Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Celebrating 60 Years of Service to Our Community

October 24th, 2014

By Lori Arguelles, AFF Executive Director

It was 60 years ago today that the pioneers of the Alice Ferguson Foundation (AFF) realized the first fruits of their labors. On October 24, 1954 the Articles of Incorporation for the Foundation were approved and AFF was “born.” This momentous act has had lasting impact during the last six decades including:

– Serving more than 300,000 students through our environmental education programs at our Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center and in national and state parks through our Bridging the Watershed Program.

alice henry – Engaging more than 130,000 volunteers in the annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup by removing more than 7 million pounds of debris over the past 26 years.

– Leading the way in energy efficient and green building design by embracing the Living Building Challenge © as we construct and renovate buildings on our educational campus. The net-zero energy, net-zero water, and zero-waste criteria, combined with carbon-neutral and non-toxic, non-polluting component requirements make this a ground-breaking and landscape-altering undertaking.

Throughout the decades, the Foundation has stayed true to its guiding principles of education, inspiration, and innovation. And the impact is both deep-rooted and widespread as evidenced by the experience of one 10-year old student from Heather Hills Elementary School:

“I couldn’t wait until my overnight trip to Hard Bargain Farm. My first activity was a hike through the woods. We learned about pollution and how it harms living organisms. That one hike changed my whole point of view about the environment. In the future I see myself stopping someone from littering to protect the animals and nature.”

Surely our namesake, Alice Ferguson, would appreciate how her vision of a special place in nature has been embraced by student and adult learners alike. And we are proud that Alice’s vision for Hard Bargain Farm has been recognized as nationally significant. Just in time for our Diamond Jubilee celebration the Farm was selected for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. This prestigious roster is the official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. As anniversary gifts go, this is definitely a gem!IMG_0486
But the greatest gift of all is the privilege of sharing the wonder and beauty of nature with a child for the first time. Nothing can match the eye-opening and often life-changing experiences that come from this connection. We couldn’t do any of this without the generous support of friends like you. Thank you for helping us to make a difference!
If you’d like to make a special gift in honor of our anniversary, please visit our donation page. Thank you for your support, and Happy Anniversary!

The Many A’s of Alice L. L. Ferguson

March 3rd, 2014

By Lori Arguelles, Executive Director, Alice Ferguson Foundation

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHave you ever stood on Mount Vernon’s portico and partaken of the pastoral panorama across the Potomac River? Have you ever wondered how such an amazing preservation effort was accomplished? It was all made possible thanks to the vision and leadership of three women from the 20th century, whose dedicated efforts have helped ensure that the vista is as remarkable today as it was when it was built nearly 250 years ago in the mid -18th century.

I invite you to come and learn more about Ann Pamela Cunningham, Alice L. L. Ferguson, and Congresswoman Frances Payne Bolton, all of whom blazed new trails in historic preservation and land conservation. Stories of these remarkable women will be featured as part of Women with a View, on Sunday, March 9, 2014 at 2 p.m. The event is hosted by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association at the Smith Auditorium at George Washington’s Mount Vernon and will be followed by a tour of the mansion and cocktail reception.

Every day, as Executive Director of the Alice Ferguson Foundation, I have the privilege of carrying on the legacy of our truly amazing namesake and I am often struck the breadth and depth of her endeavors.  I’ve taken to referring to her abundant accomplishments as the ‘Many A’s of Alice’ which is in fact the title of the talk I will give in conjunction with the symposium on March 9th.   I hope you will join us for this event,  please visit the Women With a View website for more information and to purchase tickets.  In the meantime, here’s a little preview:

As a woman coming of age at the turn of the 20th century, Alice L. L. Ferguson lived and worked during both World Wars, The Jazz Age, the Great Depression and the New Deal that brought intellectual energy to Washington, DC.  During this time the modern woman challenged past norms finding a new voice through education, creative expression, travel, activism and independence.  Alice was an accomplished artist that trained at the Corcoran School of Art.  Her marriage to Henry G. Ferguson, a world-renowned geologist, presaged a life of adventure and travel that also involved purchasing a ’country home’—Hard Bargain Farm–in Accokeek, MD.  This avant-garde adventurer became an architect, agrarian, activist, archeologist and author, all as a result of that purchase.  Instrumental in shaping and ultimately preserving the landscape now known as the Mount Vernon viewshed, we owe much to the amazing life and legacy of Alice L. L. Ferguson.

