In the 67 years he walked the earth, George Washington perhaps made more of an impact than nearly any other historical figure in America. He battled a king and won. He founded a new country—one that many would argue is the greatest country on earth. And he set the precedent for the many presidents that would follow him.
So it's no surprise that nearly 300 cities, towns, townships, and villages; 31 counties; one state (the only one named for a president); and a world capital are named for him. Not to mention 10 universities, five forts, and countless landmarks and statues. And that’s just in the U.S. You’ll also find him honored in Argentina, France, the UK, and many other countries around the globe. But no matter where you roam, you won’t find more about the Father of Our Country than in Fairfax County and the DC area.
Born on February 22, President’s Day weekend is the ideal time to pay homage to this towering historic figure with a tour of his life and times. But even if you’re reading this blog in September, the sites below make the perfect itinerary for exploring his lives as a father, husband, farmer, Christian, and leader. (Be sure to check each site's operating status and hours prior to arriving!)
Mount Vernon—The Epicenter of All Things George
Image courtesy Mount Vernon
Outside of the Washington Monument and possibly Mount Rushmore, George Washington’s Mount Vernon is perhaps the nation's most iconic reminder of George’s life. It is certainly the most informative and engrossing, drawing over a million visitors each year. George lived here for 45 of his 67 years and a tour of his estate reveals how connected he was to this home and his land.
On site, you’ll find tours of the home, an extensive museum, a presidential library, a well-merchandised gift shop, living history demonstrations, gardens, farmland, and his family tomb. What you won’t find are wooden dentures—his were actually made of animal teeth and ivory. You could spend an entire day taking in all Mount Vernon has to offer. For an added touch of authenticity, be sure to enjoy a bowl of peanut soup from The Mount Vernon Inn.
George’s Country Life
Image courtesy Mount Vernon
From Mount Vernon, turn left on to the Mount Vernon Memorial Highway to see how George spent his days in the country. The first site you’ll come across is George Washington’s Distillery and Gristmill. George was a farmer, first of tobacco, then of grains. But he was also a successful businessman as a producer of whiskey. Today, the distillery is fully functional and makes whiskey for the Mount Vernon gift shop. Tickets to tour the distillery and gristmill (open April through October each year) are available at Mount Vernon.
Head south on Rt. 1 and visit Woodlawn Historic Site, part of George’s original property and gifted to his granddaughter and nephew in 1799. Further down the road, you’ll find Pohick Church, where Washington was a faithful congregant. Also notable there is Civil War graffiti and a “baptismal font” from the 12th century. Just south of that is George Mason’s Gunston Hall, where you might have found the Georges visiting and founding a democracy together.
Image courtesy National Park Service
Further south, after you leave Fairfax County, you will find two sites integral to George’s life. Down in the Northern Neck of Virginia, 70 miles away from Mount Vernon, you can visit the George Washington Birthplace. Though he didn’t live here long, a view of the estate from above echoes the waterfront setting of Mount Vernon, reflecting his father’s aesthetic. Just north of that, in Fredericksburg, is Ferry Farm, where George spent much of his childhood. Had George cut down a cherry tree, then confessed to his father, it probably would have happened here. But that, like his wooden teeth, is a myth.
George’s City Life
If you turned right at Mount Vernon, north on to the George Washington Memorial Parkway, you’d drive through more of George’s original land (including River Farm, now home to the American Horticultural Society), eventually reaching the City of Alexandria nine miles away. Alexandria is where George did city things, like conduct business, visit the drug store, raise a pint of mead, attend services, and sell produce in Market Square. For an extra thrill, you can even stay in his townhouse.
You’d think George would have spent loads of time in the city that bears his name and has a 555’ monument to him visible for miles around. But since Washington, DC (then known as Columbia) was not the capital of the U.S. when George was president (Philadelphia and New York were), “George’s city” was Alexandria. As you travel the scenic road between Alexandria and his “suburban” estate, you can imagine his horse clomping along the path between the two frequently.
Traveling the U.S., you may come across countless roadside motels and landmarks claiming “George Washington Slept Here.” When it comes to Fairfax County and the immediate surrounding region, the claim is likely to be true. He not only slept here, but he also lived here, fought here, farmed here, raised a family here, worshipped here, and thrived here. If you’re curious about the man that inspired 300 hometown names, a trip to Fairfax County holds all the answers!
What are your favorite places to learn about George Washington? Tell us in the comments below or join the conversation on social media using #FXVA and @VisitFairfax.