Every February, Presidents’ Day weekend is a celebratory one at George Washington’s Ferry Farm! As always this year, George’s boyhood home marked his birthday on Saturday, February 18 and then held Archaeology Day on Monday, February 20. Here are some photos from both days.
Over the past several weeks, following the timber framing and while the shingling of the roof was taking place, The George Washington Foundation’s carpenters Steve Chronister, Tom Rainey, and Josh Schwenk installed the Washington house windows and the beaded weatherboard, enclosing the house and shifting most of the work from the exterior to the interior.
Read “Washington house replica rises on riverbank” from the past Wednesday’s edition of The Free Lance-Star and plan to attend George Washington’s Birthday Celebration tomorrow and Archaeology Day on Monday to see all the latest progress on the Washington house replica! Visit ferryfarm.org/events for event details.
Parents, perhaps hoping to spur their offspring to similar greatness, have named their children George Washington ever since the most famous George Washington rose to prominence as commander of the Continental Army and the nation’s first president. Few other George Washingtons ultimately achieved the original’s stature, although a few perhaps came close. As we mark George Washington’s birth this month (Come to our Washington’s Birthday celebration at Ferry Farm this Saturday!), we share the compelling stories of five notable Americans named George Washington.
George Washington Vanderbilt II was born in 1862 into New York’s wealthy Vanderbilt family. At the age of 27, he began buying vast tracts of land near Asheville, North Carolina. He loved the mountains and wanted to build a grand home among the Blue Ridge. Working with architect Richard Morris Hunt, Vanderbilt planned the house and oversaw construction of the $3,000,000 mansion. He named the home and estate “Biltmore.” Vanderbilt used his vast acreage to help to pioneer scientific forestry and began a forestry school on his estate. His first superintendent of forests was Gifford Pinchot, who became the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service. Vanderbilt died in 1914 in Washington, DC.
George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. was born in Galesberg, Illinois in 1859. He studied engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York. He worked for a series of railroad and mining companies in West Virginia before focusing on bridge-building and structural steel construction. He started G.W.G. Ferris & Company in Pittsburgh and helped build bridges across the Ohio River in that city as well as in Wheeling and Cincinnati. For the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, he designed the Ferris Wheel. “Rising 250 feet above the Midway, carrying thirty-six cars, each with a capacity of some forty passengers, revolving under perfect control, and stable against the strongest winds from Lake Michigan, it excited general attention.” He died in Pittsburgh in 1896.
George Washington De Long was born in New York City in 1844. An American naval officer, he organized and commanded an attempt to reach the North Pole via the Bering Strait. His expedition left San Francisco aboard the Jeanette, a coal-burning steamer also equipped with sails, on July 8, 1879. The Jeanette became trapped in the ice for 22 months before being crushed and forcing the crew to abandon ship. The crew took to three lifeboats. One was lost, one made it to shore but all of its crew died of starvation and exhaustion, and one made it to shore where its crew was rescued. De Long did not survive, dying in Siberia on October 30, 1881. Three years later, debris from the Jeanette was found nearly 3,000 miles away off Greenland’s coast, proving the polar ice was in motion.
George Washington Crile was born in Ohio in 1864. He received his M.D. from what is known today as Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. He was a leading pioneer in surgical medicine during the first half of the 20th century. He dedicated much of his wide-ranging and groundbreaking career to studying the impact of shock on patients undergoing surgery and to developing pioneering ways to treat and combat that shock. He advocated for monitoring blood pressure during surgery and, most importantly, recognized the most effective way to stave off shock was through blood transfusions during operations. He is credited with performing the first direct blood transfusion. Surgical shock’s worst outcome was death so Crile developed resuscitation methods and, in the process, discovered the brain could be deprived of oxygen for only a very few minutes before resuscitation become impossible. In 1921, he and several colleagues founded the Cleveland Clinic, considered one of the world’s foremost medical centers. Furthermore, a pressure suit he developed to prevent surgical shock was adapted to prevent blackout in pilots during World War II. He died in Cleveland in January 1943.
George Washington Carver was born a slave in Missouri in the early 1860s. He attended a series of schools in Kansas and Missouri and graduated from Minneapolis High School in Minneapolis, Kansas. He was rejected from one college because of his race but became the first black student at Iowa State Agricultural College, where he received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. In 1896, Booker T. Washington hired Carver to chair the agricultural department at the Tuskegee Institute, where he remained for half-a-century. As a agricultural scientist, Carver created methods to revive soil exhausted from planting only cotton year after year. These methods centered on rotating cotton with sweet potatoes, peanuts, soybeans, and cowpeas, which restored nitrogen in the soil and provided income for farmers as well. He trained farmers to grow these alternative crops and distributed recipes using these crops to the public to spur demand. His efforts to promote the peanut especially sparked the public’s imagination. He died on January 5, 1942 in Tuskegee, Alabama.
