The 27.6-acre site on the Potomac River once belonged to George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate.
AHS also plans to revive its popular garden volunteer program and launch a new fundraising campaign to shore up the organization’s finances, preserve River Farm and underwrite a national horticultural program.
“Now, on the eve of our 100th anniversary celebration — and almost 50 years at River Farm — we can rededicate ourselves to this purpose, amplifying our national mission with River Farm as our home base,” the AHS statement said.
Last year’s decision to sell the 27.6-acre property infuriated neighbors, triggered preservation efforts at all levels of Virginia government to save the property, and led attorneys general in Virginia and D.C. — which is where the nonprofit is incorporated — to investigate whether the sale of the charitable asset would be legal.
The drama culminated last week with the sudden resignation of half the AHS board — including board chair Terry Hayes and members Amy Bolton, Bob Murray, Nancy Ross and Cindy Tyler — who had wanted to sell River Farm. The group argued that the 18th-century manor and gardens had become a financial burden that held back its ambitions for national programming and educational efforts. J. Robert Brackman, AHS’s interim director, also departed.
“It was a shock,” said Laura Dowling, an AHS board member who led opposition to the sale.
D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring issued separate statements welcoming the turn of events.
“It’s a positive step that the American Horticultural Society is no longer selling its property and River Farm will remain available to the public just as the donors of the site intended,” a spokeswoman for Racine’s office said.
Dowling said in an interview that AHS will likely pursue talks with Virginia officials about the possibility of obtaining permanent deed restrictions to protect the land and perhaps entering into a partnership with the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NOVA Parks) to maintain the site.
“Now that River Farm’s off the market, we want to work with officials and stakeholders to make sure that this never happens again,” Dowling said. But first, she said, the remaining board members must deal with the consequences of a bitter, costly and at times chaotic internal fight that lasted more than a year.
“I think if there’s a lesson from what happened it’s just how vulnerable some of these priceless assets are,” she said.