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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

River Farm house in 2010
River Farm house in 2010

River Farm (25 acres/10.1 ha), home to the American Horticultural Society (AHS) headquarters, is a historic landscape located at 7931 East Boulevard Drive, Alexandria, Virginia. The estate takes its name from a larger plot of land which formed an outlying part of George Washington's Mount Vernon estate. As discussed below, the farm was put up for sale in September, 2020, pursuant to a multi-phase arrangement by then-AHS Chair Eric Vietenheimer, who first arranged a merger with the American Public Gardens Association, then resigned his AHS position because of an appearance of a conflict of interest due to legal fees charged by his firm.[1]


Map showing River Farm as part of George Washington's Mount Vernon estate
Map showing River Farm as part of George Washington's Mount Vernon estate

The River Farm property was established in 1653–54 by Giles Brent and his wife, Mary Kittamaquund, a princess of the Piscataway tribe. Brent received a grant of 1,800 acres (7.3 km2) named Piscataway Neck. In 1739 his successor George Brent transferred the property to his brother-in-law William Clifton, who renamed the property Clifton's Neck. In 1757 Clifton completed the brick house that now serves as AHS headquarters.

Following financial difficulties, Clifton sold the land to neighbor, founding father George Washington, who obtained the property for £1,210 through a bankruptcy sale in 1760. Washington changed the name of Clifton's Neck to River Farm and leased the property to tenant farmers.

River Farm was passed down through two immediate generations of Washingtons and later sold with 652 acres of Washington's original land to the Snowden brothers of New Jersey. This included the houses known as "Wellington," "Waynewood," and "Collingwood." The property was home to numerous owners including Malcolm Matheson, who bought the property in 1919. Matheson placed the property on the market in 1971 and received an offer from the Soviet Embassy who planned to use the land as a retreat or dacha for its staff.[2][3]

Acquisition by AHS

After Matheson took his land off the market to avoid the Soviet sale and vocal public opposition, Enid Annenberg Haupt, philanthropist, gardener, and member of the AHS Board of Directors took interest in the property. Haupt donated the purchasing funds needed for the property to AHS in the early 1970s, conditioning the purchase that the grounds be kept open to the public.[4] In 1973, AHS relocated its headquarters from the city of Alexandria to nearby River Farm. The property was renamed River Farm in honor of President George Washington, one of the many land owners.

Washington at River Farm

Today's smaller River Farm is located on the northernmost division of Washington's original property. River Farm features the estate house (enlarged and remodeled) with naturalistic and formal garden areas. It still preserves several historical associations with Washington. Its Kentucky coffeetrees are descendants of those first introduced to Virginia upon Washington's return from surveys in the Ohio River Valley. The estate's oldest tree is a large Osage-orange (Maclura pomifera), believed to be the largest in the United States. An old, incorrect, tale claimed it was a gift from Thomas Jefferson to the Washington family, and grown from seedlings of the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804–06.

Horticultural landmark

In 2004, River Farm was designated a Horticultural Landmark by the American Society for Horticultural Science. This recognition was due to the ability to retain its historic character while at the same time showcasing the best and most environmentally responsible gardening practices. Horticultural Landmark features include vistas stretching down to the Potomac River as well as its artful blend of naturalistic and formal gardens that offer year-round delight to visitors of all ages. In addition, there are extensive and creative play areas for children, demonstration gardens for both edible and ornamental plants, a four-acre meadow, and scenic resting places for picnickers, artists, and romantics. Other highlights include two small buildings with planted "living" roofs, one of the largest Osage-orange trees in the nation, an orchard, a grove of rare Franklinia trees, and frequent sightings of bald eagles, bluebirds, foxes, and other wildlife.


River Farm is located at 7931 East Boulevard Drive, Alexandria, Virginia. River Farm's gardens are open to the public year-round Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., excluding national holidays. Due to the Covid epidemic, it has not resumed its summertime Saturday hours, and closed its buildings (including restrooms) to the public.[5] River Farm is closed on national holidays. Admission is free (except for special events), but donations are appreciated to help support the stewardship of River Farm. The AHS Garden Shop is open Tuesdays through Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.


The farm's gardens include:

Development controversy

Developers continued to express interest in the property over the decades. On September 4, 2020, AHS announced that it was putting the property up for sale because of concerns over the organization's long-term viability. The real estate listing estimated the property's value as between $15 and $30 million, and prompted expressions of concern by both AHS members and community members, particularly as options such as a merger or sale with the National Park Service or state or local parks organizations had not been explored. Concerns were also expressed about the lack of transparency, as no signs concerning the sale are visible on the property. In late June, the AHS board had voted to merge with the American Public Gardens Association at the urging of its Chair, Eric Vietenheimer (also a lawyer at Cooley LLP), and Vice Chair Mary Pat Matheson (of the Atlanta Botanic Garden), both of whom resigned from AHS shortly after the public real estate listing.[6] Cooley LLP had been overseeing the merger between AHS and APGA, under which AHS would cease to exist and the proceeds from the sale would become an endowment for the APGA.[7] Vietenheimer's successor as Board Chair, Terry Hayes, directed all communication through Kornet Marketing Communications, a public relations firm now representing AHS.[8] State senators Scott Surovell and Adam Ebbin, as well as U.S. Senator Mark Warner and Congressmen Don Beyer all hoped for a solution which would keep River Farm open to the public.[9]

See also

External links

  1. ^ Cody Mello-Klein, "For sale: River Farm", Alexandria Times, vol. 16, no. 38, pp. 1, 8-9, hence "For sale"
  2. ^ AHS website.
  3. ^ For sale, p. 9
  4. ^ For sale, p. 9
  5. ^ sign on property
  6. ^ For Sale pp. 8-9
  7. ^ For Sale, p. 9
  8. ^ For sale, p. 9
  9. ^ For sale, p. 9
This page was last edited on 22 September 2020, at 22:15
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