Oatlands’ Board member, volunteer and enthusiastic supporter Doug Miller contributed this piece! Thank you Doug!
The Harvest Festival at Oatlands on Sunday, October 22 provided many reminders of what a vibrant and productive farm Oatlands used to be. Visitors could tour the mansion if they chose, but the focus was clearly outside, on a picture-perfect day custom-made to show off rolling hills and brilliant shades of red, orange, and yellow.
Instead of the mansion, the Carter Barn was the star. As the new signage around the barn pointed out, the use of expensive brick and the evidence of skilled labor in the sophisticated design elements of the bank barn highlighted George Carter’s emphasis on agriculture. When you consider how Loudoun County generally in those days was on the leading edge of agricultural science and techniques, it’s clear Carter was playing to win.
The new signage also provided an important reminder that up until the Civil War settled the matter, the work on the Carter Farm was done by enslaved African-Americans. There is much to learn about them, and more stories to tell about their experience. Research into the African-American experience at Oatlands is a focus for 2013.
Recently, some of the floorboards of the bank barn were replaced, after careful preservation work to ensure authenticity. Thanks to this work, it was possible to walk into the barn and learn more about how it was used. It’s a reminder that the preservation work at Oatlands is ongoing.
The milking barn tacked on to the end of the brick barn, probably 75-100 years later, is evidence of the ongoing agricultural activity and the way it evolved over time.
It was great to visit booths from the Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum and the Aldie Preservation Society. I saw a couple very little girls all glittery after decorating some pumpkins at another booth, and kids could also learn to do crafts from 150-200 years ago.
It was Day Two of the Loudoun County Farm Tour, and no doubt the farm tour and the presence of Ayrshire Farms at the event attracted visitors. On both ends of the hayride route, lines formed for a ride in a wagon pulled by beautiful horses remarkably graceful for their size, furnished by Ayrshire Farm. The presence of Ayrshire Farm, providing some delicious food, highlights the latest theme in local agriculture – the celebration of fresh and local ingredients. And there is nothing like local wines like Fabbioli to remind visitors how optimal Loudoun is for growing quality grapes.
There was also focus on the “festival” part of Harvest Festival. Turn-of-the-century dancers and Chanticleers added fun and a festive air by the carriage house and the front steps of the mansion. The Southern Wind band generated a crowded dance floor, and after line dance lessons it looked like many of the dancers really knew how to “get down at the hoedown.”
Everywhere I looked, people were finding their own ways to appreciate Oatlands. I saw people sitting on benches in the garden, contemplating a rosebush, walking with their small children across the lawn or in the garden, or sitting in the sun and gazing off into the pastoral distance. To me, this is what sets Oatlands apart. There are so many ways to enjoy it, as a social experience with friends, family, or a partner, or solo. There is history, agriculture, gardening and botanical wonders, a panoply of ways to be entertained, educated, and leave with a memorable experience.
The team at Oatlands put on a great event this weekend, and now I’m really looking forward to the holiday season, another magical time at Oatlands.