Getting To Know Alice – The Search Continues

August 19th, 2013

By Linda Crocker Simmons

Alice L.L. Ferguson (1880-1951) Ca. 1930s –1940s By Helen Sewell Rennie (1906-1989) Pen and Ink on Flesh -colored Paper Recto, pencil, l.r.:Alice L.L. Ferguson” 12″ x 18 “ Promised gift of Linda Crocker Simmons with the assistance of Rob Delamater of the LostArt Salon, San Francisco, California.

It has been more than a year since a significant discovery relating to Alice L.L. Ferguson and her life as an artist has been made, but last month the drawing illustrated here, was found. Discovered during a recent Internet search it has been acquired from the California dealer who was selling it in a group of drawings labeled “New Deal”.  All the drawings in that folder were created by Helen Sewell Rennie (1906-1989) sometime during the 1930s or 1040s. Not much has been yet learned about Rennie except that she like Alice had a career in the arts and was active during the 1930s and later in the Washington region.

Rennie was a native of Maryland and had, as Alice had done, studied art at the Corcoran School of Art (today the Corcoran College of Art and Design). It is conceivable they met there or at one of the regional arts groups to which both belonged. Very likely they had professional art connections or friendships with one or more other artists associated with the various Federal arts projects taking place in the Washington metropolitan region during the 1930s. An immediate candidate is Lenore Thomas (1909-1988), a tenant of Longview, the close by property which Alice had developed in hopes of selling.  But once occupied by Lenore and her fellows Alice found the arrangement too enjoyable to want it to end. Like Hard Bargain Farm the tenants at Longview had their “Gang” of guests whom Alice described in her book, Adventures in Southern Maryland (p.31) as compared to Hard Bargain Farm’s as “more artistic and more sure they are intellectual”.hbf Alice & unknown

Artists are kindred spirits and often share common characteristics and activities. Congregating to make art is one — just what Rennie has depicted in her spare line drawing of Alice. The easel which would have held the canvas or a tacked-up sheet of paper is not shown but rather suggested, just out of sight. Alice’s right hand is in midair holding either a stick of charcoal, or a pencil, maybe even a brush, reaching for that easel.

Rennie’s drawing tells us further things about her subject: Alice was a smoker. In her left hand she holds one of those ubiquitous signifiers of the “new” woman of the 20th century.  The plume of smoke also serves as a sad foreshadower of one of the elements which likely contributed to Alice’s medical problems in the years before her death in 1951.

Rennie has captured her subject quite accurately; the angled profile of Alice’s face would have been known to other artists, friends and family. By the time this drawing was made Alice was well into her 50s.  She wore her hair close to her head, short above the ears. Comparisons with photographs of Alice from about the same time show the profile with a strong nose—somewhat exaggerated—and and short hair.

The outfit she wears could be either one of those stylish but comfortable dresses of the period, or a painter’s smock. Such accouterments of an artist’s trade as smocks, canvases, easels and brushes have vanished from Hard Bargain Farm. All evidence of Alice at work making the lovely paintings that hang in the Farmhouse is gone. But with the fortuitous discovery of this little drawing we can once again see Alice, the painter, as her image was captured by another artist and possible colleague during the last decade or so of her life in the act of creating a work of art.

Celebrating History

July 11th, 2013

By Chris Ordiway, Naturalist Specialist

Photo of Alice Ferguson’s father, John Lowe, taken in 1905

It seems only fitting, during this month when we celebrate our Independence as a nation, to share with you one of our own connections to a military hero of years past. John T. Lowe (1838-1930), father of Alice Ferguson, was born in Liverpool, England. He moved to the United States and became a naturalized citizen in 1860 and joined the military the following year. He served in the Civil War and was injured during the First Battle of Bull Run (or the Battle of First Manassas if you fought for the Confederacy) and later transferred to the Navy as a 3rd Assistant Engineer.

