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Feature Story

Learning About Sustainability Down on the Farm

Katherine "KC" York, '11 Dual Anthropology & History Major

Editor's Note: Last spring, 13 Longwood students and Dr. Jim Jordan, professor of anthropology, took a journey in time of nearly 3,000 years into the past to learn how life has changed on the Northern Neck. The title of the course was "ANTH/ SOCL295 Special Topics. Sustainability: 3,000 Years of Humans and their Environment on the Northern Neck of Virginia." The following diary presents a personal perspective on this course and was written by Katherine "KC" York, from Haymarket, Va., who is pursuing a dual-major in anthropology and history and plansto graduate in 2011. - D.S.

The class in the field as photographed by KC York

The class "in the field" as photographed by KC York are from the back row: Billy Robinson, Dave Herschen, Collin Riley, Dr. Jim Jordan, Alex Dalton; front frow: Bobby Anderson, Crystal Guerrant, Tim Marsh, Tia Bradford, Carrie Mosby, David Fletcher, Casey Cate, and Meghan Tureski.

Day 1, May 11: Introduction

We stopped three times on our way to Hull Springs Farm, twice to pick up students and the last time to get all the groceries we might need for the first half of the week. On the way Dr. Jordan entertained us by explaining the importance of historic places we passed. After arriving at the farm we met Eddie the groundskeeper and went on a short tour of the house and the grounds around the house.

KC YorkBobbie Burton (executive director of Hull Springs Farm) stopped by to welcome us to Hull Springs Farm. After introductions, we started class and were given a map of Virginia so we could orient ourselves to our location.Dr. Jordan then gave us a map of the Historic Northern Neck of Virginia. This map's legend showed towns, post offices, historic sites, and places of interest. 

Dr. Jordan explained that each day would have its own theme:

Day 1: Prehistoric Native Americans - The Indians
Day 2: The World of the Colonists
Day 3: How Water Has Molded Virginia
Day 4: Farmers - Old Ones and New Ones
Day 5: Tourism - The New Light on The Northern Neck

Prehistoric Native Americans

After our lecture we took a walk to learn more about the prehistoric inhabitants of Hull Springs Farm. Over 8,000 years ago, much land on the Northern Neck was inhabited by archaic tribes of hunters and gatherers. They were followed by Woodland Indians who began to farm the land, growing corn and other crops. The Longwood University Archaeology Field School has conducted digs at Hull Springs Farm and found evidence of prehistoric artifacts including projectile points and tools in one location. Prehistoric Indians, even during the Woodland period, did not disturb the soil more than 18 inches deep.

Today, some of the land continues to be farmed in a corn-soybean rotation through lease agreements with local farmers. Traditional farming methods are practiced and the land cannot be plowed, only raked.

Our tour included an introduction to the historic Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcate) next to the Big House. The tree, which dates to 1595, was nominated to "Remarkable Trees of Virginia," by Dr. Carolyn Wells, former Longwood professor. The tree was being threatened by erosion to the adjacent shoreline, but a shoreline erosion control project under way should ensure its future (see Day 3). Near the tree, we saw three depressions in the ground. Dr. Jordan explained that there were made by hogsheads (large barrels) that would be rolled to the shoreline and onto boats.

After this in-depth tour of Hull Springs Farm, Dr. Jordan drove us to the Coan River, which was a main waterway for American Indians. Rivers were highways for these Native Americans. You will find the same sort of pottery on both sides of the river because the land was inhabited by the same tribe. Colonists, however, used waterways as boundaries so it was unlikely to see the same people living on both sides of the river. 

Day 2, May 12: The World of the Colonists

nomini hallI woke up at 5:30 a.m. and the sun had just started to rise. I got up, showered, and then I went outside and did Bible study. It was perfect. We had breakfast and at 8 a.m. Dr. Jordan got everyone together and went over the agenda for today. Our focus: Colonial History in Virginia, specifically the Northern Neck. 

We began with a visit to Glebe House, the oldest structure on the Northern Neck. The house was built for the rector of Glebe Parish and records date it as early as 1717. The house features Flemish Bond masonry that indicates the church had wealth. It was visited by George Washington on May 25, 1771.

Then we moved on to Nomini Hall, built around 1729 and home to the famous Carter family for 11 generations. The remains of the original plantation house, destroyed in 1850 when a log rolled out of the fireplace, overlook the Potomac River and Nomini Creek and once encompassed over 2,000 acres. We also visited the nearby family cemetery. Dr. Jordan has conducted extensive research at Nomini Hall with Longwood Honors students.

Dr. Jordan explained the importance of the Free and Accepted Masons in Colonial times. The Masons were a powerful group that held secret meetings in lodges that had no windows on the ground floor. Their influence on both commerce and architecture is most evident in port cities and towns. The "G" on their seal stands for "Geometry" not "God."

Back at the farm, my classmates, Collin and Billy, made chicken and salad for dinner. After dinner we went down to Witch Point where Mary Farley Ames Lee's sister lived.

It was very dark and scary. Dave snuck down there and ended up frightening us all. It was really funny. After that we went back to the house where some students had started a campfire. We roasted marshmallows and made s'mores. 

Day 3, May 13: How Water Has Molded Virginia

I woke up again at 5:30 a.m. and went jogging. It felt really nice.

