Below the BeltwayCommunity NewsLetter to the Editor

River Farm For Sale: What Would George Washington Think?

This Letter to the Editor was submitted by Katherine Tobin on September 7, 2020–Labor Day.

ALEXANDRIA, VA- Last Friday I was horrified to learn that the Board of Directors of the American Horticultural Society decided to put River Farm where it is headquartered up for sale.  Our family is a member of the American Horticultural Society and we live nearby.

River Farm is a national, historic treasure.  George Washington purchased the land in 1760.  The American Horticultural Society’s headquarters has been there since 1973.  As most of you know the grounds of River Farm provide a magnificent pastoral view, not just for members, but also for the public at large.

George Washington would be proud of Enid Annenberg Haupt’s decision in 1971, as a philanthropist, gardener and member of the Board of Directors of the American Horticultural Society (AHS) because through her leadership and generosity, the (AHS) purchased the 27 acres of River Farm, “agreeing to keep the property open for the enjoyment of the American people.” In fact, she did so in honor of George Washington, one of our nation’s first great gardeners and horticulturists.

When we moved here eight years ago from out of state, River Farm was one of the most attractive features.  Annually we have enjoyed the spring plant sale and our home gardens are testimony to that.  Near daily walks with our dogs delight us. We along with so many others savor sight of the flourishing meadow, the eagle and osprey nests and on occasion the free-roaming deer.  The delightful shop with books and garden-themed products has been a fun place to find birthday gifts or a holiday gift.  Family and visitors join us on walks about the garden.  That’s just our story.  Living nearby, I’ve observed that thousands of others relish time there for never-to-be forgotten weddings, a fun car show, summer camp and school field trips for kids to learn about nature, and a host of delightful social events under the stars and overlooking the River.  Surely George Washington who cherished this land would wish for the public to continue to benefit from this glorious site.

Putting this the land owned once by George Washington up for sale to make way for what is likely to be another McMansion and enrichment for a realtor is simply not the way to proceed.  Money is not all that matters.  Neglecting the public good and not engaging AHS members in whatever the issue was triggering the idea of a sale is negligent.

So, dear neighbors, think about what River Farm and the American Horticultural Society mean to you.  Take a walk by there this week and remind yourself of how River Farm supports our community.  Then join in.  Stand up.  On behalf of the community and in respect for its notable history, let’s act.

Write your U.S. Senators, U.S. Representatives, your state legislators, and your Fairfax County leaders.  I’m confident George Washington would want you and our political leaders to protect and share this splendid farmland and the valuable public offerings it provides.

In closing, I can’t think of a better way to describe the American Horticultural Society’s importance than what is written in their 2018 tax returns.  They say the organization:

maintains, opens to the public, and enhances River Farm, the Society’s 25-acre Headquarters, which was one of five Virginia properties originally owned by George Washington.  A site of regional, national horticultural and historic significance, River Farm is open to visitors and serves as a venue for educational programs, botanically themes exhibits, civic meetings and special events.”

The current Board of Directors, we suddenly learn, no longer believes in River Farm’s significance.  It is therefore incumbent on us all to prevent this sale and insure that River Farm remains a cherished place for public viewing and enjoyment for many years to come.




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  1. I am appalled. River Farm is already a locally known treasure. If more people were aware of its existence and significance, it would most assuredly be a nationally recognized treasure as well. It is a sacrilege that the Board of Directors of the American Horticultural Society is planning to sell this property. It also would seem to be in direct opposition to the intent of the agreement when purchased from the previous owner, Enid Annenberg Haupt. This plan to sell the property must be stopped at all costs.

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