Tag Archives: Menokin

The Wilder Side of Menokin

“There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.” – Aldo Leopold

GUEST BLOGGER: Maeve Charlesworth

Menokin is most recognized for its cultural and historic significance. What many people don’t know, however, is that this historic landmark is nestled within a pristine natural setting with so much to offer. The trails and kayak launch allow you to explore the property and experience the natural heritage in addition to its rich cultural heritage. And, the site is dog-friendly!

Connecting with this wild side of Menokin allows for a better understanding of what the site’s original owners witnessed on a daily basis.

On a morning in late June, my fiancé Joey and I, along with our beagle, Gypsy,  took one of our monthly birding trips to Menokin. As we entered the gate, Joey and I rolled down the windows to listen. Across the field and echoing from the trees beside us rang out the songs of Ovenbirds, Hooded Warblers, Yellow-throated Vireos, and Eastern Bluebirds. Up ahead over the trees we saw Turkey Vultures riding the thermals, getting their day off to a start.

At 9am, it was already warm, but nonetheless a beautiful day. We slowly made our way down the gravel road towards the visitor’s center, and on the way we saw a pair of Eastern Bluebirds taking food into the nest box behind the Menokin sign.

Juvenile Eastern Bluebird

We also heard the distinctive “bob-WHITE” call of a male Northern Quail bouncing off the trees from across the wheat field. Eager to hear what else was at Menokin today, we hurried to park the van.

At that point in June, bird migration was over, but that didn’t mean the birds that breed here were a disappointment! Our goal for the visit was to document as many confirmed breeders as we could.

Joey and I are active volunteers in the 2nd Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas. (More information can be found at http://amjv.org/vabba/the-atlas/). The Eastern Bluebirds were our first confirmation for the day. Carrying food into a cavity or nest box indicates there’s either an incubating female or chicks inside!

Right away we found our second confirmed breeder: Barn Swallows! Several nests were tucked up under the eaves of the building, and many swallows were seen and heard chittering over the cornfields as they swam through the air gulping bugs to bring back to their young. As we made our way past the office toward the tree line by the Remembrance Structure, Brown Thrashers, Chipping Sparrows, White-eyed Vireos, and Indigo Buntings sang from the small trees and corn. Once we hit the woods edge, we saw flashes of coral flying out over the corn as both Scarlet and Summer Tanagers were fly-catching insects in the sun.

Scarlet Tanager

As we made our way toward the overflow grass parking lot, we stopped to take in the change of landscape. We were about to enter old, mature hardwoods that stretch all the way down to Cat Point Creek. We heard Wood Thrushes, Eastern Wood-pewees, and Hooded Warblers down the gravel road.

A pair of Northern Cardinals was acting very strange; they moved around frequently, constantly vocalizing, and we heard what sounded like recently fledged young. We watched and waited, but unfortunately the vegetation was just too thick for us to know for sure. So on we went into the canopy of the towering hardwoods, on either side of us two male Hooded Warblers battling out the boundaries of their territories with their voracious songs.

On the edge of the road was a large patch of our native Spicebush shrubs, host plant of the Spicebush Swallowtail. We look for signs of munched on leaves, and rolled up leaves where caterpillars like to hide. We couldn’t find any, but maybe next time. 

Farther down the road we stopped at our favorite bench to just listen. Red-eyed vireos flitted amongst leave above us, a ruby-throated hummingbird whizzed by our heads, and in the road was a female Eastern Box Turtle.

Eastern Box Turtle

Females are differentiated by their brown eye, rather than the red eye of the male. We started the descent toward the creek, and above us sang Yellow-throated Warblers, Acadian Flycatchers, and

Eastern Wood PeeWee

Ovenbirds. When we reached the fork in the trail we stopped at thesecondbench for another listen. CarolinaChickadees chattered in the trees beside us, and way up in the canopy were Tufted Titmice flitting around erratically, accompanied by what we thought were fledglings, judging by the noises they made. Another confirmed breeder? Unfortunately they stayed too high to see and moved on from our location.

As we made our way toward the kayak launch, something hopped under Gypsy’s paws. What appeared to be a young Fowler’s Toad was in the middle of the trail measuring only about half an inch in size. We came across a few more on our way towards the water.

Fowlers Toad

Right at the parking lot we stopped to observe what could potentially be our native Turk’s Cap Lily! It was about 6 feet tall and the flower buds were still green; everything about it indicated that may be what we found. Neither of us have ever seen one outside a garden setting, so we made a mental note to plan our next visit to see it in bloom, to know for sure what species of lily we found.