After breakfast, we started class at 8:15 a.m. Dr. Jordan went over some historic documents from Westmoreland County. Then we went to the shoreline project where classmates Collin and Alex told us about the project they will be working on later this summer. 

Shoreline Erosion Control Project

Longwood University secured a $40,500 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation) to assess how living shoreline techniques could be utilized to control erosion, while also preserving or restoring shoreline habitat that supports shorebirds, juvenile fish, tidal marsh, submerged aquatic vegetation, and other plant and wildlife species. 

oyster shells

Collin and Alex will be involved in the research on this project and their focus is protecting that historic Southern Red Oak. Marsh grasses were planted in front of the oak to protect it and to encourage more fish, crabs and other creatures to live there. Collin and Alex will be researching the success of the grass planting.

Later in the day we went canoeing. I rode with Alex and Collin and we paddled down Glebe Creek. Then we took the Machodoc Creek to a small sand island. Then it was back to the house for lunch and onto a bus for some local sightseeing.

Reedville Fishermen's Museum

The Reedville Fishermen's Museum is dedicated to preserving the heritage of the maritime history of the lower Chesapeake Bay area and the watermen who have plied their trade here for hundreds of years. The industry and culture in Reedville is built around menhaden fishing-a small fish that is used in pet food and oil capsules. The menhaden are in danger of being over-fished and it has been suggested that fishermen focus on fishing grounds in the ocean, rather than the bay, which would result in catching more mature fish and sustaining the fish population.

After dinner, we went back to our home at Hull Springs Farm where we made a fire and watched shooting stars out on the boat dock. I stayed up until 2 a.m. watching the stars.

Day 4, May 14: Farmers - Old Ones and New Ones

Bobby Anderson studying the shorelineCasey Cate studying the shorelineI woke up at 6:15 a.m. This morning I downloaded all my pictures for this journal to my computer. After breakfast, Dr. Jordan showed us a slide show on erosion. 

We learned how the 1930 Dust Bowl had an impact across the nation, blowing away a whole horizon of topsoil and draining the land of nutrients. We also learned there are two kinds of soil erosion: colluvial (caused by water) and alluvial (caused by wind).

After the slideshow we went to the pond at Hull Springs Farm and discussed its possible future. Many departments at Longwood have debated what would be best for the pond and the jury is still out. 

Then we went to the eagle's nest. We were covered in ticks by the time we left and unfortunately we weren't able to see the eagles. But we've always got the ospreys at the Farm.

When we got back, Carrie and Meghan gave their presentations. Carrie's topic: The Little Ice Age; Meghan's topic: The Sharps Marshes - the Largest Marshesin Virginia.

The Farmer's Museum

After lunch and the presentations we went to the Farmer's Museum in Heathsville and learned how the land was farmed from Colonial times to present. The Museum is a popular educational site and tours address the Virginia Standards of Learning. 

When we got back to the house we started making dinner, Hobo Packs, and cleaned the house. (It desperately needed to be cleaned - there were ants everywhere!!!) After dinner Collin and I went canoeing back to the island. It was really fun; he brought his fishing pole and he caught a lot of rockfish. (I even caught one!!) When it started getting dark we headed back to camp. 

Day 5, May 15: Tourism - The New Lighton the Northern Neck

Tia Bradford, Casey Cate and Meghan Tureski taking field notesI woke up at 5:30 this morning. After breakfast, Collin and I went canoeing. It was really cool because we saw three otters on our way back. There were two in the water and one on the bank. They each had a piece of snake in their mouth. As Collin and I came in, Dr. Jordan sang to us - the Cat Stevens' song, "Morning has Broken." It was great. 

Today is our last day of the course and our focus is on tourism. We first went to Stratford Hall where we learned about the Lees of Virginia. In 1717, Thomas Lee purchased the land for Stratford Hall Plantation and, during the period of 1730-1738, built the brick Georgian Great House, which would become the birthplace of Robert E. Lee. Beginning with the purchase of the Stratford Hall property in 1929, the Robert E. Lee Memorial Association maintains the U.S. National Historic Landmark as a popular educational destination.

From Stratford Hall it was on to Westmoreland State Park, one of the first state parks created under President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. By 1946 every state had a state park. We went hiking and ate lunch at the beach where we later hunted for prehistoric shark's teeth. We found some and Dr. Jordan said they were from the Miocene epoch. 

After playing on the beach for a while we went to the Washington Family burial ground. George Washington was not buried here, but many of his family members were. 

We had tacos for dinner and then we sat around the fire and talked. I went to bed at 3 a.m. Tomorrow we go back to Longwood.


KC York out on the road at the farmAfter a journey of over 790 miles in distance, and 3,000 years in time - from the earliest Native American Indians to the most recent tourist, we were sorry to see our course come to an end. We wrote our final examination and turned in our field journals. On that last night at Hull Springs Farm, Dr. Jordan said, "It is good from time to time, that we pause to reflect that we, today, are not the first or only people to love this beautiful place and to take joy from it. The Indians who lived here, the Colonists 400 years ago, all those who earned their livelihood from the rivers and creeks, the ancient farmers and the modern ones, the 'come here' tourists and summer people, and now we Longwood scholars have all called this place home. Surely the spirits of all these people are still here on the Northern Neck."