Celebrating NPS: Harvesting Tobacco

Yesterday, to celebrate the National Park Service’s 100th Birthday, I pulled up the NPS website and told the kids to pick a park to visit. Living near Washington, D.C. as we do, there are many national parks within an easy drive. After some debate (they had a friend over, so there was a split vote), they chose Claude Moore Colonial Farm.

Side note of disambiguation: This is not the same as Claude Moore Park, which I often visit and about which I often post, and where my mother was manager for many years. Dr. Moore was quite the philanthropist and many places are named after him. Claude Moore Colonial Farm is a living history museum located in McLean, VA, and is the only privately funded and operated National Park. The Colonial Farm is open Wednesday-Sunday, April-December and has costumed historical interpreters and animals including pigs, sheep, turkeys, chickens, and cows. They host several special events throughout the year, including the popular Market Days. Claude Moore Park in Sterling is a Loudoun Country Park which had nature trails, picnic pavilions, ball fields, a Farm Museum, a community center and a recreation center with indoor pool. It also has several historic buildings including Lanesville and Frogshackle, both of which were residences of Dr. Moore. These buildings are open on select occasions, such as the 4th of July and Ordinary Times.

The kids packed their own lunches and we headed off to McLean, where we picnicked before entering the farm. After I reassured the six-year-old that we would not be Going on a Hike, the kids happily set off to explore.


Wooden Gate

Tobacco Barn


Inside the House

House Window

There was a lot of Silly/Fancy Conversation among the big girls about how they needed bonnets, dahling and what were those modern things I was carrying. I tried calling my water bottle a flask and telling them my maxi dress was a shift but they didn’t believe me.

Petting the Chicken

Farmer David helped Henry to overcome his fear of chickens, and then kindly taught all the kids how to help with the tobacco harvest.

First Farmer David cut the tobacco and the kids checked it for tobacco worms. Then he sliced each stem and threaded it onto a pole, and the kids hung it on racks outside to dry.

Putting Tobacco on Sticks

Cutting Tobacco

Hanging Tobacco

Eventually the poles were hung in the barn.

Hanging Tobacco in the Barn

When these new 4th graders begin Virginia studies, they’ll have had firsthand experience with the work involved in harvesting this traditional cash crop. And they had so much fun helping that they didn’t want to leave!

I should note that Farmer David was extremely patient in answering many, many questions, such as whether he thought modern people were weird and whether he thought shorts were scandalous and where he really slept because he was an actor and did not actually sleep in the loft.

Looking for Cows

As you may have gathered from reading this blog, I’m a big fan of small parks. And while there is obviously a lot of value in large parks too, there is much joy and education to be found in a small place a short drive from home, where the kids get to engage one-on-one with an interpreter and spend a lot of time trying out tasks. On this visit, we only ran into two other families. Granted, school is about to start and many families were probably busy with those activities yesterday-that’s where we went when we left the farm-but still, other than market days, I’ve never found the place crowded. This was a great day’s outing enjoyed by a variety of ages.

Exit Sign


About rbpepper

Rebecca is an artist, writer, and photographer with degrees in Theater and Social Work, and is currently a Stay at Home Mom to her three kids. Some part of her house is always a mess, she lets her kids paint on the table and design their own costumes, and she makes excellent allergen-free cookies. She lives with her equally creative husband and children in a part of Virginia known for being "pretty close to Dulles Airport", and dreams of moving to an old farmhouse in New England.
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3 Responses to Celebrating NPS: Harvesting Tobacco

  1. Susan Jones says:

    Thank you for sharing this story. When my mother-in-law taught 4th grade in Fairfax County, she would take the students to Claude Moore Park and then to Mount Vernon to compare and contrast the lives of farmers with the lives of plantation owners. Unlike Claude Moore Park, Mount Vernon is often crowded. I guess that many people are more interested in the rich and famous. I am glad that you are interested in the richness of the small, beautiful, everyday life.


    • rbpepper says:

      Thank you, Susan! Your mother-in-law sounds like a great teacher. I wonder how many more of these “hidden gems” exist in Northern VA? I’ve lived here for over 30 years and I’m still discovering them!

      • Susan Jones says:

        Have you been to Sully Plantation on Rt 28 in Chantilly? Or George Washington Grist Mill Historic State Park (I worked there when I was in High School). Did you know that the Girl Scouts can put a wreath on George Washington’s grave in February at Mount Vernon and they can earn a special pin for completing some activities? (perfect for a 4th grade scout troop).

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