- The Washington Times - Monday, May 26, 2003

They got up with the sun. Then they ate breakfast — the biggest meal of the day — which included a bounty of eggs, three kinds of meat, oatmeal and bread.

The children of Cherry Hill Farm in Falls Church then would get to do the chores: donning a yoke to carry water to the house, searching for eggs in the chicken coop, grinding corn into meal, emptying chamber pots.

It was not an easy life, confirms Diane Morse, the curator of the farm, which offers visitors a glimpse into the world of a prosperous family in mid-19th century Virginia.

“Nothing was nice and refined,” Ms. Morse says. “Everything was a lot more work. We don’t have many kids who say they’d have liked to live back then.”

Cherry Hill Farm was part of a pre-Revolutionary War plantation located at the crossroads of a trail from Winchester to Alexandria and another to the Little Falls on the Potomac River. The current tract, about 73 acres, sits to one side of a sunny street near downtown Falls Church, bordered by rows of brick doctors’ offices and a public library.

The site, a Virginia landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places, includes the original farmhouse, a circa 1845 Greek revival structure and several outbuildings, including a New England-style barn with 30-foot-high ceilings constructed around 1856. All have been restored and furnished.

Ms. Morse, who regularly leads tour groups through the property, calls Cherry Hill “a great place to interpret life on the farm in the 1850s.”

The small kitchen, for example, is set up as a hands-on room for visitors and contains various tools and accouterments that show life as it was. It has a large lump of sugar to be chopped up, eggs in a basket, a butter churn and herbs hanging over the fireplace. Impossibly heavy cast-iron pans and skillets sit on the stove, and Ms. Morse passes around the 10-pound iron, remarking to children that there wasn’t much need to hit the gym for exercise back then.

She tells visitors that children would not have been permitted into the beautifully appointed parlor save for special occasions such as weddings and funerals. On one of the times children were allowed in the room in the late 1890s, she says, one 6-year-old family member was twirling her parasol and accidentally gouged a painting hanging above the sofa. Later in the tour, the proof is seen hanging over a small landing — a large, dark harvesting scene with a hole prominently featured in the middle.

A brick path leads down to the barn, lovingly tended for the past decade or so by volunteer George Burgess, a U.S. Air Force veteran and Metro retiree. Under the watchful eye and skilled hand of Mr. Burgess, the barn has been partially restored and filled with a large collection of century-old tools and equipment. One section of the barn is dedicated to all the tools needed to build a barn by hand, such as saws, hammers, vices and axes. There are blacksmithing tools, rakes, pitchforks and harnesses. A wagon, plows, a wheelbarrow, shovels, wooden yokes and sleigh bells also are displayed.

Children are invited to touch many of the objects, and the 1873 corn sheller is a favorite. Young visitors can place an ear of corn into the machine, which removes the dry corn from the cob and spits out the ear. Children then can put the kernels into the corn cracker — remember the song, “Jimmy Cracked Corn and I Don’t Care”? — and turn the handle, grinding the kernels into powdery meal.

“You didn’t have electric motors to do things back then,” Mr. Burgess says. “You had children. A child’s job was shelling and cracking corn and feeding the chickens.”

Modern-day visitors are fascinated, says Mr. Burgess, because “in this age of computers, you can see the way things really work. The kids like to turn things, anything that moves.”

Many of his young visitors return week after week, he says, touching, turning and asking questions.

“We have a clientele,” he says.


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