His claims to fame during his military career include serving on at least 10 different ships, including his time as the engineer aboard the USS Bear during the Greely Relief Expedition to the Arctic. He was also instrumental in the Navy’s decision to accept the Holland submarine design based on his recommendations as an engineer. He was aboard the first trial of the Holland in 1898, which stayed submerged for 15 hours and fired a dummy round to prove that the craft was worthy of military service. He retired from the Navy in 1900 as a Captain but was promoted, retroactive to 1900, to Rear Admiral in 1911 for his continued service to the Navy even after retiring.

John Lowe N.17 Greely Exp

Greely Relief Expedition rescuers and rescued in Upernivik, Greenland, 1884

Although he was away a lot during his career Mr. Lowe was a family man that wanted to be at home with his wife and children. One story of note is that his ship returned to the League Island Yard in Philadelphia in the midst of a terrible blizzard. The crew hunkered down to wait out the storm but John was determined to see his family and have a hot cup of tea. He wrapped up in extra layers and walked through the storm for 7 miles, his wife had to steam the ice from his beard when he arrived home. A servant repeatedly cleared the sidewalk during the remainder of the night, when asked why he didn’t just wait until the storm was over he replied “Because the United States Government will be needing the walk clear soon.” Throughout the next day sailors came by to see the man “who walked home last night”.

The Blue Rhino—Symbol of Good Times at Hard Bargain Farm

June 18th, 2013

By Doris Sharp, Cultural Heritage Coordinator

Visually memorable for visitors, especially school children, the Blue Rhinoceros is a hefty, humorous sentry to a creative legacy and is simply unforgettable and remains for many the image of their time at Hard Bargain. It is a physical reminder of the shared interests and impulses of Alice Ferguson and Lenore Thomas, two women artists who played significant roles in the creative life of Hard Bargain Farm. This work of art is one of the most interesting among the important pieces in the collection at Hard Bargain Farm.

Thomas came to the Washington region around 1935/6 and was one of the tenants who rented Longview, a house designed, built and owned by Alice Ferguson, and located in Accokeek. She was first employed by the “Special Skills Division” of the Resettlement Administration of the Department of Agriculture. Her work involved creating sculptures for various government housing projects then being developed across the country.

bluerhinoconstructionAlthough the workshop for the Special Skills Division was in Greenbelt, Maryland, Thomas recounted how her daily routine “was to go into Washington and check into the project, then go out to Greenbelt and work the remainder of the day.” The Greenbelt workshop is described in a contemporary newspaper article:

At the Greenbelt resettlement workshop where Miss Thomas and her co-workers model in clay designs to be used on school buildings on this and other projects partially finished models can be seen. …. Many new experiments are being conducted in the work shop: among them is a “tryout with wet brick.” Pointing to the unfinished outlines of a huge hippopotamus, various animals and birds… [Thomas explained]… [a]fter the designs are finished each brick is numbered, glazed and is then ready for use. It requires about 1,000 bricks to construct a large animal pattern.

This describes the design and materials as well as the manner of assembly for Blue Rhinoceros at Hard Bargain Farm.

StudentbluerhinoThe “Blue Rhino” as we call it has been on sentinel duty in front of the Farmhouse for more than 70 years. The environmental impact—heat, freezes, rain and snow—has become severe. Mortar cracked and bricks became loose so that we had to stop schoolchildren “riding” Blue Rhino, which is the first thing they want to do when they see it. We received a grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities to conduct a professional assessment of its condition and needed treatment.  After receiving a complete report a private generous donor stepped in to foot the bill for the restoration of the Blue Rhino in memory of his wife who was teaching children at Hard Bargain Farm for more than twenty years. The work will start in mid-August and should not take more than a week assuring that the children can “ride” the Blue Rhino and have fun again when the new school year begins.

