Re­con­struc­tion of Ferry Farm cel­e­brated

In Stafford, replica of Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton’s boy­hood home opens

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - SUNDAY IN VIRGINIA - BY KRISTIN DAVIS The Free Lance-Star

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.

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