Meghan O’Connor of the National Trust for Historic Preservation recently reported “only 8% of sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places embody underrepresented communities, including women.”[i]
Women, however, are approximately half the nation’s population. Further, they have historically been integral in promoting preservation of historic sites at the national level as well as state and local levels.
American women have historically asked questions about their role, their “place,” in American society as well as American history. We would do well to also ask with increasing vigor about women’s “place” in preservation and at historic sites. These are the most noticeable, nonverbal cues about our cultural values and legacy that we can offer to our population.
And so, in the spirit of introducing one woman’s “place” in preservation, I ask: What do former Ohio Congresswoman Frances Payne Bolton and our first President George Washington have in common besides public service in national politics?
Answer: They both valued the natural landscape across the Potomac River from the piazza of Washington’s home, Mount Vernon. And Frances Payne Bolton felt it was her “place” to do something about its preservation.
Bolton served as Ohio Vice Regent of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association (MVLA) since 1938, noting “it has been an inspiration and an education to share responsibility for the preservation and administration of this national shrine.” [ii]
In 1955, when rumors of development along the Potomac River threatened the historic viewshed and environmental legacy of Mount Vernon, Frances Payne Bolton quickly purchased almost 500 acres of the valuable farmland for preservation.[iii]
Over the next two years, Bolton founded and then served until 1977 as board president for the Accokeek Foundation, a non-profit organization she formed to protect the natural resources from development while also preserving the view Washington had so valued. She donated the farmland she had purchased to Accokeek, making this one of the nation’s first land trusts.[iv]
Under Bolton’s administration, the Accokeek Foundation created an outdoor living history museum, National Colonial Farm, to interpret a 1775 middle-class tobacco farm, complete with colonial structures, heritage breed livestock, fields, and gardens. This preserved farm is still in operation within Piscataway National Park.[v]
Piscataway was created in 1961 as part of a continuing initiative to preserve natural resources, as well as the view, across from Mount Vernon. Spearheaded by the Accokeek Foundation under Bolton’s leadership, this was a “new kind of national park that includes private property by design, which preserves the public’s interest and private owners’ rights at the same time.”[vi]
And so Bolton’s preservation legacy continues.
Today Piscataway National Park encompasses over 4600 acres on six miles of Maryland shoreline along the Potomac River with wetlands, nature trails, historic sites, and fishing piers.
Today, the Accokeek Foundation has expanded its mission “to cultivate passion for the natural and cultural heritage of Piscataway Park and commitment to stewardship and sustainability.” [vii] In addition to the National Colonial Farm, the foundation’s organic Ecosystem Farm emphasizes the future of agriculture and the sustainable use of natural resources. A generous bequest in Bolton’s will continues as the core of the Accokeek Foundation financial portfolio.[viii]
And today George Washington’s Mount Vernon is thriving.
We celebrate Frances Payne Bolton for many reasons, most notably her distinction as the first woman from Ohio to serve in the U.S. Congress as well as her philanthropy in and legislative support of nursing, health, and education. She has an important and inspiring place in preservation as well.
How is her commitment to preserving our national heritage physically represented on our landscape?
There is a bronze plaque at Piscataway National Park and a first person interpretation at the National Colonial Farm. Beyond that, Mount Vernon, the Accokeek Foundation with it’s National Colonial Farm, and Piscataway National Park serve as silent testimonials.
There is an Ohio Historical Marker located at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. This is where I first discovered the tantalizing line “An early conservationist, she masterminded the plan to preserve the view from Mount Vernon, the historic birthplace of George Washington” that provoked this little investigation.[ix]
Further, the Bolton House on Richmond Road in Lyndhurst still stands, restored and used by the Cleveland Clinic. This Colonial Revival structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. The remainder of the wooded estate, Franchester Place, was not preserved and a portion of the acreage is now occupied by Legacy Village.
Online presence plays an important role in increasing awareness of women’s contributions but the places we pass by everyday have their own stories and a role to play as well in consistently and nonverbally reminding us. If we can increase the visibility of women’s contributions on our physical landscape, we will inspire increasing contributions for the future about a “woman’s place.”
Like to know more about Frances Payne Bolton?
Encyclopedia of Cleveland History at http://ech.case.edu/cgi/article.pl?id=BFP
O’Connor, Meghan, “One-Half the People, One-Half the History: The National women’s Hall of Fame and its Quest to Preserve Women’s History,” National Trust for Historic Preservation at http://blog.preservationnation.org/2015/03/16/one-half-the-people-one-half-the-history-the-national-womens-hall-of-fame-and-its-quest-to-preserve-womens-history/#.VQoSwMYgFSo
Speech by Frances Payne Bolton, Mount Vernon Staff Reports and Articles at http://cdm16829.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/p16829coll4/id/32
Like to see what’s going on to increase awareness of women’s history?
National Women’s Hall of Fame at http://www.greatwomen.org
National Women’s History Museum at http://www.greatwomen.org
National Women’s History Project at http://www.nwhp.org
[i] O’Connor, Meghan. “One-Half the People, One-Half the History: The National Women’s Hall of Fame and Its Quest to Preserve Women’s History.” PreservationNation Blog. March 16, 2015. Accessed March 20, 2015. http://blog.preservationnation.org/2015/03/16/one-half-the-people-one-half-the-history-the-national-womens-hall-of-fame-and-its-quest-to-preserve-womens-history/#.VQoSwMYgFSo.
[ii] Bolton, Frances. “Speech by Frances P. Bolton Vice Regent for Ohio. Mount Vernon Staff Reports and Articles.” Mount Vernon. Accessed March 16, 2015. http://cdm16829.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/p16829coll4/id/32.
[iii] “Saving the Viewshed.” George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Accessed March 20, 2015. http://www.mountvernon.org/…/save…view/history-saving-the-viewshed/.
[iv] “Bolton.” Accokeek Foundation. Accessed March 20, 2015. http://accokeekfoundation.org/?s=bolton.
[vi] “Bolton.” Accokeek Foundation. Accessed March 20, 2015. http://accokeekfoundation.org/?s=bolton.
[viii] “Planned Giving.” Accokeek Foundation. Accessed March 20, 2015. http://accokeekfoundation.org/support/planned-giving/.
[ix] “Marker #40-18 Frances Payne Bolton.” Remarkable Ohio. Accessed March 20, 2015. http://www.remarkableohio.org/HistoricalMarker.aspx?historicalMarkerId=718.