Getting to Know Alice

February 5th, 2013

By Libby Campbell

Working in the setting of Alice Ferguson’s home is delightful for the atmosphere and view, however, peeking into the heart and mind of our namesake through her letters is on an entirely new level of pleasure and discovery. Visitors to the farmhouse get a glimpse of her personality through her self-portrait “Tired”, where she lounges on the sofa, turquoise T-strap sandals on her elevated feet, and favorite dog Caligula sprawled next to her on the rug. But it is in the letters that the quirky and unique Alice emerges. To her sister-in-law Eleanor she writes:

I am in deep disgrace at my doctors. I went this morning the usual Friday interveinous(sic) injection. As usual they put me on one of those high narrow cots that they wheel all over the place and gave the injection with orders not to move until they came back. In time the floor and walls stopped reeling, I began to feel almost normal, completely forgotten and a little bored. I discovered that if I laid still by humped my middle, the cot moved. I humped and the cot moved very pleasantly until all of the sudden the darned thing got up speed, rolled across the floor, overturned a metal chair and crashed in to the wall. The doctor and all the nurses came on a run and found me lying obediently still. I hadn’t done a thing but I slunk home with all possible speed.


That same year she writes about a frustration that seems to be as timely today to anyone dealing with government permits and processes:

I am so mad tonight I can’t think. To register a truck they sent you a 37 page pamphlet written in lawyers jargon. No one could understand it all and they finally implored people not to mail it as they had said you had to but to wait until today and take the stuff to a high school and get help in making out the application. I went this afternoon. The first thing they asked was how many trips the truck had made down into the farm fields in 1941, how many miles and what tonnage had been carried. How many trips away from the farm, with the load going and returning and how many trips specially for things. All that in 1941. Then you had to repeat it up to the present and estimate for a year in advance. I said I had no records for 41 and just couldn’t estimate. They refused to register the trucks and now I will have to travel all the way to Marlboro to appeal.


Alice, the gently raised debutante dived eagerly into running Hard Bargain Farm. This letter from the war time of 1942 shows how her farm animals were very distinct personalities to her:

My pigs have decided to join the allies. A sow gave me 14 babies last night and two more ladies due very soon. The hens have given up their strike and are doing 3 dozen a day. It is not good but a darned sight better than they have been doing. The cows are the sticking point now and there are three more weeks of drought ahead. I fixed up a warm loafing shed for them and now they do nothing but loaf and it is all we can do to get them out to take a walk. They refuse to drink enough water so they are getting a dose of salt in their food and the pesky critters still won’t drink. You are lucky to have a vegetable farm.


Alice’s letters and journals are a wonderful window on Southern Maryland rural life in the early 20th century. AFF’s Cultural Heritage staff and volunteers are greatly enjoying recreating the trials, triumphs and fun times of the Fergusons’ life here at Hard Bargain Farm.

History of Evening Chores

December 21st, 2012

By Ann Bodling, Children’s Garden Associate

It was drizzling as I headed down to the barnyard.  The sky was grey, dusk was early and most of the chickens had decided that staying indoors and dry, was preferable to being outdoors and wet. They didn’t seem to mind being closed in a tad earlier than usual.  Our laying flock includes Red Stars, Black Stars, White Rocks and Barred Rocks laying brown eggs in various hues, Leghorns laying white eggs and, Americanas laying lovely eggs of blues and greens. The chickens are housed in four coops built long ago, having sheltered literally dozens of generations of laying hens who have roamed the chicken yards, shaded by towering sycamore and sweet gum trees.  Like previous generations and the generations to come, our flocks roost on the old roosts and lay their eggs in the old nest boxes.

As is often the case on weekends, the farm was quiet and I was alone with the animals – a rich, sweet, peaceful aloneness in which everything felt exactly right, exactly as it ought to be.  As I made my way into the barnyard, the animals were waiting for me.  The watch-geese, I call them, have the loudest voices on the farm and sounded a raucous alarm that the evening routine was about to begin (someone has to do it, I suppose, and they have taken the responsibility to heart).  I gave the donkey his hay in the pasture, allowing the geese and I to scoot into their pen at the back of his stall. I closed them in and as they greedily gobbled their corn, I called to the turkey, already on his way to his own quarters. Eager for his own rations, he unhesitatingly marched into his pen and I latched the latch, leaving him happily pecking his way through dinner.

