It was quite serendipitous that our family visited Claude Moore Colonial Farm this past weekend. We were on our way to a fall festival in northern Virginia when we hit traffic, massive traffic. And looking ahead down I-66, it didn’t seem like it was going to let up soon enough for us to inch through it patiently. So, we got off at the next exit and changed plans.
This is one of the great things about living in the DC- metro. There is so much to do all over the area, you can revamp your day with one simple decision, no matter where you are, and still have a good time. In our case, we were fairly close to the Beltway, so I did a quick flip through my mental Rolodex of family recreation and, voila!, I remembered I had just read about Claude Moore as I was browsing No Monsters in My Bed and knew it was a convenient detour from where we were. I’d seen the sign for it on the GW Parkway countless times, and had always wondered about the attraction, but just hadn’t made it there.
Well, thanks to bad traffic we finally did, and it couldn’t have worked out better (except that we were a week early for one of their biggest weekends, which I’ll tell you more about in a bit).
Claude Moore Colonial Farm is straight out of the 18th-century, a living history farm. Everything there has been recreated to look just as it did in 1771, with a tobacco barn, farm house, garden, orchard, animals, even a family (portrayed by actors) who live and work on the farm and go about their daily life as visitors pass through. A self-guided tour begins in the gift shop where you buy tickets ($3/adult, $2/children 3 and up) and get a bit of background on the farm. There, we learned that all of the crops and trees are planted from heirloom seeds with origins that date back to the region during the 18th century. We were also told that we could feel free to pitch in and help the Bradley family with any farm work.
The farm isn’t huge — the whole walk is about 3/4 of a mile, and there is a dirt path that winds through it. A simple map given out in the gift shop depicts the layout, and Owen easily navigated for us. After stopping to see geese in a wooden cage along the path, we explored the tobacco barn, where we could see part of the curing process as tobacco stalks hung from rafters to dry out, and 18th-century tools and equipment offered an idea of how it all worked. Just outside the barn, turkeys making some of the loudest gobbling noises I’ve ever heard (which thrilled the kids) sat in a wooden cage, and nearby along the path a few big hogs lolled about in their pen.
From there, we may our way to the farm house, passing by the garden and through the orchard on the way. The farm house was easily the highlight of our tour, as we got to see 18th-century farm life in progress. Several members of the farm family were mashing potatoes for cottage pie (this is what we were later told by a woman who works there) on a table outside of the house, as chickens roamed freely around them. When one went inside the house to put something on the fireplace to cook, we followed and watched. The house is literally one room, with a fireplace along one wall, a table pushed against another, a few chairs sitting in corners, herbs hanging from ceiling rafters to dry, a couple of shelves on the walls holding ceramic cups and containers. Sleeping quarters are in a loft above; the whole family shares the space, sleeping on feather-filled mattresses. Family members were happy to answer questions, speaking in 18th-century vernacular, which fascinated the kids just as much as their home.
The rest of our tour we strolled around, winding through the orchard, checking out the root cellar where potatoes are stored, and visiting the farm fowl again. Our entire visit probably took less than two hours, but it was a quite an enjoyable learning experience for all us, and a great way to spend a nice day outdoors together.
And serendipity came into play again when I learned that this coming weekend is one of the best times to visit. The Autumn Colonial Market Fair will take place Saturday and Sunday, October 15-16, from 11am – 4pm both days. This is when tradesmen and artisans — blacksmiths, potters, silversmiths, candle makers, and more — come from all over to demo their work and sell their wares. Guests can also enjoy all kinds of colonial fare and watch as food cooks right over a fire pit, just like olden times. Admission to the farm on the Autumn Market Fair weekend is $6/adults, $3/ages 3-12, free for children 2 and under. More information is available on the Claude Moore Colonial Farm website.