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By Heather Hembrey, M.A., M.A.A.

the scent of flowers in the air

A Fairfax County archaeologist found this Forest Flower cologne bottle while working at Mount Air Historic Site in Lorton. The complete bottle is 3.5 Inches tall and embossed with the words, “AUSTEN’S FOREST FLOWER COLOGNE AUSTEN MFG OSWEGO NY”. The W. J. Austen Company of Oswego, New York produced Forest Flower from September 1878 until 1886. This “Most fashionable and lasting perfume of the day” was “Sold by All Druggists and Fancy Goods Dealers.”

Someone living at Mount Air during the late 19th century obtained and presumably used the cologne. It may have been a luxury item for the buyer, because the Landstreet family who owned Mount Air at that time was financially stressed. Aristides Landstreet had purchased the 522-acre Mount Air property in 1860, months before the Civil War began. He joined the Confederate forces while his wife and daughters remained at Mount Air. When Federal troops occupied the property in 1862, the women moved to Baltimore. In 1864, the U.S. Government confiscated Mount Air, but following the war the family regained title and returned to the house.

After Aristides Landstreet died in 1910, his daughters Anne and Mary Louise mortgaged and eventually sold the property in 1914. Yet, despite financial hardship during the decades following the Civil War, did Anne or Mary Louise obtain this bottle of Forest Flower cologne? Did one of W. J. Austen Company’s perfumed trade cards entice the buyer? The company produced various trade cards, each featuring an image such as a cupid, a fresh-faced young girl, or flower-adorned maidens. (Trade card image courtesy of Historic New England.)

We will never know the full story of the Mount Air Forest Flower cologne bottle or why it ended up near the house’s chimney. It is among hundreds of artifacts from the site, each one left by a person who once lived or spent time at Mount Air.

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