Vegetation had completely overtaken the home, and trees devoured what was once a breathtaking, nearly panoramic view of the Rappahannock River.
That was the condition of the former Little Falls Farm nearly two months ago, when members of the Patawomeck tribe took possession of the property to begin preparing the home and the grounds to become the tribe’s new cultural center, museum and living history tribal museum.
“The first thing we had to do was get things manageable so we could walk the grounds,” said Patawomeck tribal member Minnie Lightner. “There were paths to everything. Seeing it now and seeing it before, you wouldn’t believe it.”
County officials turned over the 17-acre farm to the Patawomeck tribe in August under a 10-year, $1-per-year lease agreement. The tribe can renew the lease in 10-year increments up to four times.
The Patawomeck settled in Stafford in the early 1300s. Today, there are more than 2,300 descendants of the tribe, 70 percent of whom reside in Stafford’s White Oak area.
Chief Emeritus John Lightner said tribe members began looking into Little Falls Farm for their headquarters almost five years ago. He credits Stafford Supervisors Tom Coen and Meg Bohmke for helping to make the tribe’s dream become reality.
“It’s just been a long ongoing process, but we never gave up,” he said.
“We finally have a place where we’ll have everything that the tribe owns in one spot,” said Minnie Lightner.
Businessman Duff McDuff Green Jr. donated both the farm off State Route 3 and the adjacent park that bears his name to Stafford. Green, who died in 2009, owned and operated J.W. Masters Inc., a Fredericksburg lumber company, for nearly 35 years.
Green’s farm included his 3,000-square-foot brick home and several other buildings surrounded by wide open fields with premium access to the river.
The tribe will eventually use the home as its museum and cultural center, filling it with tribal artifacts and memorabilia. A massive cleanup is underway, with tribal members tackling the easiest projects first.
“On the inside, we’re at the point where we’re just cleaning,” said Lightner. “The porches will be painted, and a couple of rooms we can scrape and paint.”
There is also some interior water damage, as well as a handful of electrical and plumbing issues to eventually address.
Following the completion of the first-floor restoration, volunteers will turn their attention to the exterior village, then to providing parking for cars and tour buses.
“Our plan is to have county schools come to us instead of them making the trip to Jamestown,” said Lightner.
Lightner said there will be a pavilion where students can enjoy lunch after a tour of the village, which will depict what primitive life was like in Stafford more than 500 years ago. At different stations throughout the village, visitors will witness tribal members tanning hides and making rope, fishnets, canoes, arrowheads, bows, baskets and pottery.
“So many times, we go into museums and tell children they can’t touch, and I understand that, but my vision for our village is hands-on,” said Twila Bourne Bradley, a tribal member who is volunteering at the farm.
Although the tribe hopes to fully open the museum and cultural center to the public in late 2020, the village is expected to be ready sooner.
“The village will be very similar to Jamestown, but on a larger scale,” said Lightner. “It will show the way our ancestors would have lived.”
The grounds will also eventually feature trees and shrubbery indigenous to the region during the Colonial era.
“We’re putting in native gardens with native plants,” said Lightner. “Volunteer master gardeners could assist us by helping with that.”
Tribal members will tackle the third-floor attic spaces last, as well as eventually develop larger parking areas on the property.
Although tribal volunteers have been doing the majority of the work at the property so far, John Lightner said help from the community is always welcome.
“We can always use cash donations, but we also need help from electricians, plumbers, bricklayers and other tradespeople,” he said.
On some of the larger interior projects, the tribe is hoping for financial assistance.
“We’ve applied for three grants,” said Minnie Lightener. “One for a handicapped ramp into the house, another to do the inside first-floor museum, and a third for a handicapped-accessible bathroom.”
Interested volunteers may contact Minnie Lightner at 540/842-0501, or by email at Cowboy_John1@msn.com.