Turning my attention to the evening milking chores, I gathered the washing solution, washcloth and milk pail and headed in to Annie and Marmalade, already in place and munching blissfully on the fragrant hay. I breathed in deeply and smiled.  Though the world is filled with many wonderful scents, I don’t believe there are any finer than that of warm cows and good hay. I looked around the small old milking barn wondering how many cows had previously stood in the stalls that are now occupied by our cows, how many hands milked those cows, and how many gallons of milk had fallen  into shiny metal pails, just as I was doing and others will do after me.

Living and working on Hard Bargain Farm has allowed me to step into the history and the continuum of this place.  Wherever I look, be it barns or houses or the fields and woodlands, I am aware of those who have gone before, living their lives and taking their sustenance from this land. I am grateful to be a part of that continuum and for the opportunity to do the same.

A Holiday Ode to Our Animals

December 7th, 2012

By Lori Arguelles, Executive Director, Alice Ferguson Foundation

This time of year we are bombarded with holiday images. There’s Santa, of course, along with reindeer and sacks of toys; Sugar Plum Fairies and nutcrackers dance through our heads as well.  For me, some of the images I can’t get out of my head are from a classical holiday song that’s got something for everyone—from the jewelry lovers to the nature lovers and everyone in between.  I think that the imagery is so powerful for me this year in part because for the first time in my life I’m actually privileged to KNOW some of those eight maids-a-milking, six geese-a-laying, and even three French hens!  It’s a beneficial byproduct of leading an organization like the Alice Ferguson Foundation where the working farm aspect of our facility, containing a wide array of animals,  is one of the many things that make a visit here such a memorable experience.

Let’s face it, there’s something special about animals. They accept us for who we are.  They don’t care about what’s in our wallets (though they do love carrots in our pockets!).  And the notion of naughty or nice is totally different from their perspective.  A colleague told me recently about a student who participated in a field study at our Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center.  This student was clearly one who had been deemed ‘naughty’ by teachers and even fellow students, which is a label you can carry for a long time, even if it’s not accurate any more.  This student clearly felt the mark of his status, which is what made his words all the more powerful as he bonded with one of our playful goats and said “Wow, Sparkle really just likes me for me.”

Some students don’t have success in a traditional classroom.  Their brains simply aren’t wired for it and because classroom environments don’t always have much space for alternative thinkers or kids with too much energy they get a ‘naughty’ label that’s hard to shake.  Here at the Alice Ferguson Foundation, we  get the gift of seeing these students excel in our environment—in nature!  We get the gift of knowing that we’ve helped a child see themselves and the world a little differently.  We get the gift of creating a lifelong memory for this precious child.

As “The Twelve Days of Christmas” continues to play on repeat in my head, flashing images of our animals and the smiling faces of students, I am reminded of how grateful we are here to receive these gifts and to, in turn share them with you.

I’ve got to go…Sparkle is looking for treats and I don’t want to disappoint!

The Strudel Queen

September 28th, 2012
Please join the Alice Ferguson Foundation for its 32nd annual Oktoberfest on October 6th from 1-6pm at Hard Bargain Farm.  For the past 25 years our Cultural Heritage Coordinator, Doris Sharp, has been an integral part in shepherding this beloved festival. We recently sat down with Doris to learn more about the history of Oktoberfest at Hard Bargain Farm and how she makes this event so special every year. Read our interview with the “Strudel Queen” below.

Tell us about yourself and what you do at the Foundation.

I started to work part time at the Foundation in 1987.  The first assignment was cataloguing the books in the Ferguson collection, then I was working as a naturalist, publications specialist, head gardener of the formal gardens, coordinating Theater in the Woods and Concert in the Woods and many other tasks—in essence I was wearing many hats (sometimes the hat rack was too short!).

