Women’s History: Paying Tribute to Frances Bolton


Accokeek Foundation founder, Frances Payne Bolton in front of Mt Vernon

Frances Payne Bolton was the founder and first President of the Accokeek Foundation. She purchased the 500-acre Bliss farm in Accokeek in 1955 to ensure that it would not be developed in any way that would spoil the magnificent view from Mount Vernon. She organized the Accokeek Foundation as a private, non-profit land trust and donated her land to the new organization so that it would be preserved and protected forever. In the history of land conservation in America, Mrs. Bolton’s act was a milestone. Her work with the Accokeek Foundation blazed a trail for all who have come after her. Under her leadership, the Accokeek Foundation’s accomplishments include:

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Spring Chickens

As spring arrives at the Accokeek Foundation, so too have fresh eggs, as our chickens have begun once again to lay.

These black and white Dominiques are recognized as America's first chicken breed.

Our two flocks are some of the stars of the barnyard, clucking and cooing and even controlling small pests. Indeed, our lustrous red Buckeyes—the only American breed created entirely by a woman—are vigilant in their pursuit of mice (and have even been compared to cats in this regard). Right next door lives a flock of Dominiques: black and white barred birds that are recognized as America’s first chicken breed.

The conservation of endangered livestock breeds—from our heritage chickens to our heritage hogs, sheep, and cattle—is just one small piece of the Foundation’s wider historical mission. But with fresh brown eggs in our kitchen and insects out of our barnyard, keeping chickens often seems more like fun than work.

Interested in raising poultry of your own? Sign up for our upcoming Backyard Poultry Workshop!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

9:00 a.m. to Noon

Accokeek Foundation Education Center

$40 Non-members, $35 members

This course will provide you with the information that is needed to raise your own poultry. Participants will receive a handbook and other take-home materials. Pre-registration required.

To learn more about keeping chickens in Prince George’s County, visit www.pghens.com or send an email to princegeorgeshens (at) gmail (dot) com.

Washington’s Birthday and Washington’s View

The View of Mount Vernon from Piscataway Park

by Wilton Corkern, President

In 1793 George Washington wrote that, “No estate in United America is more pleasantly situated than this.” Three years later the noted architect, Benjamin Henry Latrobe, painted the “situation” that so pleased our first president. His watercolors show a lush, pastoral landscape on the Maryland side of the Potomac. Fortunately for us and for posterity that landscape as seen from Mount Vernon has changed relatively little from what Latrobe and the numerous other people who visited Mount Vernon during Washington’s lifetime saw. As we celebrate the annual anniversary of Washington’s birth, it is worth noting that the Accokeek Foundation’s first job was to secure and hold the core of that view “for the benefit of the people of the nation.”

A half-century ago, in 1961, Congress enacted Public Law 87-362, authorizing the creation of Piscataway Park. It was only fitting that Piscataway Park was dedicated on Washington’s Birthday, February 22, 1968.

On this Washington’s Birthday we look not only back to past achievements, but forward to the challenges ahead. The view from Mount Vernon still faces the possibility of despoliation. Piscataway Park protects only 10% of the entire “viewshed.” The remainder of what we see is controlled by state and local governments and by thousands upon thousands of individual property owners. It also includes some extremely valuable and diverse historic and environmental resources: breeding grounds for anadromous fish (like American Shad and Rockfish), freshwater tidal wetlands, historic buildings and communities, mature upland forests, and habitats for rare plants and animals. The challenge now is to work with those private property owners, and the governments (federal, state, and county) that represent them, to find new and innovative ways to expand and enhance the protected area.

The Accokeek Foundation’s goal now and in the future is to preserve this beautiful pastoral landscape and the richness it provides to local residents, to visitors from near and far, and even to “the people of the nation” for many generations to come. We envision a future landscape, filled not only with well-designed and well-sited houses and businesses, but also the passive recreational spaces, sustainable farming operations, public River access points, and other amenities that make this an attractive and enriched place to be. The Mount Vernon Viewshed is truly a national treasure. The Accokeek Foundation is honored to be a part of its ongoing protection.

Calling All Farmers! Upcoming CSA Workshop

The Accokeek Foundation’s Center for Agricultural and Environmental Stewardship is proud to present Successful CSAs: How to Start and Manage a Community Supported Agriculture Program. This workshop, to be held on Thursday, March 3, is perfect for farmers who want to start a CSA or refine their current operation.

A CSA share awaits pick-up at the Accokeek Foundation's Ecosystem Farm.

The Accokeek Foundation has for almost two decades operated a CSA, and we will share with participants the production and marketing knowledge that we have gathered over the years. The event will feature a panel of experienced farmers who will discuss the “how to” details of operating a CSA—from finding a customer base and setting up a planting schedule to packaging produce and communicating with shareholders—as well as a talk on food safety. The workshop costs $25 (registration required, scholarships available). Participants will receive a handbook and other take-home materials. A locally-sourced lunch will be provided.

Learn more after the jump! Visit our website to register.

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Tobacco’s Tools

Bundles of dried tobacco plants hang from a wooden tobacco stick.

The eighteenth-century tobacco barn on the National Colonial Farm is filled with dry tobacco. Cut and bundled in the fall, the once-green plants hang down from hand-split tobacco sticks, now brown and weathered. A 1770 spring would have found colonists preparing their tobacco fields for planting. Last season’s dried plants would have already been stripped and “prized” (or pressed) into hogsheads (or large wooden barrels) for shipment across the sea to England.

