The Taylor Family
Beginning in the mid-1700s the economy of the region that is now Prince William Forest Park began to change dramatically. Tobacco, the plant that was the staple cash crop of Virginia since the beginnings of colonization, had seen a huge decrease in value. This economic downturn of the tobacco trade and the Dumfries area, coupled with the growing population in the region, resulted in a shift away from the plantation structure towards a culture dominated by family farms and subsistence agriculture. These family farms would last until the area was selected by the Resettlement Administration in 1935 as an excellent spot for a Recreational Demonstration Area and the residents of Joplin, Hickory Ridge, and Batestown were relocated. One of the last residents to leave the area, and one of the more well to do families, was the Taylor family, and the remnants of their farm are located in the central area of the park.
Robert and Jennie had nine children from 1900 to 1922. Their names were: Easton, Lucretia, Mamie, James Victor, Helen May, Robert, John Woodrow, and Estelle. All but Estelle lived to adulthood. Most of the children lived and worked on the farm until they were around eighteen years old. At which time they moved to Washington and Alexandria, Virginia in search of work and started families of their own. Neither Robert nor Jennie was highly educated, they might have completed the fifth grade. That is not saying however that they were in anyway unintelligent. Robert’s successes should speak for themselves that he was a thinking man, and Jennie too was said to be able to figure anything.
The children did all go to school, though some stayed in school longer than others. The walk to school was one mile, at the Thornton School. The Thornton School was a one room school-house, with one teacher who taught thirty to thirty-six pupils, grades one through seven. Very few of these children would continue on to high school, indeed it was rare for them to even finish grade school. Of the Taylor children only the youngest, John Woodrow, graduated from high school.
One of Richard Taylor’s prize treasures was his orchard. At one time the orchard consisted of a hundred trees, including; apple, peach, cherry, pear, and plum trees, a number of black walnut, and one white walnut tree. Robert Taylor’s hobby was grafting fruit trees, a hobby at which he appears to have excelled. According to his son, John Woodrow, Robert had five kinds of apple growing on one tree. These apples were used by the Taylors to make some of their favorite beverages. Using the Taylor farm cider mill, the family made and sold sweet cider, hard cider, and vinegar. The children especially loved the sweet cider, which was a favorite treat in the winter time.
The Taylor farm also had a grape arbor. These grapes were used mostly for jams and jellies, but they did make some grape wine, though it was never a favorite drink of the family.
If someone were to walk the Taylor farm today there is one remnant that even the Taylors wish was long gone from the place—wisteria. The wisteria that even now engulfs several parts of the old Taylor farm was brought in by one of Robert Taylor’s daughters, who took it from an old abandoned farm. The Taylors had no idea at the time how it would spread and take over everything, and they soon regretted ever bringing it into their farm.
Making a Living:
The store started off as part of the house and opened in 1925. The Taylors sold necessary items that families could not grow on their own farms. These items included salt, sugar, pepper, long horn cheese, spies, patent medicines, gloves, cross cut saws, files, and axes. Probably one the most important items to the men in the area was tobacco, which was a must for the Taylor family to stock. These items were purchased wholesale from drummers, or salesmen, who frequently passed through the area. The order was then shipped by rail and Robert Taylor would pick it up in Quantico.
Eventually, Robert Taylor built a store separate of the house, a building which was about 24’ x 36’ in size. After the construction of the new store, the Taylors extended their inventory to include blue work shirts and bib overalls. These items of clothing were common clothes for men, especially men working outside on their farms. Also in high demand were feed or flour sacks. The women would use these sacks to make dresses, aprons, and other clothes for themselves and their families.
The Taylor family considered the store to be a great convenience that enabled them to buy everything they needed at a good price. Even though they would never have considered it to be their main source of income it was a place in the area where everyone in the neighborhood would gather to talk and share the news of the day, a gift that in many ways was worth more than any of their merchandise. The young children in particular enjoyed hearing the conversations of their elders, especially when they talked about the “birds and the bees.” But even when the conversation was as humdrum as what crops are being planted, the store still provided a much needed diversion from the hard work and trials of living on a farm.
Another task that was fun, even though it was also work, was picking blackberries. Blackberries grew and in many places still grow, all in the area of the Taylor farm. These blackberries would be used in jams and jellies, and probably pies and other treats as well. One treat that the entire family loved was blackberry wine. This blackberry wine the Taylors drank just like a table wine and it must have tasted really good, especially on a hot summer day. But it must be said that even though the Taylors enjoyed their blackberry wine they did not, as so many people in the area did, drink moonshine liquor. This moonshine became a sort of epidemic in the region in the 1920s and 30s, with many local men making, selling, and drinking moonshine. The Taylors however, did not drink moonshine or smoke and they seldom missed going to church.
The people in the Prince William Forest Park area had no real connection to the world outside of their own lives and farms. Very few people subscribed to newspapers, local or otherwise. The lack of electricity also made it difficult for people to own most radios. John Woodrow, Robert Taylor’s youngest son, purchased the Taylor family’s first radio in 1936. This radio was a Philco battery operated radio. However, even though they were disconnected from the rest of the world, the Taylors and the other farmers in the area were, for the most part, content and happy with their lives.
An End and a Beginning
After the last piece of land was purchased Prince William Forest Park, then Chopawamsic, was created. This was, and is, a place where people can escape the toil and smog of the city, where children can laugh and play among nature, learning and experiencing life as only children can, and giving adults a chance to perhaps reconnect with their own childhood. These are attributes of the park that Robert Taylor would probably have thoroughly embraced.
But, now the Taylor farm is no more, really nothing more than a grassy meadow in the midst of the forest. The trees that Robert Taylor cleared have long since returned to reclaim the fields. However, some remnants remain; an old well, the family cemetery. Most importantly, the story of the Taylor family, a hard working but caring family, still lives on in the hearts of those who now work at the park and those that are fortunate enough to have hiked by their old farm site. The Taylor family story continues to flourish and grow—right along with their wisteria.
The Taylor Farm and Cemetery Today
As many as six graves were noted here at one time, including:
The only remaining headstone is inscribed: Robert A./Taylor/Dec. 20, 1867/Jan. 11, 1937
The taylor farm farm once numbered hundreds of acres. Now only about 50 acres are obvious to the eye, and the remains of many outbuildings, wells, and other improvements. The site retains evidence of extensive agricultural activity, including furrows in an orchard and blackberry bush gardens. The site is heavily grown over with wisteria which, unchecked, will eventually obliterate the concrete foundation entirely.