One of our favorite weekend excursions is to Green Spring Farm in Annandale, only a half-hour from downtown Washington.
Operated by the Fairfax County Council of the Arts and the County Park Authority, the beautiful if modest brick Queen Anne manor house was built by gentleman farmer John Moss in about 1760.
Neither house nor farm was in a league with the great Tidewater plantations, but a larger proportion of the land was planted. The Moss family had about 540 acres in corn, wheat, and oats, and produced beef, bacon, lard, wool, soap and honey.
The successful operation of the farm in the early 19th century depended on its proximity to Little River Turnpike, which led to the Alexandria markets. The private highway was one of the first major links between the Port of Alexandria and the interior.
The Mosses left Green Spring in 1843. The farm changed hands several times and declined as transportation to the more fertile farms farther west grew and as the economy of Virginia was disrupted by the Civil War and Reconstruction.
During the Civil War a young lieutenant of Moseby's Raiders, Fountain Beattie, first saw Green Spring while riding with the "Gray Ghost." Beattie and his wife Annie bought the remaining 339 acres in 1878, and ran the farm as a dairy.
New highways made it possible for its products to be sold in Georgetown, Washington and Baltimore as well as Alexandria. Beattie also operated a licensed distillery and made brandies at the farm.
Eventually hard times returned. In 1931 Minnie Whitesell bought the remaining 31 acres, with the spring house, various outbuildings and the proud manor house all in ruins. She renovated and modernized.
In 1942, Michael Straight, editor of The New Republic, bought Green Spring. In 1970, then deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, he donated the house and 16 acres to the Park Authority, which has made it an art park.
The second floor of the manor house is given over to offices, but the ground floor, neither restored nor furnished to period, always hosts an art exhibit. A craft exhibit is on display through May. It is open only from noon to 4 on weekdays, but the park itself is open during all daylight hours.
Behind the house are lovely gardens designed by Beatrix Ferrand, a Straight family friend who is famous for creating the gardens at Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown.
Farther along, you go down a few steps and across a footbridge over the runoff from the old spring, which feeds two ponds. It is a great place for the kids to see wild waterfowl in a natural setting.
TO GET THERE: Take I-395) south to Route 236 west. After a mile or so turn right on Green Spring Road.