Many visitors to Washington, D.C., try to get out to the Virginia countryside to visit Mount Vernon, George Washington's home. Fewer people, however, are aware of our founding father's birthplace, or that it's also part of the National Park Service. George Washington Birthplace National Monument is worth a visit for its history and for its setting as part of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail.
The Birthplace of George Washington
The Birthplace -- about 38 miles east of Fredericksburg on Virginia's Northern Neck -- has its own address (Washington's Birthplace, VA) and zip code (22443). The site incorporates the second farm of Washington's ancestor, great-grandfather John, who emigrated from England in 1656. The birthplace is also known as the Wakefield Home, as it was named later. Washington himself was born here on February 22, 1732, living here until age 3, then returning again as a teenager.
Rebuilding and Recreating George Washington's Birthplace
The Memorial House and Colonial Kitchen here were constructed in 1931 to recreate the home in which Washington was born. Though the structures are not true replicas of the original Washington plantation, the buildings are what a moderately wealthy planter in the 1730s would have had. The original house burned down in 1796 and was never replaced until this reconstruction in 1931. In addition to the House and Kitchen, there's a Living Colonial Farm here, with heritage livestock breeds and fowl typical of the Colonial Era, as well as a tobacco crop that grows here in season.
Highlights of the House Tour and Estate Grounds
In the House, you can see demonstrations of candle- and soap-making and a lot of period furniture, most of which is over 200 years old. Outside is a Colonial Herb and Flower Garden with plants common in Washington's time. In the Visitor Center, there are a few artifacts recovered from the burned-out site of the original home, including a bowl and wine bottle. You can also see here a 15-minute film depicting Washington family life.
A favorite among visitors is the self-guided Nature Trail, along which you may see birds, including loons, grebes, bitterns, herons, egrets, ibis, larks, martins, swallows, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, creepers, wrens and more than a dozen other types. There are 23 species of mammals at the nearby Petersburg National Battlefield Site, as well as 22 species of fish, 48 species of amphibians and reptiles, and 129 species of birds.
A 50-foot obelisk was erected in 1896 to mark the birthplace spot. It's less than one-tenth the scale of the Washington Monument in the capital, which is 555 feet high.
In addition to the House and Kitchen, you may be interested in the Washington Family Burial Ground, where George's father, grandfather and great-grandfather and a half brother lie (Washington is not buried here, but at Mount Vernon); the one-mile Nature Trail; or lolling around on the beach alongside the Potomac River. You can fish, sunbathe and hike at the beach, but swimming is not allowed.
Local attractions include Historic Fredericksburg, the James Monroe Birthplace in Westmoreland County, and Historic Christ Church in Lancaster County.
National parks nearby include Colonial National Historic Park at Jamestown and Yorktown; Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial National Military Park; the Richmond National Battlefield Park; and of course the Washington Monument in the nation's capital.
Calendar of Events
On June 5, 2010, the Birthplace will offer activities and demonstrations centering on plantation life, such as sheep shearing, tobacco planting, fishing and hunting. On July 4, 2010, there will be militia drills and outdoor games, free admission. On July 31, 2010, there will be activities for children and screenings of The Thin Green Line. On Labor Day, September 6, 2010, there will be a free lecture about the 24 people who worked to establish this piece of land. On December 26, 2010, the second day of Christmas will be celebrated with demonstrations and activities performed by costumed interpreters.
Rangers Talks and Kids' Programs
Rangers offer talks every hour from 10-4pm. On special event days, costumed interpreters provide demonstrations. There's a Junior Ranger program that has activities designed for kids ages 5 to 8 and 8 to 12. Children can get a booklet at the Visitor Center, and if they complete certain activities, they will be awarded a Ranger badge at the center.
It costs adults $4 each to enter (cash or checks only); kids 15 and under are free. For $50, you can reserve the picnic pavilion for the day. The Visitor Center and Memorial Historic Area are open 9-5pm daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year days.
George Washington Birthplace National Monument (tel. 804/224-1732; www.nps.gov/gewa) The George Washington Birthplace Association provides support to the Birthplace, including the operation of the bookstore and gift shop.Talk with fellow Frommer's travelers on our Outdoor and Adventure Travel Forum.