Chances are, you may have never heard of the National Colonial Farm in Piscataway Park. The farm sits along the Potomac River across from Mount Vernon, in Maryland. This hidden gem is an easy drive from Virginia or the District. The outdoor living history museum depicts life on a 1770’s tobacco farm.
The Visitor Center should be your first stop. Pick up a brochure which also doubles as a map for the self-guided tour. Children will find a simple touch and feel table with arrowheads, pinecones, animal skins and bones. Say hello to Edgar, the park’s resident turtle.
The center is also part shop where you can purchase a wool drop spindle kit, wool covered soap, finger puppets and other gifts. You can rent a wagon for $2 per hour here. Restrooms and a picnic area are located outside the visitor center and a fishing pier is close by.
Follow the uneven terrain (grass and gravel) and head to the log cabin style farmhouse, colonial kitchen and smokehouse. Some outdoor panels helped, but the kitchen smelled like a smokehouse and had a fireplace which confused us. We knew it was a kitchen because it was filled with dried herbs, cooking supplies and had a garden filled with potatoes, cabbage and herbs. There were no information panels here which would have helped identify the correct buildings. The farmhouse also seemed odd with one room consisting of a large spinning wheel, a chest full of wool and needlepoint materials, and a rope bed. The second part of the room was the larger, master bedroom with a bigger bed and fireplace.
A table contained a hand held mirror, candlestick and two, small wooden boards. One hand held board contained the “Our Father” prayer and the other the alphabet. Perhaps this was the way they learned their prayers and education. Either way, I found it interesting and would have liked to know the purpose of the boards. Outside the home were Hog Island Sheep and a coop filled with Silver Spangled Hamburg and Bantrum Chickens.
Further on the walk, you pass Ossabaw Hogs and American Milking Devon Cattle. They look like bulls because of the horns, but are really dairy cows. The fields further out had a few bullocks and horses. The barn has tobacco drying inside and sits next to the museum garden and demo kitchen. We were lucky that we got to sample some of the colonial period cuisine in the form of seafood pie. The food is part of a monthly program called Foodways, which occurs the third Saturday of the month with the last one happening in November. The event is free.
We did not have time to visit the Ecosystem Farm, but encountered lots of Eastern Bluebirds on the trail in Piscataway Park.
Good to Know
- The farm and visitor center are open March to December, Tuesday through Sunday, from 10am to 4pm. During certain holidays, the farm is closed. Check the website as the dates of operation vary.
- Piscataway Park, the National Colonial Farm, and the Ecosystem Farm are free. An admission fee applies for special events such as Children’s Day, African American Heritage Day, Colonial Day, and Winter’s Eve.
- Join the National Colonial Farm on December 8, 2012 as they present Winter’s Eve. The event includes a performance of “A Colonial Christmas Carol,” along with carol singing, hot cider, and a silent art auction. Admission is $2 per person or donation of a canned food item.
The Bottom Line
I would not go out of my way to plan a trip here because Mount Vernon is closer and offers more activities. However, the farm is an introduction to a step back in time. It’s a good stop if you are in the Eastern Shore area, simple enough for young children to enjoy, and free to enter. Go ahead, take a step back in time at National Colonial Farm.
Photo courtesy of the Accokeek Foundation