National Parks, National Historic Landmarks, and the National Register of Historic Places, Oh My!

Throughout my time as a museum professional, I have worked at several different museums each with different classifications, rules, and operating procedures. Before entering the museum world, I used to think that most museums operated in a similar way. However, that could not be further from the truth. One of the most common questions I have gotten since leaving the National Park Service for the private sector has been some variation of: “Why can’t I use my National Park Pass here?” It is an understandable question that I am here to answer.

Museums can be categorized by many different subjects. For example, there are art museums, history museums, science museums, zoos, gardens and more! There are also different categories on how museums operate, fundraise, and are preserved. For example, George Washington’s Ferry Farm and Historic Kenmore are both historic house museums. They are owned by The George Washington Foundation, a private, non-profit organization that is charged with caring for the properties. Ferry Farm and Kenmore are funded by your donations, admission fees, and fundraising events. However, the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. is a National Park Service (NPS) property, operated by the government and funded, in part, with tax-payer dollars.

Aerial view of the Washington Monument

In addition to the NPS sites, the United States government also created the National Register of Historic Places. The National Register of Historic Places is a list of places that are worthy of preservation but are not necessarily and, in fact, are not usually operated by the U.S. government. Sites on this list are able to apply for certain grants and funding through the NPS. They also receive certain tax breaks and can work towards becoming a National Park Site. Fun fact, there are almost 100,000 properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places!

Of those 100,000 National Register properties, some also have the distinction of being National Historic Landmarks. Landmarks are sites that are again, not necessarily government-run, but have been recognized by the federal government as being nationally significant, meaning they correlate to a significant part of our nation’s history. These properties are also able to apply for certain grants and tax breaks. Not all properties on the National Register of Historic Places and not all properties listed as National Historic Landmarks are museums and not all of them are open for public visitation. However, being on these lists adds a layer of protection should the owners of that property need assistance in preserving the site.

Marker noting Historic Kenmore’s designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1970.
Marker noting George Washington Ferry Farm’s designation as a National Historic Landmark in 2000.

Along with National Register and National Historic Landmark status, there are also several types of Easements that can be put in place to protect historic sites. Two types of easements often used in the museum world are Conservation Easements and Preservation Easements. These easements are agreements between the government and a property’s stewardship organization that allow for the government to step in and take over the operation of a property if the private owners are not caring for it properly or it becomes endangered in some fashion. Easements also allow the government to have approval over major changes to the properties to ensure they maintain their historic or natural significance. Private easements can also be created between two parties such as a historic site and a local conservation organization to protect the natural areas of a historic site.

The George Washington Foundation is a 503(c) (3) non-profit. This designation gives our organization certain tax exemptions. We are a private foundation that operates the two historic sites. These sites are not National Park Service sites and do not receive direct taxpayer funding from local, state, or federal governments. Both Historic Kenmore and George Washington’s Ferry Farm are on the National Register of Historic Places and also are both National Historic Landmarks. Additionally, Ferry Farm is under a conservation easement with the National Park Service. All of this means that while we still operate as a private foundation, there are several layers of protection to ensure these treasured historic properties are preserved and protected for decades to come.

Ferry Farm
Kenmore

As a private organization, we rely on admission fees and your generous donations to fund our sites. We are not part of any National Park or state park pass system. Your ticket purchase helps preserve and promote the legacies of these two sites. Perhaps that is why we are so appreciative for each and every guest who visits. If you would like to support The George Washington Foundation, please consider a donation. We hope to see you at the National Historic Landmarks of Historic Kenmore and George Washington’s Ferry Farm soon!

Elizabeth Hosier
Manager of Interpretation and Visitor Services

The Unlikely Curator: What a Rodent’s Nest Reveals about Historic Kenmore

Rodents are usually seen as one of a museum’s greatest enemies. They damage valuable artifacts and buildings, leave a mess wherever they go, and frighten unsuspecting visitors. Like most museums, Historic Kenmore does its best to make sure no pests make their home in the 18th century plantation house. But, before it became a museum in the early 20th century, Kenmore was not always rodent-free.

Kenmore's East Portico

The east portico of Historic Kenmore shows some neglect to the house and its surroundings. The Howard family, who lived in Kenmore for a long period following the Civil War and was perhaps living in the house when our rodent of interest built its nest, invested a lot of money in refurbishing the house.

In 1989, archaeologists found a mouse or rat’s nest during an investigation of Kenmore’s walls and floors for architectural artifacts. In a recent video, our archeologists and curators carefully picked apart the nest found so long ago and made a cursory analysis of its parts.  This blog post delves more deeply into the history revealed by this rodent – Kenmore’s unlikely curator – and its nest.

