The Roarbots’ series of NPS Adventures takes a big-picture view of one location within the National Park Service and highlights some of the best activities that site has to offer. This is usually done through a kid-friendly lens and almost always includes activities and suggestions we can recommend from personal experience. And pictures. There are lots and lots of pictures. Glad to have you aboard!
Welcome to George Washington Birthplace National Monument!
- George Washington Birthplace National Monument
- Location: Virginia
- Established: 1930
- Admission: Free
- Social Sites: Twitter, Facebook
The Washington, DC, region is a veritable goldmine for U.S. history buffs. Monuments, memorials, historic sites, internationally recognized federal buildings, and so much more.
And if you’re a student of early American history or the Revolutionary War, there seems to be something pertinent to your interests every 10 feet or so. If George Washington is your guy, there’s the 1-2-3 lineup of the Washington Monument, the George Washington Masonic National Memorial, and Mount Vernon, which is also Washington’s final resting place. The latter two are in neighboring Alexandria, VA, which isn’t that far afield.
But what if you want to see where it all began? Turns out George Washington was born just a bit farther out of town in Colonial Beach, Virginia. George Washington Birthplace National Monument is on the banks of the Potomac River about 1 hour 45 minutes south of DC and about 45 minutes east of Fredericksburg.
It’s a gorgeous spot right on the river that’s a must-do for Washington fans. And if you happen to be in the area, you certainly won’t be sorry you made the detour. (Stratford Hall, birthplace of Robert E. Lee, is also just up the road.)
(Click on all pictures to embiggen.)
The primary attraction here is, obviously, Washington’s birthplace site. However, don’t come expecting to see an actual house – or even the remains of one. The original house belonged to Washington’s father, Augustine, and George was born to Augustine and Mary Ball in 1732.
Although the house and surrounding site play an important role in Washington’s life, he only lived here for the first four years of his life.
The original house burned down in 1779, when it belonged to Washington’s nephew William Augustine. It was excavated in 1936, and the foundation was uncovered, but it was soon reburied to protect it. Today, the outline of the house is marked with oyster shells. That’s all that remains to mark the spot where Washington was born.
Memorial House and Farm
The largest structure on the property is the Memorial House, which was built in 1931 to commemorate the bicentennial of Washington’s birth. The house represents a typical upper-class colonial home and is furnished to recall the early-mid 1700s. Based on the footprint of the birthplace site, the Memorial House is much bigger and (by the NPS’s own admission) probably finer than the original house. Guided ranger tours include access to the interior of the Memorial House.
Surrounding the house are the original birthplace site, a colonial herb and flower garden, a colonial kitchen, and several other (replica) farm buildings.
Grounds and Trails
Greeting visitors at the entrance to the property is a 50-foot stone obelisk that was erected in 1896 by the War Department. It’s a one-tenth replica of the Washington Monument on the National Mall in DC, and it originally stood where the Memorial House is today. It was moved to its present location in 1930, when the property became a national memorial.
The property runs right up to Popes Creek and the Potomac River, and it’s just flat-out gorgeous. The view from the back of the Memorial House is one you’ll want to linger over. Beyond the farm are acres of wooded property with a couple easy nature trails.
The Washington family burial ground is also on the property. Buried here are more than 30 people, including Washington’s father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. Washington himself is buried at Mount Vernon.
Like most NPS sites, George Washington Birthplace has a park-centric Junior Ranger program. Kids get an opportunity to explore the grounds, early 18th century farm life in general, and Washington’s early life in particular. The Junior Ranger program is one of the highlights of any NPS visit for the little Roarbots. It wouldn’t be a visit without a passport stamp and a Junior Ranger badge/pin!