An Ecohistory of the Potomac River Valley



Bedrock Geology of the Mid-Atlantic regionThe Ecohistorical approach looks at the interrelationships between the non-living environment (the land, water, atmosphere and climate) and the living, biological community (the flora and fauna) and how each has shaped and affected the other over time.  Humans have been members of the local biological community for the past 15,000 years and like it or not, are now in the position to decide on the future appearance and health of the Potomac Valley region and the communities (living and non-living) that call this region home.The overshot mill wheel at Stratford Hall's grist mill is powered by water from a mill pond fed by six springs. 

Jared Diamond uses the term ‘Landscape Amnesia’ to define the cultural blindness that allows small, incremental changes to the environment to produce major changes in the landscape over time and yet go unnoticed because the changes are so slight at the time they occur.  Like the proverbial frog in the saucepan on the slowly heating stove, we fail to notice the changes because they are so slight.  We look out on the Potomac today and assume that what we see is what John Smith saw – the same trees, same topography, same birds, and same animals – but in fact our Potomac is very different from Captain Smith sailed.  The old growth forests are gone along with the buffalo herds, the Carolina Parakeet, the huge oyster reefs in the lower Potomac, and the steamboat wharves and Native American villages that used to line the banks of the river.  And there are even greater changes going back millions and billions of years into geologic time:  tectonic collisions; volcanoes spewing lava; no oxygen in the atmosphere; no plants on the land; and mountains as high as the Himalayas where the Blue Ridge now stands. 

As we get ready to make important decisions about the region’s future, this program allows you to reflect on the broadest dimensions of this region’s history and get a fuller sense of what gives this region its special character, why it is the way it is and what it used to be like.  Highlighting both the unique treasures that make this region special and the ways in which we have changed it for better and worse, the stories in this fascinating and thought-provoking one-hour program will give you a fresh perspective from which to view and appreciate this amazing region.