Looking at water usage through lens of history
Accokeek Foundation program explores availability, use of H2O
For many Marylanders, water is as close and convenient as the kitchen sink, but for European colonists in Maryland 250 years ago, water was a precious resource. Obtaining it was a daily priority, according to Andrea Jones, director of programs and visitor engagement for the Accokeek Foundation at Piscataway Park.
“Nowadays, we use approximately 80 to 100 gallons per person per day, but colonial people would have used about four gallons,” Jones said. “It begs the question: how did this happen and why? There are ways having water so convenient makes us not value its use.”
From now until Aug. 7, the Accokeek Foundation is holding
“H2oooh! American Water Use Revealed” on weekends, part of its Green History program, which seeks to connect current-day environmental issues with life as represented in its National Colonial Farm, an historical recreation set in 1770 Maryland.
“It’s ‘H2oooh!’ as in ‘Oh, look at how much water we’re wasting,’” Jones said. “We are using a past-to-present lens to look at environmental issues from colonial times to the present.”
On the walk to the National Colonial Farm, there are several displays discussing modern water usage.
Ashley Thompson, manager of education, portrays farm owner Mrs. Bolton. She said the idea is to get people in the frame of mind of thinking about water usage before they reach the farm.
Thompson said that families would often have to walk a quarter mile or more to obtain fresh water.
“A lot of families will choose to make their homes where there is easily accessible water,” Thompson said. “Getting water was a very time-consuming process.”
“We have a spring house, which is where water would be gathered,” said Cory Bragg, an interpreter at the National Colonial Farm. He portrays Bernard Pimlott, an indentured servant. “We would collect water from the spring in water buckets.”
Thompson said people looked at cleanliness differently in colonial times.
“Hygiene standards were a lot different back then. It’s not that they were dirty, it was just that they didn’t think about washing as frequently as we wash. You might wash your hands every day, but you’re not going to take a full bath. When you do take a full bath, it’s a sponge bath, where you’re washing yourself off with a cloth,” Thompson said. “You’d never really be filling up a tub and submersing yourself or taking a running water shower like we do.”
Clothes, Thompson said, would be washed every other week in a large, heated pot of soapy water over a fire, then rinsed in cold water. Doing laundry was an all-day process, Thompson said.
“You’re only going to be doing laundry once a month, maybe twice a month, and things like bedding, blankets and that sort of thing, you’re only going to be doing that a couple times a year,” Thompson said.
Even the soapy water would be reused, for watering the crops.
“You don’t want to waste any water if you can help it. So we’ll use it to water the plants,” Thompson said. “Plants actually like the phosphorus that comes from the soap.”
Jones said the program is designed to provide an additional, educational component to the historic re-enactment, and also to get people thinking about modern-day environmental issues, such as the drought in California and lead in the drinking water of Flint, Mich.
The program is designed for all age ranges, Jones said.
“For the parents, it’s about how we can make our home more energy efficient. For the kids, it’s about reconnecting with the source of where our water comes from,” Jones said. “The object is not to guilt people into not using water, but to put forward the question of how much value do we place in a gallon of water. It’s about an appreciation and love of water.”
The program is free, and open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays until Aug. 7.
Above, Cory Bragg, an interpreter at the Accokeek Foundation’s National Colonial Farm, shows the spring house where a colonial-era family would have obtained their water for drinking, bathing and watering crops. Below, Ashley Thompson, manager of education at the Accokeek Foundation’s National Colonial Farm, demonstrates the way a colonial-era woman would have done laundry, as part of the foundation’s “H2oooh! American Water Use Revealed” exhibit.
Cory Bragg, an interpreter at the Accokeek Foundation’s National Colonial Farm, uses water from a spring collected in a cloth bucket and a gourd cup to water plants in the farm’s slave garden, as part of the foundation’s “H2oooh! American Water Use Revealed” exhibit.