Reconstruction of Ferry Farm celebrated
In Stafford, replica of George Washington’s boyhood home opens
The last photographic evidence of a once- impressive house poised high on the Rappahannock River terrace across from Fredericksburg dates to 1830. America was barely a half- century old then. The Civil War was three decades in the future.
The home where the nation’s first president spent his formative years had crumbled in on itself. Just a heap of rubble remained in the place where George Washington watched English merchant ships sailing upriver and first dreamed of a life of adventure.
Even that would disappear, receding into the earth, it seemed, forever.
Now, it has risen again.
After decades of searching, archaeologists in 2008 announced they had at last uncovered the remains of the house. So began the laborious feat of raising from its footprint a replica so historically accurate that the iron hinges from which the paneled doors hang are hand- wrought.
On Saturday at Ferry Farm, the George Washington Foundation celebrated the home’s construction with a ribbon- cutting ceremony. Those responsible for its discovery, including Ferry Farm archaeology direc- tor Dave Muraca, as well as the highly skilled artisans and craftsmen who built the replica from the ground up, were on hand to talk about their work.
The house is part of a $ 40 million fundraising campaign that will include transforming the grounds into a living history museum so that visitors might experience life as it once was.
Guests for the first time will get to wander the rooms that look much as they did when Washington was a boy and the house stood like a sentry on the Rappahannock’s shore.
To understand the significance of Saturday’s event is to know that the Stafford County farm where Washington grew up was nearly lost to commercial development in the mid1990s. Regents and trustees of what would become the George Washington Foundation, along with community members and organizations, saved the property, with the goal of telling the stories of the nation’s first president, Fielding and Betty Washington Lewis, and their families.
Washington moved to Ferry Farm in 1738 at age 6. He left at 22.
Nearly a century of searching for his boyhood home— once the grandest in at least two counties — had turned up nothing when Muraca arrived in 2001.
“When I got here, I knew it had the potential to be an incredible find,” Muraca said. “It lived up to its potential.”
Much of the work before he arrived involved “small peeks into the ground,” he said. “It became apparent to me we had to approach it in a different way. This is a site that doesn’t like to give up its secrets.”
To put in everyday terms, Muraca knew he and a team of archaeologists would have to “dig really big holes” if they were to ever uncover the Washington house remains.
Six years later, on an autumn day in 2007, he called George Washington Foundation President Bill Garner. The archaeologists had come upon what appeared to be a cellar, cut from Aquia sandstone. The material, once common, had not been mined locally since the 1800s.
Garner knew right away they had found what they’d been looking for. But nine more months would pass before the foundation announced to the public with certainty its find.
“You have to eliminate all other alternate possibilities,” Muraca said. “Then really it’s the only plausible explanation.”
The artifacts they uncovered — 750,000 of them— helped tell how the Washingtons lived, Garner said, all the way down to their diet.
“The soil composition acts almost to preserve what is left,” he said. “Fish scales, peach pits and cherry pits — yes, cherries — eggshell fragments, animals butchered, give us a wonderful opportunity to examine how they lived when they first got here.”
Other artifacts would help put together a picture of the house itself, from oyster- shell mortar and lime plaster to scalloped shingles and handmade brick.
“We all leave something behind,” said Andrew Barry, the foundation’s vice president for institutional advancement.
The GeorgeWashington boyhood home replica at Ferry Farm opened to the public after a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Saturday.