Sotterley's Historic Farm
Sotterley’s farm history originates long ago in the manorial system of early Maryland when James Bowles established a plantation with its basis in tobacco in 1699. Sensing the changing times, Bowles was quick to diversify by adding cereal grains, corn, and livestock. As the plantation passed from owner-to-owner over a long period of time, the farming traditions remained the same. The farm grew and shrank in size as economics dictated whether the owners sold or bought, from almost 7,000 acres in 1790 and as small as 400 acres for most of the nineteenth century. Historic Sotterley Inc. now consists of 94 acres of farm and woodland. The last private owner was Herbert Satterlee, and subsequently his daughter, Mabel Satterlee Ingalls. Herbert purchased the property in 1910 but did not reside there; he relied on a farm manager, hired laborers, and tenant farmers. When Mabel turned Sotterley into a non-profit museum in the 1960s, she intentionally decreased acreage to approximately 100 acres to lessen the upkeep. Farming became unimportant to the existence of Sotterley Museum and remained so until very recent times.
The principles behind the current sustainable farming movement are directly tied to farming practices throughout history. Putting fields back into production at Sotterley that were once fallow is not only good for the economy of the site; it provides teachable and tangible connections between the land and our shared history for visitors. Modern day implementation employs organic farming methods from the past, using feed and fertilizer from plant and animal materials. No chemical fertilizers, growth hormones, antibiotics or pesticides are used.
Promoting good health by healthy eating is another teachable point and a mission for Sotterley. From popular cooking demonstrations using food sold at our Farmer’s Market, to Sotterley’s commitment to donating all excess produce not sold on the stand to local food bank programs, Sotterley connects our Southern Maryland community to a healthier way of living.