On the edge of the water I heard what sounded like baby birds crying. We sat and waited patiently (Gypsy not so much), and soon enough a Chipping Sparrow appeared in a nearby tree with a mouth full of food. It looked around, checking for any threats, and flew into the pine tree when it felt the coast was clear. The begging babies got very loud, then suddenly silenced, and the adult left. Chipping Sparrow: confirmed!

Along the water’s edge we look to see what flowers we recognize. Swamp Milkweed, a host for the Monarch Butterfly, is growing in a small patch. No signs of caterpillars here. We need to make sure to check again in the fall when they’re migrating back through. A few young Pickerelweed plants are also sprouting. Hopefully next spring they will be mature enough to bloom their beautiful purple flower spikes. There’s only one way to find out for sure!

Gypsy and I head back up the road and take the trail that follows the creek. A nice hedgerow of Sweet Pepperbush lines the trail, and soon enough it will be blooming. A wide variety of pollinators love to visit this shrub. After meeting back up with Joey at the bench, he tells me he heard the loud rattling call of a Belted Kingfisher around the trees. We make our way up the hill and I catch movement in the huge Spicebush patch low to the ground. We stop, wait, and finally see movement again. It’s a Hooded Warbler – but not just one. Fledgling-type noises are coming from a few feet away. We watch and wait for about five minutes when we are finally rewarded with seeing not one, but two Hooded Warbler fledglings! It’s so exciting, especially because many birds are deceived by nest parasites like Brown-headed Cowbirds that lay their eggs in the nest of others. We had already seen several pairs of them flying around so we had to make sure.

Overall it has been a wonderful and successful birding trip to Menokin. There’s something about visiting that takes you back in time, aside from the historic structure. The natural heritage of the area is evident through the birds, animals, and plants that inhabit the fields, woods, and creek surrounding the home. Our native flora and fauna have been doing the same thing year after year long before the house was even built; breeding, raising young, blooming, bearing fruit. It’s important to step back and realize that there is more history to this place than the house alone. History is more than important dates, artifacts, and stories told from one generation to another. It’s seeing nature doing what it’s designed to do before we came along. We are lucky that a unique location like Menokin has so much to offer.

For a full list of the birds we observed and heard, follow this link: https://ebird.org/atlasva/view/checklist/S57534881

Menokin’s recreated slave dwelling wins award for architectural excellence

  • This article is copied in full from the Free Lance-Star
  • The Remembrance Structure, an outdoor classroom on the grounds of the Menokin Foundation near Warsaw, has won an AIA Virginia 2018 Award for Excellence in Architecture.

    AIA Virginia is a member of the Society of the American Institute of Architects. Its Awards for Excellence in Architecture honor Virginia architects’ works that are no older than seven years, contribute to the built environment, and are clear examples of thoughtful, engaging design.

    Architect Reid Freeman based what was originally called the Ghost Structure on archaeology, 18th-century timber framing techniques, and examples of similar slave dwellings in the region that still survive. The framework is covered only by a transparent fabric that diffuses shade. At night, solar-powered lighting creates a paper lantern effect.

    A crew of professionals, students and volunteers built the simple structure during a five-day workshop last May. It sits directly over its footprint of the late 18th-century slave dwelling that it re-creates.

    Besides serving as a classroom, the Remembrance Structure is intended to be a memorial to the enslaved workers who worked on Menokin plantation for Francis Lightfoot Lee, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The Menokin Foundation’s African American Advisory Work Group recently renamed the building the Remembrance Structure in honor of the enslaved people who built the original and lived there.

    This year’s Awards for Excellence in Architecture included two Honor Awards, 13 Merit Awards and one Honorable Mention. Award categories include Architecture, Contextual Design, Residential Design, Interior Design and Historic Preservation. Freeman’s design was one of two Contextual Merit Award recipients. The other was Stemann I Pease Architecture’s design for the Historic Farmstead at the American Revolution Museum in Yorktown.

    The awards for contextual design are chosen based on outstanding architecture that perceptibly reflects the history, culture, and physical environment of the place in which it stands and that, in turn, contributes to the function, beauty and meaning of its larger context.

    Bostwick House: A Preservation Adventure With Historicorp

    By Alice French: Education and Outreach Coordinator

    The Bostwick House is a beautiful building located in Bladensburg, MD, built in 1746, by a merchant named Christopher Lowndes. Historicorps currently has crews working on it through October to restore the front porch which had been added on to the house in the early 20th century. As a volunteer for a week, my crew worked on removing old paint from the columns and balustrades.

    Previously, a tree had fallen in a big storm, and damaged the corner of the front porch. The storm also damaged a structure which was built as a buttress to the chimney. We needed to get the columns and balustrades scraped, sanded and primed. Some masonry work needed to happen supporting the underside of the porch, and the floorboards and fascia would eventually be tackled as well. Ginny and I began with the scraping work. Sue assisted Mike with some carpentry.