Manager of Educational Programs
 “George Washington Vanderbilt.” Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1936. Biography in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/BT2310001556/BIC1?u=crrl&xid=3822e021. Accessed 9 Feb. 2017.
 “George Washington Gale Ferris.” Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1936. Biography in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/BT2310013691/BIC1?u=crrl&xid=3144ffeb. Accessed 9 Feb. 2017.
 “George Washington De Long.” Explorers & Discoverers of the World, Gale, 1993. Biography in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/K1614000095/BIC1?u=crrl&xid=e0125245. Accessed 9 Feb. 2017.
 “George Washington Crile.” Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1973. Biography in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/BT2310015367/BIC1?u=crrl&xid=8dcc7fd9. Accessed 10 Feb. 2017.
 “George Washington Carver.” Contemporary Black Biography, vol. 4, Gale, 1993. Biography in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/K1606000443/BIC1?u=crrl&xid=3bdf1f8b. Accessed 10 Feb. 2017.
The timber framing of the Washington house is complete. In this video, we get a close-up view of the construction of the house’s timber frame. For a timelapse view of the timber framing, watch this video. To see how the beams in the frame were fashioned, watch this video.
This past autumn, workers from Peter Post Restorations lead by Peter himself added the shingles to the roof of the Washington house at Ferry Farm. The handmade riven shingles were sawn from a tree trunk, smoothed on one side, and decoratively scalloped. Because they were handmade, each shingle was a different width. The roofers laid the shingles in a pattern to compensate for the different sizes and then nailed them into place.
The most challenging aspect of roofing the Washington house was shingling where the roof met the dormers. In the 18th century, roofers curved the wood from the roof to the dormers creating “swept valleys” that are gorgeous examples of historic craftsmanship.
Fads come and go. Such is life. Eighteenth century colonists were not immune to flash-in-the-pan trends. However, given that information traveled a bit slower before the digital age, in the 18th century a ‘quick trend’ may have lasted 10 or 20 years, instead of 10 or 20 months. Such is the case with ‘vegetable ware’, a refined earthenware molded to look like produce. Imagine being the envy of all your colonial neighbors if you served them tea out of an elaborate ceramic cauliflower, pineapple, melon, or cabbage. As evidenced by the archaeological record, Mary Washington, George’ mother, was similarly taken with the prospect of displaying her very own veggie-themed teaware.
The advent of vegetable ware seems to coincide with the development of bright green and yellow pottery glazes by a young and upcoming potter named Josiah Wedgwood in 1760. He used these new flashy glazes for a number of applications, including coloring teaware molded to resemble produce. While some combinations of ceramics and decorations had previously enjoyed decades or even centuries of popularity in the past, the demand for the initially popular vegetable ware seemed to drop off after only ten years, around 1770. At that time, Wedgewood indicated he was glad to send a shipment of overstocked vegetable ware to the colonies – a popular dumping ground for out of fashion or slightly damaged English goods.
Mary seemed to prefer the pineapple form and owned at least one item, if not more, of this fruit-shaped tea equipage. Her preference for the tropical fruit design was not unique. In the 18th century, the pineapple was an incredibly sought after luxury item loaded with symbolism. Today, many of us, especially along the East Coast, associate the pineapple with welcoming guests into our home and as a decoration for the holidays. Colonial Americans considered it a Christian symbol as well as a display of status. They readily incorporated it into the architecture of their houses, decorated room interiors with the motif, and served food and beverages out of pineapple-shaped objects. These were all cheaper options than displaying an actual pineapple, which was well outside the price range of the average colonial American. In fact, there are accounts of people actually renting a real pineapple for a party rather than purchasing one outright. Rented fruit! Let that sink in for a second.
Returning to Mary’s ceramic pineapple, which is represented archaeologically by a dozen or so sherds. It is almost certainly some type of tea equipage, although we are not exactly
sure which tea vessel it may be. The pineapple color and texture are unmistakable but we’ve yet to identify the specific object. A number of forms have been ruled out. It is not a tea or coffee pot because it appears to be relatively squat with a straight or very gently sloping body and a wide rim. What’s especially odd about this particular vegetable ware vessel is that the rim is unglazed. This would seem to suggest that it sported a lid of some kind or perhaps endured a defect during firing. Hopefully more of the vessel will come to light, we’ll be able to answer the question, and proudly display pineapple teaware in the newly recreated Washington house!
Mara Kaktins, Archaeologist
Ceramics & Glass Specialist
In this video, we see how stonemasons Ray Cannetti, Robert Hall, and Kevin Nieto laid the handmade Aquia sandstone foundation stones around and on top of the Washington house’s concrete cradle foundation, which protects original architectural remains underground. Watch these videos about the concrete cradle and the oyster burning process.