What do you know about the history of Oktoberfest at the Foundation?

Our Oktoberfestmeister, Stafford Allison, a Moyaone community member, presented the idea of Oktoberfest as a fundraiser to then Executive Director Kay Powell. That was thirty-two years ago. In the same community some neighbors were members of the Alt Washingtonia Schuhplattlers and that group performed at the first Oktoberfest and ever since. I’ve been involved with the event for 25 of those years.

How has the annual Oktoberfest grown over the years you’ve been involved?

When I started it was a relatively small community event.  With more and better advertising and reaching out to the DC metro area, the audience grew over the years. The record number was close to 1500 visitors.

What kinds of things will guests find at Oktoberfest and what makes it so special?

Oktoberfest means beer, bratwurst, potato salad and sauerkraut. And that is what we offer at Hard Bargain Farm.  All homemade! And not to forget the ‘real’ strudel now! (For the last few years we have been offering vegetarian chili as an alternative food.) We have a “Country Store” where people can buy all kinds of goodies—homemade jams, cookies, brownies and breads etc.

Oktoberfest is a lot of fun. Besides wonderful food and imported beer (Spaten from Munich), the Alt Washintonia Schuhplattlers are sporting original Bavarian costumes and perform Bavarian and Austrian dances and music (accordion, guitars, dulcimer, tuba, alphorns, even a saw!).

One of the favorite features of Oktoberfest is your homemade strudel.  How did you become the Strudel Queen?

At the 35th anniversary of the Alice Ferguson Foundation Stafford Allison approached me and said, “You know, we serve all that excellent and delicious food and then there is that stuff they call apple strudel…”  (It was a kind of apple cake).  He didn’t say any more and just looked at me.  I simply said, “Okay.” Well, I have been baking apple strudels for the Oktoberfest ever since! Stafford generously provides his space and professional ovens to do that and I have an outstanding crew of helpers. Each year we bake about 75 strudels using four bushels of apples that need to be peeled and cut into pieces.  The strudel filling is made totally from scratch. From year to year our visitors are looking forward to it.

What do you enjoy most about Oktoberfest?

Oktoberfest brings people and cultures together and it gives a glimpse of the original Oktoberfest in Munich on a very small scale. (six  million people descend on Munich over the course of two weeks.)

At the end of the day, the Schuhplattlers invite the guests onto the stage to dance with them, which is very popular with everyone, especially with the children.

What is your favorite memory of an Oktoberfest?

My favorite memory is when my kids went on stage to dance with the Schuhplatters.  They were too shy so I had to coax them.  But then they had lots of fun.

What do you look forward to this year? 

First, of course, I hope the weather will be on our side.  Then everything will fall into place and a good time will be had by all—Hard Bargain style.

Fergie’s Gardeners Visit Flower Farm

August 23rd, 2012

By Marylee Phelps

Scarborough Farm On August 14 Fergie’s Gardeners visited Scarborough Farm, a cut flower farm in Mechanicsville, Maryland. The seven acre farm is filled with a wonderful variety of flowers and ornamental plants. Even during the heat of this very dry summer, Trumpet Lilies, Lisianthus, Zinnias, Dahlias and Snow on the Mountain were lush and vibrant. Butterflies covered the Harlequin tree and the scent of fresh flowers filled the air.

Kathy York, the enthusiastic, vivacious and creative farmer led us on a tour of the garden, answered our questions and shared insight into the problems and successes of cut flower farming. Scarborough Farm specializes in providing flowers for weddings and special events. Buckets of flowers are also available through their subscription program. Kathy shared with us her creative arrangements which frequently included unusual ornamental plants such as cotton and hops. Buying local is not just about vegetables. Meeting Kathy reminds us that buying direct from a local flower farmer is a greener choice and leaves a lower carbon footprint compared to flowers shipped from South America. Kathy uses pesticides only when absolutely necessary and drip irrigation for efficient use of local water resources.

It was a wonderful adventure to see where all the flowers grow and to meet flower gardener, Kathy. For more information, see Kathy’s website