River Farm, located on 27.57 acres at 7931 East Boulevard Drive in Mount Vernon, VA, is considered a local institution in the Mount Vernon District that is full of history, heritage, and natural beauty. First built in 1757 and named “Clifton’s Neck”, then acquired in 1760 by George Washington as the northernmost farm of the five farms his family owned, it has gone through many different owners and many different names throughout its history. Of note, in 1971 the owner, Mr. Matheson, decided to sell his home, and the Soviet Embassy offered to buy the property for use as a retreat for its staff. In the Cold War, many across the world objected to the thought of George Washington’s farm becoming the possession of the Soviet Union. As a result, Congress and the State Department asked Mr. Matheson to withdraw the property from the market.
Among those concerned by the potential sale was Enid Annenberg Haupt, philanthropist, gardener, and on the Board of Directors of the American Horticultural Society (AHS). Through her exceeding generosity, the Society was able to purchase the 27 acres agreeing to keep the property open to the public. In honor of George Washington, one of our nation’s first great gardeners and horticulturists, the property was again named River Farm. In 1973, AHS moved its headquarters from the City of Alexandria to River Farm. First Lady Pat Nixon joined Mrs. Haupt at the dedication of the property and together planted a ceremonial dogwood tree in the garden.
AHS has long sought to make River Farm a living representation of its principles and organizational vision of raising awareness about and fostering sustainable, earth-friendly gardening and horticultural practices. Thus, we were greatly shocked and saddened by the news on September 4, 2020 that the AHS Board of Directors intended to sell the River Farm property.
I have been coordinating and leading our local efforts among federal, state and local elected officials and our federal, regional and county park leaders from the moment the AHS Board shocked us all with their decision. The attached letter expresses our desire to partner with the AHS Board, for them to slow down this process and give us time to come up with solutions that allow River Farm to remain publicly accessible and not be sold to a private developer.
We believe we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to preserve a piece of our nation and county history, but first we must collect all the information needed about the preservation process, timeline, and legal implications to ensure sound long-term decisions.
THEREFORE, we request that the Board of Supervisors direct the Department of Planning & Development Heritage Resources Staff to analyze and gather information to create an expedited Historic Overlay District for River Farm. We further direct Heritage Resources staff to assemble and provide all this information and deliver it no later than 3 weeks from today’s date. County staff has advised us that they have already started this process and the deadline is feasible.