We sometimes get this question: why is Arcadia Farm headquartered on such a fancy site, Woodlawn-Pope-Leighey?
The short answer: Woodlawn has been home to people and organizations dedicated to progressing social justice since 1846 – and Arcadia is proud to continue that tradition.
Here’s the long answer: Woodlawn used to be part of Mount Vernon (it was called Dogue Run Farm back then). George Washington gave 2,000 acres to his granddaughter Nelly as a wedding present, and she had the mansion built on the hill around 1805. They called it Woodlawn Plantation because of all the trees.
And Woodlawn, like most of the rest of the South, was a slave plantation. We know from property records there were 90 enslaved people on the property and 10 paid laborers.
But they could never grow enough to food to feed everyone who lived there. The land had been exhausted by tobacco decades before. So the family put the plantation up for sale in 1840.
The mansion sat unoccupied for six years. Finally, in 1846, there was a buyer – a Pennsylvania timber company looking for old growth wood to build massive Clipper ships.
The timber merchants were Quakers and, significantly, abolitionists. And they had a plan. After taking the trees they wanted, they established Woodlawn as a farming community with one goal: to prove to the rest of the South that you didn’t need slave labor to have a profitable farm. They did this 20 years before the Civil War, and just eight miles south of one of the largest slave trade firms in the South, Franklin and Armistead on Duke Street in Alexandria.
They sold farm plots to other Quakers, to Irish and German immigrants, and to free African-American families. They established an integrated school in the mansion and an integrated militia to protect the town. For the first time in the history of the property, Woodlawn made a profit as a farm – without slavery.
When Arcadia Farm was established in 2010, we didn’t know this history. It was just a cool place to grow food that was close to the people we wanted to serve. But as we’ve learned more, we’ve been struck by the thread of food, agriculture, and social justice that ties us to the property. The courageous townspeople of Woodlawn – Black and White, native-born and immigrant – used the food system to help bring about racial equality. And Arcadia is now working to bring equality back to the food system, on the same land as those visionaries.
We encourage you to visit Woodlawn and Pope-Leighey whenever you have a chance. In addition to the tours of the historic homes, Woodlawn hosts special events and activities throughout the year. There are two upcoming opportunities in July.
Woodlawn was once home to a famous turn-of-the-century playwright (and member of the Woodlawn Farmers Club) Paul Kester. On July 12, that theater tradition continues! Enjoy a live theater presentation of the classic “Casablanca” by the Picnic Theater outside under the stars! You can bring a picnic or buy food onsite. Learn more and buy your tickets HERE.