- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 29, 2004

If George Washington were alive today, he could sit on the lawn at Mount Vernon and gaze across the Potomac River.Directly across, on the Maryland side of the Potomac, is an example of how the common folks lived in 1775 — working the land, tending to the animals and doing the chores necessary to maintain a household.

Just as Mount Vernon has been carefully maintained as an example of Washington’s gentrified class, the National Colonial Farm in Accokeek has been restored to honor the living history of average people of that era.

“What we are representing to our visitors is the lifestyle of a middle-class family from that time,” says Nancy Menio, public programs coordinator for the National Colonial Farm.

The farm is operated by the nonprofit Accokeek Foundation. It is a popular site for school groups and families, who can visit the bucolic spot and learn about the plants, animals and simple life during Colonial times.

Costumed interpreters give visitors child-friendly presentations on everything from planting crops to the games children played. On a recent weekday, an elementary school group learned from a guide that 2,000 corn plants and 20,000 tobacco plants would have been part of the farm’s planting. The children then got in the dirt and worked at using a hoe to pull up rocks and weeds.

Nearby, another costumed interpreter presented hoops and balls to the children, examples of toys Colonial youngsters would have played with in their limited spare time.

Visitors can get a glimpse of domestic life by visiting the kitchen outbuilding, where another interpreter, Joanna Vaughan, is dressed as Elizabeth Bealle, the owner of the land in 1775.

Mrs Vaughan shows the children how to use flint to start a fire, what kitchen chores children might be responsible for doing, and how herbs were dried and food preserved. Then she leads the children in making johnnycakes and baking them in the open hearth.

“I am trying to get across how time-consuming preparing food was,” Mrs. Vaughan says. “In real life then, you would start early and go all day. You would make one meal and then start on the next.”

A 200-year-old farmhouse is on site. The house sits on raised wooden beams, as otherwise its proximity to the river would have meant a flooded house during rainy times. The house, which is not original to the farm but is restored from another Colonial-era farm, has two sparsely furnished rooms for the public to visit.

There also is a restored barn where visitors can glimpse how a huge crop of tobacco would go through the drying process.

Animal lovers will enjoy seeing the heritage-breed animals — breeds of animals from the Colonial era that have become rare — at the farm. Among the animals on the farm are Hog Island sheep, which were brought here by English settlers 200 years ago; Devon cattle, which have been in the United States since 1623; an Ossabaw Island hog, a breed that roamed wild on a Georgia barrier island for 400 years; Dominque chickens; and Black turkeys.

There also are gardens that feature heirloom plants. The museum garden features herbs, flowers and many historic varieties of plants. If you catch the gardeners on the right day, you could sample how different food tasted in the 1700s.

“We have five different types of carrots here,” Mrs. Menio says. “Many of them are ones you have never seen. If you taste them, though, they won’t taste like carrots we have today. We are used to having sweet things. In Colonial times, they didn’t worry about sweet. They worried about nutrition. They burned a lot of calories back then.”

The National Colonial Farm is part of Piscataway Park, which has many environmental activities sponsored by the Accokeek Foundation. Walking and hiking trails take visitors through an arboretum, around a pond and along the Potomac, where there is a great view of Mount Vernon across the way.

Visitors also can schedule a tour of the 8-acre Ecosystem Farm, a working organic farm.

Special events are a big draw. The farm recently held its annual Children’s Day, when all sorts of Colonial games took place, along with demonstrations by cooks, blacksmiths and spinners.

The next special event is African American Heritage Day Aug. 21. This event will showcase African American culture and history with costumed re-enactors from the Colonial and Civil War eras. There also will be music, crafts, food and storytellers.

Other popular special events include Colonial Day in October, when costumed interpreters re-enact a day on the farm, and Winter’s Eve, a holiday celebration by candlelight Dec. 4.

WHEN YOU GO:

Location: National Colonial Farm in Piscataway Park is located at 3400 Bryan Point Road, Accokeek.

Directions: From the Beltway, take Exit 3A (Maryland Route 210/Indian Head Highway). Go south about 10 miles. Follow signs for the turnoff onto Bryan Point Road. Take Bryan Point Road until it ends in Piscataway Park.

Parking: Free parking on site.

Admission: $2 for adults, 50 cents for children.

Hours: The park is open daily from dawn to dusk. The visitors center and farm are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

Note: The National Colonial Farm re-creates a middle-class tobacco farm from the 1770s. The farm is located directly across the Potomac River from Mount Vernon. School groups can choose from different presentations that can be tailored toward grade level or school study unit.

Phone: 301/283-2113 or www.accokeek.org.

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