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Rezoning the Farm
Changing the zoning for Ferry Farm

Date published: 10/15/2012

ATRIP to Ferry Farm, boyhood home of George Washington, is always a treat, but a bit of the joy is removed by having to ask the question, "Say, where's the house?" The absence of that little detail is on the way to being corrected, to the delight of history buffs and tourism chiefs alike. The journey began last Tuesday, when the Stafford County Planning Commission approved a request to rezone the property. Now it's up to the Board of Supervisors to finish the deal.

That shouldn't be difficult. Half of Ferry Farm's 107-acre tract, stretching along the banks of the Rappahannock River across from Fredericksburg, is zoned agricultural, the other half commercial. The George Washington Foundation, which runs Ferry Farm, is asking that the property be designated a Heritage Interpretation Zoning District, a new category established by the county just to preserve historic sites. The change will allow the GW Foundation to expand its offerings at Ferry Farm, including replicating the Washington home, the foundations of which were delightfully discovered in an archaeological dig in 2008.

Without rezoning, new construction--even a replication of the 18th-century house--might have had to meet current codes. Anyone who has been to Mount Vernon will remember the narrow stairwells and low doors, just as many old homes in the Fredericksburg area are structured differently than we're accustomed to today. Building codes weren't in place in Colonial times; people built what suited them. Among other things, the new zoning designation would allow a freer hand in reproducing what was actually on the property.

The prospect of seeing the modest home of the Washingtons rebuilt is exciting, especially for residents who lived through the Great Battle of Ferry Farm. That skirmish took place not in Colonial times, nor even in the Civil War era, but in 1996 when the land, then in private hands, was about to become the location of a new Walmart. That horrifying prospect was diverted only by a loud outcry (eventually reaching across the nation) from conscientious local citizens and history aficionados. In one notable salvo, Cessie Howell (wife of Virginia Speaker Bill Howell), told an aggressive Wal-Mart lawyer on CNN, "You are going to have to roll over my body before you ever get that property."

Fortunately--we're rather fond of Mrs. Howell--it didn't come to that. Wal-Mart discovered new happiness down the road, the land was preserved, and, lo and behold, in 2008 the foundations of the Washington home were unearthed. Now the GW Foundation (host to the annual Christmas Gingerbread House Exhibition) has visions of sugar plums dancing in its head: rebuilding the house, connecting with the Belmont-Ferry Farm Trail, a new entrance, perhaps a re-creation of the actual ferry crossing, six times the number of visitors, and, most of all, a chance to elevate the public's understanding of what life was like during the Father of Our Country's early years.

All of which are stellar reasons to change the property's zoning. Kudos to the commission. Onward, BoS!