View from the AHS
With Gratitude to Our Members and Donors
WHAT A PLEASURE it was for several of us to return to River Farm the other day to see the vast expanses of water and sky, trees, and meadows aglow in full autumn splendor. As we stood on the bluffs overlooking the Potomac River, we were struck by the quiet solitude and overwhelming beauty of this special place, along with its profound historical, cultural, and natural significance.
For so many of us, River Farm is a historic jewel and national treasure, a beloved property that has inspired generations of Americans who value its importance both as a symbolic link to our national heritage and as an idyllic slice of natural beauty and open space. For centuries, River Farm has stood the test of time, a testament to those who have cherished the land and their dedication in preserving it. Occasionally, threats have put the future of River Farm at risk. In 1971, the Soviet Embassy expressed interest in purchasing the property as an outpost for embassy staff. That development enraged the neighbors and the general public, who were upset at the idea of a foreign government owning such an important piece of American history. Through the visionary gift of philanthropist Enid Annenberg Haupt—who foresaw the risks of selling the property to the Russians and forever changing its trajectory—the American Horticultural Society has had the privilege of owning and stewarding River Farm, which we’ve done successfully for nearly 50 years. Her stipulations that we maintain it as AHS headquarters and as beautiful gardens for the public to enjoy in perpetuity have been our guiding light.
The events of the past year, including the fact that private developers funded by anonymous foreign investors were reportedly interested in purchasing River Farm, underscore the ongoing vulnerability of this priceless asset. Throughout the year-long debate over the future of River Farm, we always knew and believed that we could count on our members’ collective support and commitment to both historic preservation and land conservation—as well as on our shared conviction of keeping promises made to donors. We are overjoyed by the unprecedented outpouring of support in favor of preserving River Farm as our headquarters and for keeping it in the public trust forever. Going forward, together, we have the potential to expand and build on this success by implementing a new strategic vision that enhances River Farm while propelling AHS forward to achieve its full potential as a visionary leader in American horticulture for the next century and beyond.
So, on the heels of this important decision and on the eve of the Society’s 100th anniversary, the next chapter (and the work) begin. First and foremost, our priority is to strengthen our ability to carry out our horticultural mission, which includes the successful stewardship of River Farm as a platform for our national gardening programs. In addition, by rebuilding our Board of Directors with leaders from the non-profit and horticultural worlds, we aim to reinvigorate our programs with new opportunities for engaging our members. We are also committed to putting the long-term
conservation solutions in place to ensure that River Farm will always remain a pristine open space. To do that, we’ll need both endowment and operational funding and the support of all of our friends, members, and stakeholders who are committed to both preserving and protecting River Farm while ensuring AHS’s success over the next 100 years and beyond. In all of these efforts, we look forward to collaborating with you—our members and supporters—as well as working with partners in both the public and private sectors to chart this exciting new course for AHS. As we move forward with optimism and renewed purpose, we are grateful for your unswerving dedication and support. All of us here send our very best wishes for a joyous holiday season.
AHS Board members, Skipp Calvert, Tim Conlon, Laura Dowling, Holly Shimizu, Marcia Zech