Excavations & Artifacts Offer Clues into Ash Grove’s History

The Ash Grove Historic Site located in Vienna, Va. is the historic core of a property that was owned and inhabited by prominent members of the Fairfax family in the 18th and 19th century. The brick kitchen at Ash Grove is one of the few examples of a slave dwelling (a building formerly inhabited by enslaved Africans or African Americans) that remains in Fairfax County.  

Ash Grove kitchen south elevation

Today we think of kitchens as spaces for chopping, boiling, baking, roasting and frying. While these same activities have taken place in American kitchens for centuries, historic kitchens like the one at Ash Grove were often more than just workspaces for preparing meals and storing food; they were homes to the enslaved workers who kept them running.

It was very common on 18th and 19th-century plantations for enslaved laborers to live in the same building where they worked. This was especially true of kitchens, where duties such as tending the hearth and preparing multiple meals a day required attention around the clock. For enslaved cooks, this meant that the kitchen where they labored from early morning until late in the evening was the same space where they slept at night, stored their belongings, and spent time with their families. The Ash Grove kitchen features a one-room half-story with a fireplace above the main working area where an enslaved cook, and perhaps their family, rested and spent what little down time they were allowed.

Ash Grove kitchen interior section facing east

Enslaved cooks played a critical role in the plantation community, supplying food for the plantation owners, their guests, and often some portion of the enslaved community. Among Virginia’s gentry, food was an important status symbol. Status was displayed and reflected in the types of food and dishes hosts could offer their guests. Highly skilled enslaved cooks were a much sought-after commodity and their talents were well documented, some even gaining national and international recognition.

While the documentary record concerning the identity and experiences of the enslaved at Ash Grove is sparse and fragmentary, it does provide some clues about the former inhabitants of the Ash Grove kitchen. A deed of trust entered into the Fairfax County records in 1834 reveals that a cook named John, his wife Charlotte, and their seven-month-old daughter, Rebecca, were among the enslaved held in bondage on the property by the Fairfax family. It is likely that John, and possibly his family lived in the single-room half-story above the Ash Grove kitchen. Unfortunately, researchers have not found further mention of John in the written record.

Fairfax County Deed Book B3 page 288

Fairfax County archaeologists hope to learn more about the kitchen at Ash Grove and its former residents through archaeological research. Analysis of artifacts recovered from recent excavations at Ash Grove is currently underway. These artifacts could provide further information about the everyday lives and experiences of the enslaved African Americans who lived and labored at the Ash Grove kitchen.    

Fairfax County archaeologists excavating along the north elevation of the Ash Grove kitchen

Ash Grove Historic Site is located at 8881 Ashgrove House Lane in Vienna, Va. 

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About Fairfax County Park Authority

About Fairfax County Park Authority HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 13 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2016. Today, the Park Authority has 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land. We offer 325 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park system is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: • Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist • Eight golf courses from par-3 to championship level, four driving ranges including the new state-of-the-art heated, covered range at Burke Lake Golf Center • Five nature and visitor centers. Also nine Off-Leash Dog Activity areas • Three lakefront parks including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter • Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel, as well as Chessie’s Big Backyard and a carousel at the Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park • An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter • Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s-era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel • Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent • A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly • A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale • Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community • Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center • Provides 263 athletic fields, including 39 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 417 school athletic fields. PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/news2/social-hub/ for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

1 thought on “Excavations & Artifacts Offer Clues into Ash Grove’s History

  1. Centreville Painters

    This is awesome! I love to hear about history in Fairfax County. It’s crazy how kitchens were used in a completely different manner as they are today. Today kitchen can be thought of as the center of your home. Families usually hang out, eat snacks, talk about their day, even host parties all from their kitchens! It’s amazing to think!

    Reply

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