On our way home from a recent camping trip to Fredericksburg, I made sure that stopped at the George Washington’s Birthplace National Memorial. Unlike his homes at Ferry Farm or Mount Vernon, which contributed to the lore of Washington, the birthplace site at Pope’s Creek serves as gateway to understanding the world he grew up in. The settlers of Tidewater Virginia developed a unique society reliant upon riverine transportation to ferry crops and handmade goods out and imported goods from England in. Slaves would have worked among large fields of tobacco and corn in between forests. The plantations along the Chesapeake Bay would become the homes of a new landed gentry perpetuating itself through intermarriage, slavery, and civil service.
The site at Pope’s Creek was originally settled by George Washington’s great-grandfather in 1657. The Washington family’s expansion. Built before 1718, the original house was expanded throughout the 18th century by George Washington’s father Augustine into a ten-room house known as “Wakefield”. Washington was born at Pope’s Creek on 22 February 1732, according to the Gregorian calendar. Washington and his family would later move to Home Farm or Ferry Farm south of Fredericksburg in 1738. A fire and flood on Christmas Day, 1779 would unfortunately destroy the house and it would never be rebuilt. Outside the Memorial House is a chalk outline defining the footprint of the original house.
In the 1920s, the Wakefield National Memorial Association was formed in restore the property. Before the 200th anniversary of Washington’s birth, the Memorial Association constructed the brick Memorial House, which is a replica of a typical upper-class house of the period. The bottom floor contains a dining, drawing and bedrooms with period furniture (none belonging to the Washingtons). The upper floors contains four bedrooms, with the children’s room of particular interest to young visitors.
The best part of the National Memorial is actually walking the grounds and visiting the out buildings. The grounds contain a kitchen house, a Colonial Herb and Flower Garden, a blacksmith shop, and various farm buildings to include tobacco barn, pig styes, horse barns and chicken coops. The livestock, poultry and crops are heirloom 18th century varieties and 18th century farming methods used on the working farm.
The Visitor Center is simple with a smattering of artifacts recovered from the original house site. A fourteen minute video runs frequently outlining the history of the Washington family. Other sites around the park include the 1896 Memorial Obelisk, the Family Burying Ground, and a mile-long nature trail.
The Memorial has a great junior ranger program that is geared towards younger students. Instead of focusing exclusively on Washington’s life, the program is rooted more in the life on a plantation in the early 18th Century. Unfortunately, short shrift is paid to the role that slaves played in the development of the plantation.
Know Before You Go: The grounds are well maintained and accessible along gravel paths. Access to the house is via a set of stairs without a ramp. Bathrooms are located at the Visitor Center, near the Memorial House and near the picnic ground.
Location: Washington’s Birthplace is located at 1732 Popes Creek Road in Colonial Beach, Virginia 22443.
Hours: The Visitor Center and Historic Area is open daily from 9AM to 5PM daily, except on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day.
Admission: Admission is free.