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Hard Bargain Farm

Friends at the Frog Pond, Alice L.L. Ferguson, ca. 1930s, Oil on panel.
Tired, Alice L.L. Ferguson, ca. 1930s, Oil on panel.

Alice L. L. and Henry G. Ferguson at Hard Bargain Farm introduces Washington, D.C. artist Alice Leczinska Lowe Ferguson, and Hard Bargain Farm, the country place owned by Alice and her husband, Henry Gardiner Ferguson, in Accokeek, Maryland. Alice L. L. Ferguson loved the outdoors and harbored a curiosity, creativity, and independence that today can be experienced through her paintings, her archaeological publications on the Piscataway Indians, and the Ferguson collections of letters, journals, books, and photos on site at her historic hilltop house and gardens overlooking the Potomac River and Mount Vernon.

These works are a window to the interwar years when the Great Depression altered lives, the New Deal brought intellectual energy to Washington, D.C., women challenged the norms of the past and found voice in creative expression, travel, and activism, and wealthy urbanites decamped to country places for recreation. But the story does not end there. The Fergusons left an enduring legacy of conservation and community that today sustains the Mount Vernon view shed and survives in the work of the Alice Ferguson Foundation, which educates a new generation of environmental stewards and preserves the spirit and style of the Fergusons' era at Hard Bargain Farm.

Betsy Reid

Aerial View of Hard Bargain Farm, taken July 15, 1937 at elevation 6,700 Ft., Hand colored back and white photograph from family album.
Aerial View of Hard Bargain Farm, taken July 15, 1937 at elevation 6,700 Ft., Hand colored back and white photograph from family album.
Bathers with Dog at Frog Pond (detail), Alice L.L. Ferguson, ca. 1930, Oil on panel

The young, sophisticated, and progressive couple enjoyed life in the city, but like many city dwellers of their class and economic status, they began looking for a weekend retreat in the country. In 1922, during one of Henry's trips to the West for the Geological Survey, Alice found and bought Hard Bargain Farm. She fell in love with the beautiful sweeping vistas and the glorious view of the Potomac River. For the next thirty years, she managed the farm's growth and development.

Alice always envisioned Hard Bargain Farm as a working farm... but the farm was also a weekend retreat for their friends from the city, known as "the Gang." The Gang would visit, play volleyball, help with chores, and ride horses. Alice was careful not to mention the names of the members of the Gang in her diaries or books, but many of them were prominent citizens including university presidents, scientists, artists, and diplomats.

From "Adventures in Southern Maryland: Alice L. L. Ferguson"

by Mary Lee Phelps

A Summer Volleyball Game. Photograph from family album, ca. 1930s.
Luncheon in Henry and Alice's front yard. Photograph from family album, ca. 1930s.

Excerpts from "Hard Bargain Digs: Uncovering 5,000 Years of Native American History, and the Siege of the Susquehannock Fort"

When Alice bought the "run-down and disreputable" farm known as Hard Bargain in 1922, she had no knowledge... that excavation, study, and publication of her findings would occupy seven years of her life.

Today the Accokeek Creek Site, the designation given to Alice's excavations, is considered one of the main archaeological sites in the Mid-Atlantic Region.

The Piscataways lived in stockaded villages close to a navigable river or stream, bordered by cultivated fields of tobacco, corn, beans, melons, pumpkins, and squash. These villages were grouped into loose confederacies each governed by a single leader called a Tayac. The large, stockaded village [Alice] had excavated revealed a stable population that had lived in the same village on the Potomac for several hundred years.

Interrupted by World War II and poor health, Alice's plan to issue a comprehensive report on her findings was thwarted. However, when she died in 1951, her husband Henry provided funds for the continued study of the more than 71,000 artifacts excavated from the site and for completion of a report.

In 1964, Accokeek Creek site, also known as Moyaone, was identified as a National Historic Landmark, and in 1966 was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, a National Park Service program that recognizes sites for their significance in American history, archaeology, architecture, engineering, or culture, and identifies them as worthy of preservation.

by Rhonda Hanson

Original House. Photograph from family album, ca. 1930s
Winter View of the Potomac River from the Back Yard. Photograph from family album, ca. 1930s.
North Façade Under Construction. Photograph from family album, ca. 1930s.

Alice made the farm the unique and remarkable place it remains to this day. Hard Bargain Farm and her creative work unite as her great achievement and artistic legacy.

"A Hot Day," Alice L.L. Ferguson, 1935, Oil on panel. Henry Ferguson working at his desk on a summer's day.
Fergie on Balustrade. Photograph.
"Portrait of Henry G. Ferguson," Richard Kenah, 1958, Oil on canvas. Kenah was a friend and neighbor of the Fergusons. He worked with the Public Works Art Projects and painted murals at post office buildings in Virginia, Ohio and North Carolina.