But now that tobacco is no longer this region’s cash crop, our tobacco barns—so essential in curing tobacco and so central to our landscape—have fallen out of use. The National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2004 listed Southern Maryland’s tobacco barns among the 11 most endangered historic places in the nation. Southern Maryland preservationists have worked to refurbish these unique vestiges of our past when possible.

The eighteenth-century tobacco barn at the National Colonial Farm.

And as for the tobacco sticks? Not worth much, these sticks are now seemingly without use. But the educators at the Accokeek Foundation have discovered a carver in Tennessee who has re-purposed the once-vital tools, turning decades-old Oak and Hickory tobacco sticks into walking sticks. The incredible (and useful!) walking sticks are reminiscent of this region’s history, so closely tied to the land and the tobacco that grew from it. The sticks can be purchased in our remodeled Visitor Center Gift Shop, which will reopen on Saturday, March 5.

Decades-old tobacco sticks-turned-walking sticks, for sale at our Visitor Center Gift Shop.

Starting with Seed

Last spring's seedlings, growing in the greenhouse.

As the winter winds down, the growers at the Accokeek Foundation have started to think about the upcoming season at the Ecosystem Farm. The time is ripe to make our planting plans and order our supplies and seeds. From the Rose de Berne tomato, with its rose-pink hue and heirloom flavor, to the colorful fish pepper, an African American heirloom with variegated foliage and an excellent taste, we’ve made note of our favorites from last season and our plans to plant them again.

While we do save our seeds whenever possible, we also order seeds from various catalogs. Some of our favorite sources? Fedco, High Mowing Organic Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

In some of these catalogs, you might even spot seeds from the Foundation. We’ve supplied various companies with seeds over the years, from our Orinoco and Rustica tobaccos to our Virginia Gourdseed corn. This latter crop is an eighteenth century variety that was back-bred, recovered, and reintroduced by corn geneticist and former National Colonial Farm Director Ralph Singleton.

Virginia Gourdseed corn.

But seed saving can occur even on a small scale, and we encourage all gardeners to practice this small exercise in sustainability. A saved seed is a treasure that preserves the previous season’s perfect plant. For seed saving tips, we recommend Seed to Seed or SavingOurSeeds.org.

And for those gardeners who have the seeds but don’t know where to start, check out our upcoming Organic Gardening Workshop: Starting from Seed. This class—part of our season-long Organic Gardening Workshop Series geared toward backyard gardeners—will provide participants with the information needed to start their seeds and get a jump on the growing season. Click here to read more and sign up!

Take Action to Ensure That No Child is Left Inside

Governor O'Malley visits the Accokeek Foundation

Governor O'Malley visits the Accokeek Foundation during its annual African American Heritage Day event, September 2010

In 2008, Governor Martin O’Malley launched the Maryland Partnership for Children in Nature. In September of last year, the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) made history by voting unanimously to pass language requiring every local public school system to provide a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary, environmental education program for all students–the first initiative of its kind in the nation. Part of a national movement to get kids back outside and reconnected to nature, Maryland’s No Child Left Inside Coalition, a coalition of 230 organizations, has been front and center in this effort. The Accokeek Foundation was one of its early members. Unfortunately, the original language for the graduation requirement was modified, resulting in a loophole that would allow school systems to meet the requirement by doing nothing new and eliminating any incentive to develop comprehensive environmental literacy programs. The Maryland No Child Left Inside Coalition is urging that the new language be rejected and has asked for everyone who is interested in supporting this effort to make their voices heard.

In response, our Director of Education and Public Programs has submitted a letter to the MSDE encouraging them to reject this new language and instead support efforts toward environmental education. Read her letter below, and take action by submitting your own by February 3.

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Introducing…Molly Meehan

We would like to welcome Molly Meehan as the Accokeek Foundation’s newest staff member. Molly will be working with the Foundation’s Center for Agricultural and Environmental Stewardship to help organize and provide a wide variety of workshops, presentations, training opportunities, and other programs. Molly comes to the Foundation with a background in sustainable agriculture, sustainable living, and social justice. She was an Americorps volunteer and has worked internationally in sustainable living education. She most recently worked as a Market Master for Fresh Farm Markets. Molly grew up in the Washington, DC area, earned a BA in Human Rights from the University of Dayton and an received her MA in Sustainable Development from the School for International Training in Vermont.

We are very happy to have Molly on the staff and look forward to great things from her in the future.

Missive from the Reading Room of the American Antiquarian Society

by Lisa Hayes, Director of Public Programs and Education

In December I learned that I had been selected for a four-week Creative and Performing Artists and Writers Fellowship at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts, to do research for the Accokeek Foundation’s museum theater program. With our busy schedule at the farm, the only time I could come was January. So now it’s the day after a blizzard, and I’m sitting at my wooden table in the beautiful Reading Room at the AAS. Two tables over, I see James and Lois Horton, distinguished scholars here to do research for a major new work on African American history. Looking down at me is a portrait of Isaiah Thomas, the New England publisher who started the Society in 1812 with his personal collection of 8,000 books. The AAS is now home to over three million books, pamphlets, newspapers, periodicals, graphic arts materials, and manuscripts that document the history of the United States. While my main focus has been on crime and punishment (the theme for our 2011 Museum Theater Internship Program), I have also been searching for materials related to what we interpret at the National Colonial Farm, from foodways to plants and animals. Today’s “digging” turned up an article on making cider and two articles from the January 1787 edition of The American Museum, one on an “Experiment for raising Indian corn in poor land” and the other about the “culture of carrots.”  Time to get back to “digging”!