FAIRFAX COUNTY, VIRGINIA —
On the outskirts of Washington, there's a place where it seems time has stopped. Claude Moore Colonial Farm is a U.S. national park in McLean, Virginia, which recreates and reenacts life on a tenant farm around the year 1771. The vast majority of Virginians at that time were tenant farmers, who grew tobacco to pay their rent and buy food.
When you visit the Claude Moore Colonial Farm, you step back almost two and a half centuries, to a time when this part of America was under British Rule.
Life was governed by the rhythms of agriculture. People worked from dusk to dawn - and in the colony of Virginia, spent much of their time growing tobacco.
The U.S. Park Service created the farm just before the 1976 U.S. Bicentennial celebration. But facilities manager Jon David Engle says it’s now privately operated - unlike any other national park in the country.
“In 1980 the park administration decided that they could not keep the park going and the people who worked here and the group of the volunteers who loved the place so much got to get with the local congressman and worked out an arrangement with the Park Service," said Engle.
The park staff and volunteers portray the Bradleys, who represent one of the families who actually lived in this part of Virginia back in the 18th century.
They gather in the morning to get ready, change into period clothes and start their day.
Everyone has an assigned task. The women go to the kitchen garden where they plant crops for the coming season.
"Right now my girls are working in the kitchen garden. We got Martha the eldest and Sally the youngest. They are planting the fall crops. So things like peas, spinach and lettuce, all sorts of greens, radishes, cabbage that sort of things we are planting right now," said Heather Bodin.
Heather Bodin portrays farm wife "Lydia." She says the farm offers a unique experience for visitors, especially for kids.
"One of my favorite stories was the young man - little boy - who realized for the first time that the chicken that you eat comes from the animal chicken. He had only seen chicken in the packets in the grocery stores. He realized there's a moment where there's a light bulb off his head and you could see him saying chicken is chicken," she said.
The family gathers around the old wooden table for lunch and then Richard Bradley and the children head back to the tobacco field. He pays the landlord in tobacco - about 230 Kilos a year - to lease the land.
"I must pay 500 pounds [227 kg] of tobacco to my landlord and that’s not a percentage and that’s a set amount 500 pounds. So, if I grow 600 pounds [272 kg], I only have a hundred pounds for me, if I grow 1100 pounds [500 kg], I’ve 600 pounds left over. So, that would be a good year and I could buy my wife any dress and so forth but tobacco must be inspected, it must be weighed, it’s very strictly controlled," said Bradley.
Twenty-first century visitors can experience the 18th century for a few hours, or get a real taste of everyday Colonial life by spending a weekend with the Bradleys. The Claude Moore Farm brings American history alive for hundreds of visitors each year.