This time each year, tour buses form unending lines along the road to Mount Vernon as droves of DC tourists swing through Northern Virginia to get a glimpse of our first president's pad.
Lovely as the property is, it's not entirely representative of the era in which it was built. What about the Colonial 99 percent?
Seeing how real folks lived requires a short drive down the GW Parkway from George's house towards Claude Moore Colonial Farm,a small farmstead in McLean, Va. The farm presents a stark contrast from the stately Mount Vernon manor. The land is unkempt and forested; tobacco and flax fields take the place of manicured gardens. Hand hewn fencing keeps pigs in their pens and livestock out of the simple kitchen garden that serves the one room cabin. Costumed interpreters, posing as the Bradley family, bring to life the Fairfax County of 1771.
The farm is open to visitors from April to early December, but the best time to go is during one of its three market fair weekends. According to 18th-century law, counties had to put on two annual fairs at which people could congregate to eat, drink, make merry and sell or shop for wares. These were held in May and October; Claude Moore also holds one in July.
At the fair, surrounded by volunteers and interpreters decked out in colonial garb, visitors are immersed in the world of 1771. Like a retro version of today's farmers' and artisans' markets, the fair is a place to shop from stalls offering handmade furniture, herbal scented soaps, period clothing, plants and pewter wares. It's also a time to mingle over a lunch of crisp-skinned spit-roasted chicken washed down with a beer from the tavern while the kids run off their energy or stare bug-eyed at fire breathers.
During the crowded DC summers, it's hard to argue with getting out of the museums and kicking back for a few hours under a shady oak canopy. And, at $6 per adult and $3 per child ($3 and $2 on non-fair days), it's a bargain.
Leaves me wondering if George ever made an appearance back in the day.
According to Farm Director Anna Eberly, the current market fair tradition started in 1982 because the farm had more skilled volunteers than it could handle. The market fair allowed Claude Moore to utilize people with skills like blacksmithing or pottery making that wouldn't have fit within the farm. Some volunteers even come from places as far away as Arizona to participate.
An auction captivates a colonial and modern-day audience.
Chickens are roasted throughout the day and can elicit quite the line when they come off the spit.
Frying up sausages to eat with bread and cheese.
Food at the fare is hearty and simple and varies with the seasons.
Next to the food stalls, a tavern sells both fortified and kid-friendly ales and ginger ales.
An entertainer waits to perform. Some of the displays include puppet shows, slack line walking and dancing.
A stall selling gentlemen's goods.
A variety of soaps for sale.
Fine colonial clothing
A girl with a drop spindle makes thread.
A pewter artist's wares for sale.
You know this furniture maker by the chair atop his tent
A potter's shop.
A children's play area. Long-term visitors to the area might also check out the <a href="http://1771.org/?page_id=159" target="_hplink">farm skills program for kids</a> for an educational way to occupy the youngsters while the adults go play.
Kids mix herbs and flowers to make their own perfume sachets.
A variety of herbs, vegetables and flowering plants are offered for sale.