Standing Where George Washington Was Born
Known as the father of the United States — as well as served as its first president — George Washington would have been 286 years old today, Thursday, February 22, 2018; and in his honor is this article pertaining to my unintentional visit to his birthplace.
Standing Where George Washington Was Born
I used the word unintentional because as I was driving north on United States highway 301 in Virginia with approximately ten miles to go until I crossed the bridge over the Potomac River into Maryland, I saw brown highway signs pointing towards the birthplace of George Washington. Having never been there and not knowing when I would be in this particular area again, I spontaneously decided to detour onto Virginia state highway 3 east and drive the almost 15 miles to the site.
When I approached Virginia state highway 204 — which is also known as Popes Creek Road — at Wakefield Corner near Potomac Mills, I turned left and found this historic marker at the side of the road.
I drove the straight two-lane road 1.73 miles to the birthplace of George Washington, where I was greeted by an obelisk which reminded me of a miniature version of the Washington Monument in the District of Columbia.
The obelisk stands in the middle of a small traffic circle; and on the morning which I arrived, there was no traffic, as I was the only visitor.
After I parked the car in the parking lot, I admired the peaceful view of Popes Creek to the south as the sun was rising on that chilly December morning.
I then headed over to the visitor center…
…and one of the park rangers gave me a map and plenty of information about the site — kindly; and with a smile. He pointed to the glass doors at the rear of the visitor center as the best way to go to get to the site.
If I was not pressed for time, I would have sat in one of the rocking chairs on the wooden deck behind the visitor center and taken in the picturesque view of the cove at Popes Creek while engaging in quiet reflection about whatever came to my mind.
I am certain that this area is not as relaxing and quiet during the summer season.
The walk from the visitor center to the site is approximately 500 feet down Popes Creek Trail.
Historic Core Area
Just as I arrived in what is known as the Historic Core, the Colonial Garden is off to the right.
Imagine gardening in peace amongst the trees with a beautiful view of Popes Creek in the background.
The Colonial Garden is an actual functioning real garden, as it highlights plants, herbs and flowers which members of the Washington family would have used in the 1700s. In the background off to the left is the Memorial House.
The Memorial House — which is the most prominent building of the Historic Core — is not one of the original buildings at the site. Rather, interested citizens decided in 1923 to create a memorial landscape to commemorate George Washington for the eve of the bicentennial of the birth; and construction of the Memorial House started soon after.
Along with the Memorial House in the background, the Colonial Kitchen in the white building was supposed to represent the best guess of the historic appearance of what was originally known as Popes Creek Plantation — but later research found that the buildings bear little resemblance to the structures which stood on this site in 1732.
The inside of the Colonial Kitchen contained artifacts which were thought to have been used in the 1700s.
This park ranger was incredibly knowledgeable and helpful, as she offered to open any of the buildings for me to visit and give me a personal guided tour — as well as answer any questions I had. I regretted that I had to politely refuse her offer — but I had not choice, as I was unfortunately on a tight schedule.
The Actual Site of the House Where George Washington Was Born
If you were hoping to see and enter the actual building in which George Washington was born, forget it — the house was destroyed by fire in 1779; so you would be just a tad too late. Rather, an outline of the house — which was built in stages with extensions in subsequent years — marks the perimeter of the building. The foundation was excavated in 1936.
The oldest part of the house was the northernmost part, in which the lantern in the background is located. Behind that is the Colonial Kitchen. Nothing prevents anyone from standing within the perimeter of where the house once stood; so you can stand on the spot where George Washington was born.
Although this spot is where he was born, George Washington only lived in this house for approximately 3.5 years…
…but he walked his first steps; started to learn the rhythms of the natural world; and began to develop a deep, life-long connection to the land at this very spot, which forever shaped his life — and, eventually, was a significant contributing factor to shaping the world as we know it today.
In the background is the Colonial Garden. The Memorial House is located beyond the left of the photograph.
The white outline of where the original house stood is clearly located at the bottom center of the satellite image of the Historic Core. The Colonial Garden is immediately to the right of the outline. At the top of the image is the Memorial House; and to its left is the Colonial Kitchen.
Although it is difficult to discern, the entire outline of the house is shown in the photograph above; and with Popes Creek in the background.
The Nature Trail and View From the Memorial House
I headed over to the nature trail — which loops for approximately two miles — beyond the Historic Core…
…and marveled at the remainder of the fall colors which reflected on an inlet of Popes Creek.
What a tranquil setting this was — especially as no one else was around.
Due to time constraints, I walked across this wooden bridge which spans the inlet before I turned around and walked back instead of continuing on the nature trail. The park ranger told me that wildlife can be spotted on this trail — and if you are lucky enough, you may actually see a bald eagle or two.
I looked back at the front of the Memorial House, which faces Popes Creek with stunning views…
…such as this scenery of Popes Creek, with the Potomac River in the background.
Here is a little trivia for you: at this point, the entire width of the Potomac River is located entirely in Maryland; so you are technically seeing Maryland in the background of this photograph.
The wooden bridge can be seen from the Memorial House as well.
I am not sure if this Lewis or Clark; but this is one of the Red Devon Oxen which descended from the stock that the Washington family used in the eighteenth century.
The oxen — as well as other heritage breed animals — are part of a working memorial farm.
Despite its relatively close proximity to the District of Columbia greater than 70 miles to the north, the George Washington Birthplace National Monument is not the easiest or most convenient to reach. Interstate 95 is almost 39 miles to the west; and United States highway 301 can be clogged with traffic in cities such as Waldorf in Maryland…
…not to mention that there is a toll of $6.00 for southbound traffic over the Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge — which spans the Potomac River — for vehicles with two axles. Fortunately, the toll booths still accept cash and have not yet been swept up by the scourge of only electronic tolls and no cash accepted.
The George Washington Birthplace National Monument was designated as the first historic site in the National Park System in 1930. You can easily spend a leisurely day here — and the best part is that there is no admission fee; and parking is free of charge. Pack a picnic lunch when you have the opportunity to visit and simply enjoy your day while taking in the history and scenery.
The visitor center is open Wednesdays through Sundays at 10:00 in the morning through 5:00 in the afternoon from January through early March; and is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays even though the park is still open — and from early March through December, the visitor center and Historic Core is open seven days per week from 9:00 in the morning through 5:00 in the afternoon.
If you need to contact someone at the George Washington Birthplace National Monument, you can call 1-804-224-1732 extension 227; or you can access the official Internet web site of the George Washington Birthplace National Monument for additional information.
All photographs ©2017 by Brian Cohen.