I’m currently reading, “A Richer Heritage: Historic Preservation in the Twenty-First Century" a collection of essays edited by Robert E. Stipe. Wish I were finished with it, so I could fully understand the situation facing Collingwood, an historic riverside estate about halfway between Alexandria and Mount Vernon.
Since 1978, the Collingwood mansion has been home to the headquarters for the National Sojourners, and the Collingwood Library and Museum on Americanism. Their impressive collections include 4,500 books, writings of George Washington, a 19,000-volume microfiche set of the History of American Civilization and artifacts with a patriotic theme.
As reported by Michael Pope (WAMU) and Cheryl Kenny (Mount Vernon Patch), the foundation that operates the museum is in debt. The colonial-style mansion and adjacent American Legacy Center, built as a revenue maker, are on the market.
When I heard Pope’s report, I drew a blank. Collingwood?
Why have I never heard about it? We live a short drive away and always have our eyes and ears on places like that.
Playing catch up, the better half and I paid a visit this week. Quizzing a staff member, we learned one huge challenge for the Foundation is they are not allowed no place a sign on the GW Parkway (That partly explains why we had not heard of it before).
Not surprisingly, the Collingwood story starts with Washington. After the French and Indian War, he married Martha Dandridge Custis and settled into a life of planting and politics at Mount Vernon. The Virginia squire purchased the Collingwood (not yet known by that name) property in 1760, and used it as one of his five farms. Washington built a two-room farmhouse for Samuel Johnson, his overseer who cut timber and raised crops. Along with his wife Hannah, he ran the ferry over to Maryland, which was a vital link for the Williamsburg to Philadelphia route.
In 1859, Stacey H. Snowden purchased the estate and enlarged it. Snowden was the name of one of the stops for the Mount Vernon-Washington electric streetcar, which began operation from Alexandria to Mount Vernon in 1892. (Completed to Washington in 1896).
Fast forwarding to the middle of the 20th Century, a restaurant known as, “Collingwood on the Potomac” moved in its fine dining tables and became a popular spot along the new George Washington Memorial Parkway. A binder in the foyer displays photos and ephemera from its heyday.
In the late 70s, the National Sojourners, a patriotic fraternal organization made up of officers and senior non-commissioned officers, purchased and restored the property, and set up the library and museum. The first floor is filled with volumes with a presidential and military theme.
Upstairs, a variety of artifacts also touch on these themes. When I saw the chemical warfare masks, I was taken back to my days in the Air Force. At Bentwaters England, I ran the section that issued out all that equipment. I also spotted a patch from the Military Airlift Command, known as "Mac." I wore that one when I was stationed at Pope.
The museum and library are open to the public at the hours indicated on their website. Admission is free, but given what we now know, a generous contribution would be most appreciated.
8301 East Boulevard Drive
Note: The address is Alexandria, but the location is Fairfax County.