History is history, wherever you find it—and one of Loudoun’s leading historians, Lori Kimball, has recently moved from documenting the lives and work of the enslaved black community at Oatlands Plantation to promoting the county’s rich agricultural history at the Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum.
After almost eight years at Oatlands, Kimball is in her third week as executive director at the Sterling museum.
The museum’s job search garnered 40 applicants from across the country.
This week, Board Chairwoman Marty Potts said, “We were very glad she accepted the job. She knows the ins and outs of the county.”
Kimball’s knowledge of the county comes at an opportune time for the 12-person board of directors, as it prepares to release a five-year strategic plan that envisions increased activity and exposure for the museum, Potts said.
As she moves into her new position, Kimball is enjoying the lively interactive presentation at the museum, which seeks to entertain and educate all ages.
Visitors leave appreciative comments—such as “it’s a little gem,” or “it’s small but it packs a lot of punch,” and while it’s a big hit with kids, adults comment on how much they have learned as well. One visitor said that part of the museum’s success is that the county’s rural history is “told in such a dynamic way.”
The museum was founded in 2003 as part of a public-private partnership, in an effort spearheaded by former County Extension Agent Bill Harrison and the late Su Webb to preserve the history of Loudoun’s agricultural history dating back to the early 1700s.
At the time, Harrison said he was bothered that, particularly in the growing and populous eastern end of the county, children were growing up thinking a cow was only something to be seen on the side of a milk carton.
Today, the museum sees its job as ensuring that is not the case. In fact, “Milkie the Cow” is one of the most popular attractions for young visitors. While her udders hold not milk, but water, every child gets the message.
The museum offers classes for area school students, special events, and permanent and other exhibits as well as a display of antique tractors, and antique horse tack.
In the reincarnated Waxpool General Store inside the museum, kids can take a wire basket, fill it with plastic veggies and fruits and then take them into Grandma’s “kitchen,” where one particular young visitor likes to come back frequently to make “tomato soup.” Another likes to “whisk” the batter. If they’re not “cooking,” they can ride toy tractors and horses—and even push a button to simulate a horse riding in a race, or show a horse being groomed.
There’s also a one-room school, known now as “Miss Su’s” (Webb) Schoolhouse.
“It’s very interactive, and that delights me,” Kimball said. It’s fun for young visitors, whose imaginations are rarely in question, and their elders learn a lot too. Special events, such as that on Sept. 28, will feature apple pressings and hands-on activities, including an old-fashioned cake walk.
For Kimball, the museum’s focus on agriculture dovetails nicely with her previous work at Oatlands, where she established an extensive database of names of enslaved agricultural workers both there and at other Carter family properties.
“We’re talking about people who reallyknewthe land—where the streams were, where the springs were, that would provide water for the land,” she said. “They knew the land they worked on in a way the Carters did not.”
And that’s what links the 19thcentury agricultural workers at Oatlands to today’s farmers. Agriculture in Loudoun wears a different face than it did 70 years ago, but farmers, growers and owners of today’s smaller land plots know their land. And that’s the focus of the museum board today—to show the sweep of history from the 1730s to the present.
Gone are the large dairy farms of yore. Rather, “we feature grapes, hops, apple orchards, honey, eggs, poultry, lamb, beef and sheep,” Kimball said.
The new strategic plan will evolve in stages over five years. It aims to link the historic agriculture prevalent in the county’s beginnings to modern agriculture—contrasting the now-and-then economies—such as how much would a loaf of bread that cost one penny 100 years ago, cost in today’s money.
Where once corn, wheat, and orchard grass were staples, Potts is enthusiastic about the outreach to new crops, including vegetables, honey and cheese, and agricultural businesses, such as wineries, and agricultural-tourism—which draws sizeable crowds to the countryside.
She’s excited about the addition of fiber arts in the agricultural economy, noting the Oct. 18-Nov. 16 show sponsored by the Waterford Quilters, in which quilts will be brought to the museum.
Potts also notes more women are running farms, there’s a strong heritage aspect to farming today, and technology and marketing savvy are making the job of running an agribusiness easier.
A well-known teacher at Loudoun Valley High School, Potts retired in January. She joined the museum board in 2008, and is a member of the Hillsboro branch of the Potts farming family.