    One by one, a column was removed and replaced with a temporary supportive prop. It is hard hand-work scraping paint all day. We had to get suited up in these white Tyvek coveralls to protect us from the paint, along with respirator masks, gloves, boots and a hard hat! Quite the fashion statement. Lunch was served at noon, where we would break for a half hour, remove all of our gear, wash up and eat. It’s really a nice thing that Historicorps serves ALL of our meals- breakfast, lunch and dinner. At 4 o’clock we began clean-up and ended each day by 4:30.

    This is my first Historicorps project. Apparently, being provided housing in a building (as opposed to a tent), having indoor plumbing and showering facilities, and a full kitchen are pure luxury compared to most projects! I had no complaints. Also being so close to an urban area, there were plenty of opportunities to go out and eat as well.

    A lot of research has been done on the families who lived at Bostwick, and some of the people who worked here. They have an excellent website where you can find all sorts of documentation and resources to learn more: https://bostwickhouse.weebly.com. Coming from my job as an educator at Menokin (www.menokin.org), I am very interested in process, how things are made and who makes them.

    From the website I learned, Lowndes imported slaves and sold them in Bladensburg and at the Severn River in Annapolis. He employed indentured servants, convict servants, and enslaved people on his properties and in his businesses. Lowndes enslaved people to work at his shipyard, his ropewalk, the store, at Bostwick House, and at his farms on the outskirts of town. He also posted numerous advertisements in the Maryland Gazette reporting of runaway slaves, “some having stolen items from his store or other businesses.”

    I don’t know whether he ever reclaimed his runaway property. Christopher Lowndes was clearly a very wealthy merchant, but with all of his runaways, I imagine he wasn’t the nicest guy to work for. Also, most of the runaways he reported had specific skills such as stonemason, bricklayer, carpenter, plasterer, sailor, shoemaker, rope maker and miller. I am sure they also built this house. One of the special things about doing restoration work is to see and touch the details carved out by the human efforts of these individuals. Evidence of these craftsmen’s skills can be found in details throughout the house and outbuildings.

    A later addition to the house was a buttress built to support the 3 story chimney on one end of the house. Stories are rumored that the chamber built inside the buttress was used to house enslaved individuals as punishment.

    Documentation doesn’t list where enslaved people lived. They likely lived wherever they worked. “In another advertisement in the Maryland Gazette dated 1760, Christopher Lowndes offers for sale a 480-acre tract of land known as “Good Luck” located five miles from Bladensburg. The land has excellent soil, timber, “a dwelling house, buildings proper for Negroes and two large tobacco barns” (Van Horn 1996:112).” Apparently a dwelling house is not the same as a proper Negro house. Lowndes’ wife Elizabeth, manumitted two of her slaves, Philip Sullivan and Arabella Payne, after her death.

    Participating in restoration work and understanding the making of a building is why historic preservation projects are so important. The surrounding community was happy to see work being made on this landmark building. The loss of this place, is a loss of understanding of all of the people who left their marks here. The education and support from preservation organizations involved in this project such as Maryland Heritage Area Authority, Town of Bladensburg Maryland, University of Maryland, George A. & Carmel D. Aman Memorial Trust and Architecture Planning & Preservation are vital to preserving the history of all Americans who built this country. I thoroughly recommend going to the Historicorps website historicorps.com to volunteer for a project or make a contribution.

    Bostwick site plan, Kees deMooy 2007, from website, https://bostwickhouse.weebly.com/uploads/2/3/3/8/23385276/bostwick_plan_kdm_2007.jpg

    Summer’s Sour Secret: Sumac

    I often stop along the lane into Menokin to take pictures when a flash of color catches my eye. Such was the case earlier this week when a cluster of red berries I’d been noticing were finally too beautiful to pass by.

    Now, here are the confessional and teaching moments of the story wrapped neatly in a bow.

    Confession: I wasn’t sure what they were. I suspected sumac but fell into the immediate trap of thinking sumac=poison. But what kind of poison exactly. Rash? “Eat me and die” poison? Or was it sumac at all? Was it the insidious invasive, tree of heaven?

    Teaching Moment: Obviously it was not safe for me to be out of doors with my sketchy knowledge of what was or wasn’t sumac. And I did touch one berry so it was crucial to figure this out straight away before symptoms started appearing. So I fired up Google and went to work.

    What I learned was this:

    • It was sumac. Staghorn Sumac to be precise.
    • I wasn’t going to die.
    • I wasn’t even going to itch.
    • As a matter of fact, people all over the world use this very same berry as a spice, a medicine and to make lemonade.

    The Farmers Almanac did the best job explaining the whole wonderful story so follow this link if you’d like to learn more.

