Did you know that Presidents Day originated as a celebration of George Washington’s birthday? What better way to celebrate this former Fairfax County resident (and the dozens of leaders who have followed in his footsteps) than to dive into some of the presidential history found in the Capital Region? There are plenty of things to do in the DC area and in Northern Virginia for Presidents Day weekend.
Here are a few activities and events to attend to make the most of Presidents Day Weekend:
Celebrate with George at Mount Vernon
Image courtesy Mount Vernon
General Washington’s beloved home, Mount Vernon, sits atop a hill along the Potomac River in the southern part of Fairfax County. Presidents Day is one of the only times throughout the year that you can visit this famous estate for free. Just be sure to book your tickets online, as they will not be available on site.
On Washington’s actual 289th birthday, February 22, join Mount Vernon for the virtual National Birthday Celebration, featuring performances and stories from a variety of actors, musicians, and historians to celebrate his legacy.
Do a Tour of the Presidential Sites in DC
Washington, DC is intrinsically linked to presidential history, so during your long weekend, take a tour of some of the city’s key presidential sites, including:
- The White House
- Lincoln Memorial
- Thomas Jefferson Memorial
- Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial
- The Washington Monument
- Woodrow Wilson House
- President Lincoln’s Cottage
Local Sites for Little-Known Presidential History
Maltidaville: George Washington's Ghost Town
Although Mount Vernon is often hailed for its association with Washington's everyday life, it's little known that Great Falls was also a huge part of life for him. In fact, he began a project there to create a series of canals that would open up a waterway from DC to Pittsburgh for commerce to flow - establishing the Patowmack Canal Company. Of course, there needed to be a town established with a market, gristmill, inn, workers' barracks, homes, and more to host the construction company's workers. In the age of the Revolutionary War, Harry Lee (father of Robert E. Lee) named the town for his first wife, Matilda Lee. The town of Matildaville served as the home of the Patowmack Company while they operated on the project for 26 years, but unfortunately it was shut down due to high costs. Now recognized as an Atlas Obscura site, Matildaville stands as a ghost town of stone ruins off the beaten path of Great Falls National Park.
Nestled in charming Old Town Fairfax, Hamrock's Restaurant is located in the historic Moore-McCandlish House, which was built in 1842. The house has seen its share of history - including housing Confederate Colonel Mosby while he was plotting to capture Union General Stoughton during the Civil War. This eventually landed him in jail, and the property was purchased by Thomas Moore, Assistant Secretary of State for the Roosevelt Administration who visited the property. Although not confirmed, it's rumored to have had a visit from William Howard Taft during a garden party after his presidency. Bask in the footsteps of previous presidents while enjoying afternoon tea, a great glass of wine, or a fresh plate of food on their wrap-around porch.
Home of The Forgotten Founder
George Mason, who was great friends with George Washington, is often referred to as "The Forgotten Founder" because of his integral role in the shaping of core concepts and much of the language in both the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. Gunston Hall, completed in 1759, was the plantation home of George Mason. His home is an outstanding example of Georgian architecture, and is highly regarded for its elegant interiors. The elaborate interior carvings, designed by indentured servant William Buckland and carved by William Bernard Sears, provide an impressive backdrop for guided tours of the 18th century plantation household.
Image courtesy Patch.com / Shutterstock, Everett Historical
Virtual Wreath Laying at Mount Vernon
Following his death on December 14, 1799, George Washington's remains were placed in a family vault on the hillside overlooking the Potomac River at Mount Vernon. Washington knew this site would not be tenable for much longer, and stipulated in his will that a new tomb be constructed below his orchard. In 1831, the remains from the old family vault, including those of General and Mrs. Washington, were moved to their current resting place, where tens of millions of visitors have paid their respects to the Father of our Country. Tune into Mount Vernon's Facebook, YouTube, or website to view the live-streamed wreath laying at Washington's tomb at noon on February 15th.
The Great Theater of Action: The Life of George Washington in Four Acts
Join George Washington every Friday in February as he discusses various periods of his life and engages the audience in a Q & A session.
February 5 | Act 1: By the Miraculous Care of Providence
General Washington will share thoughts and reminiscences about his life from ca. 1743, when he was 11 years old, to the eve of the American Revolution in 1775.
February 12 | Act 2: Embarked on a Tempestuous Ocean
The General will discuss the years of the American War for Independence (1775-1783).
February 19 | Act 3: Under the Shadow of My Own Vine & My Own Fig Tree
The General will cover the years between the War and his Presidency (1784 to the beginning of 1789), during which he had retired to Mount Vernon and presided over the Constitutional Convention.
February 26 | Act 4: (Part I) A Peaceful Abode for An Ocean of Difficulties & (Part 2) The Prospect Most Grateful to My Soul
In part I, The General will share his remembrances about his Presidency (1789-1797). In part 2, The General will talk about the years of his post-presidential retirement from March 5, 1797 until the onset of his last illness on December 13, 1799.
What are your favorite presidential spots to visit around the National Capital Region? Tell us in the comments below or join the conversation on social media using #FXVA and @VisitFairfax.
Originally published February 2019, updated for February 2021.