The “indoor excavation” at Kenmore in 1989 provided present-day archaeologists at the Foundation a unique opportunity to study artifacts that rarely survive in the elements. Whatever rodent built this nest was a skilled architect in its own right, tightly weaving together bits of cloth, paper, and miscellaneous fluff from around the house to create a soft, structurally sound home of its own. The material came from dozens of sources, each giving insight to life at Kenmore in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Fabric

Patterned fabric from the nest

When it comes to fabrics, both the people living at Kenmore and the rodent had pretty good taste. While most of the cloth from the nest was a neutral white, beige, or brown, several scraps featured patterns popular from the late 19th through the early 20th century, like a red cloth with cream specks, and another with red and yellow flowers. Most of the cloth in the nest probably came from sheets, towels, or rags, but the few patterned scraps may have once been part of a dress or apron. A few threads are woven around a stiff, curved string, perhaps as part of an eyelet or fastener on a piece of clothing.  Other fibers came from webbing used in upholstering furniture. The rest of the threads, yarn, and fibers are too small to tell where they came from, but it’s clear that the resident rodent had plenty of textiles from which to choose.

Newspaper 1

A series of newspaper ads includes a date of September 6, 1877.

Newspaper 2

A scrap of a cartoon features an old man carrying what appears to be a baby.

A few other gnawings in the nest were less comfortable than threads and cloth. A bit of nutshell, wood splinters, tiny rib bones, and even two insect wings were part of the rodent’s eclectic collection. While these finds make up a small portion of the nest, it appears that the rodent had quite a literary bent. Over a hundred tiny scraps of paper lined the nest. About half of them were marked, while the others have print from books and newspapers. Some of the pieces are so small that not even an entire letter can be seen, but a few are large enough to make out some sentences, determine date of publication, or even identify the book from which the scrap came.

Newspaper 3

A section entitled “Recent Inventions” includes a convertible handbag and seat patented in 1915.

Newspaper 4

An advertisement on the opposite side of the newspaper discusses Christmas Savings funds from Farmers and Merchants State Bank.

One newspaper scrap advertises Christmas saving funds from the Farmer’s and Merchant’s State Bank. On the other side under “Recent Inventions,” Katherine Minehart’s “Combined Hand-bag and Seat” from 1915 is described. A much earlier bit of newspaper announces the opening of a store on September 6, 1877. The scrap from a book may be even older. The words on both sides are Christian lyrics, and were compiled into a book called Union Hymns by the American Sunday School Union. The book and several editions were published in 1835, 1845, and 1860.

Given the short lifespan of most rodents (around 1-7 years), it’s most likely that the nest builder lived in the early 20th century, and scampered off with bits and pieces of discarded old paper and fabric. Except for a few newspapers, this rodent tended to use items with a past. The absence of any plastic in the nest indicates that it probably wasn’t built much past the early 1900s.  Indeed, since the latest scrap found in the nest dated from 1915, the nest itself would have been built in that year or thereafter, just a few years before the house began its transformation into a museum focusing on the lives of 18th century patriots Betty and Fielding Lewis.

The stories of those who lived at Kenmore after the Civil War are not as detailed, but thanks to an unlikely curator, we are given a glimpse into the wardrobes and literary tastes of Kenmore’s late Victorian-era inhabitants.

Abby Phelps, UMW Student
Fleming Smith Scholar

An Unlikely Curator: Inside a Historic Rodent’s Nest [Video]

In this video, we pick apart a rodent’s nest discovered by archaeologists investigating Historic Kenmore’s walls and floors for architectural artifacts. Like most museums, we take extensive pest prevention measures today but, back when it was an actual home, Kenmore was not always rodent-free. This nest revealed some fascinating history and told us a bit about Kenmore itself.

(NOTE: The video was filmed long before COVID-19 physical distancing requirements.)

Washington House at Ferry Farm [Photos]

Washington House replica at Ferry Farm (2)

The Washington house at Ferry Farm is now open for tours! Using information from the probate inventory and archaeological evidence, the interpretive replica of George Washington’s boyhood home is currently being furnished with replica furniture and ceramics. You can read an in-depth post about the house here and below you will find photos that provide a glimpse of the house’s exterior and interior as well as the surrounding landscape.

Learn more about this comprehensive project here and here.

Please visit www.ferryfarm.org and www.kenmore.org for more information on two National Historic Landmark sites, George Washington’s Ferry Farm and Historic Kenmore.

Washington House at Ferry Farm Now Open for Tours

Exterior of Washington house front

The completed reconstruction of the Washington house at George Washington’s Ferry Farm.

The Washington house at Ferry Farm is now open for tours. The interpretive replica of George Washington’s boyhood home is an interactive and hands-on experience for all ages, where visitors can experience what life was like in the eighteenth century. Using information from the probate inventory and archaeological evidence, the Washington house is currently being furnished with replica furniture and ceramics of what was originally in the home. This allows guests the opportunity to sit on the furniture and handle the objects.

