- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 4, 2003

Before Loudoun County became home to 169,000 people, Washington Dulles International Airport and Washington’s high-tech corridor, it was a place where farming ruled the economy for generations.

The area’s agricultural traditions have been recorded, preserved and displayed at the Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum in Sterling. The museum, located in the county’s Claude Moore Park, celebrated its grand opening Sept. 27.

Museum curator Eric Larson says today’s schoolchildren will have fun while learning about Virginia history.

“Loudoun County is one of the fastest-growing counties in the United States,” he says, “but it has lost a considerable amount of farmland. In 1960, for instance, there were 340 dairy farms located in the area around Dulles Town Center. In 2003, only two dairy farms remain, both in the western part of the county.”

The museum has collected more than 500 farm implements, some of which date back to the 18th century, Mr. Larson says. It also has artifacts such as diaries, farm guides and household items that reflect daily life and business in Virginia.

In the main part of the museum, the story of Loudoun County is told through small exhibits about nine generations of residents, each of whom played a role in Loudoun’s farm history. That display, called “The Country People,” takes care to include the stories of different types of Loudoun residents, from new immigrants and freed slaves to prosperous farmers and a female veterinarian.

The time line begins with George Wenner, a German immigrant who raised bees on his family’s farm near Lovettsville in 1726. Other stories featured are that of Silvey Mason, an African midwife in 1771 Raspberry Plain; Catherine Dowell, a farmer’s daughter and a farmer’s wife who struggled to maintain the family business while her husband fought in the Civil War; and Roland T. Legard Sr., whose family witnessed the revolution in modern farming in the 1940s.

Part of “The Country People” is devoted not to a person, but to a cow. Elevation was a Holstein bull who lived at Round Oak Farm in Purcellville in the 1960s. Through new artificial insemination techniques, some 70,000 cattle were Elevation’s eventual descendants. The Holstein International Association named Elevation Bull of the Century in 1999.

Hands-on exhibits can be found all over the museum displays. Visitors can hand-crank wheat into flour or weigh themselves on a 19th-century farm scale.

Two areas of the museum are strictly hands-on. Younger children particularly will enjoy the farming area, where they can work simple farm machines such as a wheel and axle or a pulley. They can work an apple-cider press or dress up in reproductions of the clothes their ancestors might have worn on the farm. There is an interactive computer station for further learning, an 11-minute film chronicling Loudoun’s farm history, and an outdoor children’s garden. The museum also has a full schedule of learning programs for preschoolers and grade school children, Mr. Larson says.

In the barn section of the museum, children can “milk” a cow (real liquid will squirt out of the udder of a life-size model) and gather eggs from lifelike hens in the chicken coop.

Another hands-on center is the rebuilt Waxpool General Store. The store formerly was located at Waxpool Road and Belmont Ridge Road in what today is known as Ashburn. The Waxpool General Store was a prosperous business from the 1890s to the 1940s, Mr. Larson says. Patrons could buy anything from penny candy to bolts of fabric to bulk sugar.

The store sat boarded up until the 1990s, when the owner’s descendants offered to dismantle it for the museum. So here it sits today, with its century-old fixtures, shelves and flooring rebuilt inside the museum. Visitors can grab a basket and shop the way their forebears did — only with plastic bread, fruit, vegetables and money.

Shopping this way gives a good glimpse into a rural way of life that is gone forever in this area, Mr. Larson says.

“This was a general store and a post office,” he says. “You could even pay your property taxes here.”

WHEN YOU GO:

Location: The Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum is located at 21544 Cascades Parkway, Sterling.

Directions: From the Beltway, take the Dulles Toll Road west. Exit at Route 28 north. Turn right onto Church Road. Go one mile, then turn left on Cascades Parkway. Make a right onto Claude Moore Park. Follow signs to Heritage Farm Museum.

Hours: The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. It is closed Sunday and Monday.

Admission: $5 for adults, $4 for college students and seniors 55 and older, $3 for children ages 2 to 12, and children younger than 2 are admitted free.

Parking: Plenty of on-site, free parking is available.

Note: There is a gift shop that features children’s farm-themed items. There are many special programs (with a small fee) for preschoolers, school-age children and Scout troops.

More information: 703/421-5322 or www.loudounfarmmuseum.org.


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