    Now, if I could just figure out what kind of bug this is that I saw crawling along the stem…

    This little guy was so tiny, about the size of one of the grass seeds on the plant.

    “INTERN”Pretations: A Summer Job at Menokin

    Haiku by Erin McClain

    Went down to the creek
    Brought our paddles and kayak
    Stepped over small frogs

    “Watch out for Beavers!”
    Moonlit water splashed my boat
    The mozzies were out


    Reflection by Silas French

    It may be a surprising thing to hear about any job as an intern, but working at Menokin is like a dream job. Our sort of “official” job is handling kayak rentals, but since it hasn’t become well known in the community yet, we have hours of extra time to spend on odd-jobs and projects. That could be something that sounds like busy work, like organizing closets and weed whacking, but even those have been fun.

    There is so much to explore in Menokin’s current stage of development: I’ve found cool, old slides of the house, and they even have a copy of the original architectural plans for the house!

    There are plenty of other things that need to get done though. Our biggest project this summer has been cataloging the many different plant and animal species on the property and on Cat Point Creek. We’ve photographed and identified over 60 already, and that’s not even including all of the species we’ll surely find in the creek.

    One species we found stood out to me: Queen Anne’s Lace, or (as I discovered) Wild Carrot, is an elegant white flower with a small, but supposedly delicious, carroty root. However, any aspiring foragers should be wary of its look-alike, Poison Sumac, which can be deadly if eaten. When looking for wild carrot, it is important to note the distinct carroty smell of its root (which Poison Sumac lacks).

    (c) 2016, Leslie Rennolds

    Menokin is a beautiful place to explore, and the trails are peaceful and far-removed from the busy background noise of civilization. Rolling roads wind downhill by the Rolling Road Trail, scenic views of the creek are dotted along the Picnic Table Trail, and ancient-looking trees tower overhead on the House Trail.

    Cat Point Creek is always fun to go kayaking along, and I go out there frequently to refresh the Visitor Center’s marsh bouquet.

    At the time of my writing this, I’m sitting inside the Ghost Structure to keep out of the rain. It was built using the labor-intensive techniques that were used in the days of Menokin’s construction, and it has a look that compliments the glass house idea. When it’s not a rain shelter for me, it’s used as Menokin’s outdoor classroom.

    (c) 2018, Silas French

    Another benefit of working at Menokin is that it’s the coolest old house anyone will find out here (but that goes without saying). Even though they haven’t begun building the glass structure, the ruins (and the rest of the property) are full of archeological discoveries waiting to be found. This project is already drawing in an international audience of architects, archeologists, and educators, which may be surprising until you think: Who wouldn’t want to work on a glass house on the frontier of historical preservation?

    (c) 2018, Silas French


    (c) 2018, Selfie by Silas French and Erin McClain

    Silas French and Erin McClain have made the most of their time at Menokin this summer.

    Both are 2018 graduates of the Chesapeake Bay Governor’s School for Marine and Environmental Science. Silas will be attending VCU in the fall and Erin is heading off to William and Mary.

    These two have been a great asset to Menokin. We wish them luck as they begin their college experience.

    Kayaks Ready to Rent

    It’s hot outside! And Menokin is the cool place to be kayaking out on Cat Point Creek!

    Our friends at USF&W loaned us their trailer to get all the new boats down to the creek. Silas, one of our summer interns, painted the rack and set up all of the boats. He’ll be ready to teach you how to paddle and assist your launch. Be sure to bring a hat and sunblock.

    Now it’s easy to learn how or just come explore. Free lessons are available Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10-12pm, just call or email Alice at 333-1776, afrench@menokin.org to reserve a boat. Come meet our new ACA trained kayak instructors Silas and Erin.

    Already know how to paddle a boat? Menokin has rentals available now, too! Sit-on-top singles rent for $10/2hours; or paddle together and save in a tandem (two-person) kayak for $15/2hours. Rentals are available Tuesday through Saturday, 10am until 6pm, and include a US Coast Guard certified life jacket, paddle, and kayak.

    Got your own paddle boat or board? You can come out anytime until 7pm, every day of the week and use our launch free of charge.  Menokin is a Chesapeake Bay Gateway and also part of the Captain John Smith National Historic Trail. You can access the flat water of Cat Point Creek from our soft landing.  After your adventure, take a minute to add notes about your adventure in the waterproof log book we keep nailed to the tree.

    Download our printable paddle guide. Happy paddling!

    Learning and Lounging on Cat Point Creek

    Dr. Duane Sanders, River Program Coordinator, Biology Instructor

    Students from St. Margaret’s School Outdoor Adventure program spent three afternoons in May kayaking on Cat Point Creek at the Menokin Plantation. Students learned about wildlife supported by this ecosystem and how the system can change over time. They also relaxed and had some fun!