Corner Cupboard in Parlor

Corner Cupboard

Following a plan conceived by The George Washington Foundation’s Collections Committee and curators, noted cabinetmakers are crafting reproduction furniture using pieces from the time period of the Washington house as examples. Craftsmen from Colonial Williamsburg produced a corner cabinet in the joiners’ shop and a tea table in the cabinetmakers’ shop using examples from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s collection. Additionally, two dining tables, a set of twelve leather upholstered chairs, a “scrutore” – or desk with bookcase, a low-post bed, and a gaming table are currently on view in the Washington house.

Tea Table in Hall Back Room

Tea Table

The construction of the Washington house on its archaeological footprint is part of the first phase of The George Washington Foundation’s multi-year venture to physically develop George Washington’s Ferry Farm into an outdoor living museum. The first phase of the project will also include reconstructing the kitchen and outbuildings, and recreating the period landscape. Moreover, the Foundation is establishing a new entrance to the museum property, has erected a maintenance facility, and is completing necessary infrastructure.

Hall

Dining table, chairs, and “scrutore” in the Hall of the Washington house.

Employing building methods of the period, artisan masons laid the foundation for the Washington house using hand-cut Aquia sandstone in an oyster-shell mortar. Next, timber framers joined massive wood beams to create the frame of the home. Carpenters covered the roof with traditional, hand-prepared wood shingles and installed skillfully-crafted exterior doors and window sashes, as well as beaded weatherboard siding painted a traditional, deep red “Spanish brown” color.

Masons completed the brickwork for the three chimneys, each set in an English bond interspersed with glazed headers, while the carpenters fitted paneled doors with hand-wrought iron hardware and fabricating interior features such as an elaborate staircase in the center passage. Accomplished plasterers installed a traditional lime plaster, strengthened with animal hair, on wood lath across the walls of the Washington house.

Work Yards Behind the House

The work yards behind the Washington house.

Constructing the Washington house and the first phase of improvements at Ferry Farm is a funding priority for the Foundation as part of The Future of Our Past Campaign—a $40 million dollar comprehensive fundraising initiative in support of efforts across its two National Historic Landmark sites: Historic Kenmore and George Washington’s Ferry Farm.

George Washington moved to Ferry Farm in 1738 with his parents, Mary and Augustine, his sister Betty, and their siblings, purchasing the site from William Strother III, a prominent colonial Virginian. Young George lived at the farm from age 6 to 22. Referred to as the Washington home house in George’s day, the property was later known as Ferry Farm—a historic ferry adjacent to the Washingtons’ house once linked it to the city of Fredericksburg via the Rappahannock River. The site was the setting of some of the best-known stories related to his youth, including tales of the cherry tree and throwing a stone across the Rappahannock River.

George was eleven when his father died in 1743. Augustine left Ferry Farm to George, for him to inherit when he reached majority. Mary Washington continued to live at Ferry Farm until 1772, when she moved to Fredericksburg to live closer to Kenmore and Fielding and Betty Washington Lewis.

View of Fredericksburg across the River

View from the Washington house of Fredericksburg across the Rappahannock River.

In 1996, Ferry Farm was saved from commercial development through the hard work and determination of the Regents and Trustees of The George Washington Foundation (known then as the Kenmore Association), a long list of individuals, and several organizations.

The Foundation announced on July 2, 2008 that its archaeologists had located and excavated the remains of the long-sought house where Washington was raised. To date, over 750,000 artifacts have been unearthed at Ferry Farm. Ongoing research suggests that George’s experiences at Ferry Farm were influential in shaping the man that he would become.

On Saturday, April 25, 2015, the Foundation broke ground on the Washington house and the first phase of construction at Ferry Farm, forever preserving this remarkable landscape and providing a powerful stage to tell the story of young George and his family. Doris Kearns Goodwin, renowned presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, was the keynote speaker for the Groundbreaking Ceremony.

Learn more about this comprehensive project here and here.

Please visit www.ferryfarm.org and www.kenmore.org for more information on two National Historic Landmark sites, George Washington’s Ferry Farm and Historic Kenmore.

David Muraca
Vice President of Museum Operations
Director of Archaeology

Photos: Building George’s House – North Chimney

Brickmasons Ray Cannetti, Robert Hall, and Kevin Nieto recently finished building the second of three chimneys for the Washington house at George Washington’s Ferry Farm. Located on the house’s north side and made from hand molded brick by the Old Carolina Brick Company, this chimney includes two fireplaces. One fireplace each on the first and second floors.  These images show Kevin working on the second story’s fireplace as well as the entire chimney after it was completed and the scaffolding around it was removed last week. To see photos of the east chimney being built click here.