In theory, more than 90 percent of the land is available for agriculture and forestry, although only 20 percent of its 549 square miles is actively farmed. Low hills and shallow valleys dot the landscape. If you go to the Visitors Center in Carmel Church, which is more of a destination for hungry travelers than a community, you can’t miss the reproduction of a thirty-three-foot prehistoric whale skeleton found twenty feet down in a local quarry in 1990, a reminder that this area was once under the sea.