A Historical Weekend In Mt. Vernon, Virginia | My Family Travels

Here's an inexpensive way to step back in time at George and Martha's place as they celebrate the Washingtons' 18th-century lifestyle and teach kids with style.

On the banks of the Potomac River just outside our nation’s capital, the 500-acre Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens sit amidst rolling fields and beautifully manicured lawns, offering a glimpse of how our first president lived. Among the many festivals held there year-round, it is the annual 18th Century Fair each September, usually the weekend after Labor Day, that turns that small glimpse into a complete view.

Dozens of artisans, performers, and historians (all in period dress) entertain and educate visitors to bring the historic site to life. Traditional colonial recipes are dusted off, too, providing tasty treats for the whole family.

Skilled craftsmen working in tin, ceramics, glass, and wax are at work all weekend, answering questions and conducting demonstrations. Their hand-made products are often for sale. Magicians, jugglers, fortune-tellers, and all sorts of colonial characters roam the grounds, engaging with visitors. You and the children can watch as uniformed militia march and speak with them in their camp. Of course, President Washington’s home itself will be open for tours as usual.

Summer is the busiest time of year. Visitors can easily spend an entire day at the riverside estate, with its new facilities featuring 25 galleries and theaters, more than 700 artifacts, and interactive displays that introduce visitors to the real George Washington. The most famous dentures in the world are on permanent display, along with three life-size models of Washington created from a forensic investigation. The historic area features the restored Mansion, original outbuildings, the tomb where the Washingtons are buried, beautiful gardens, and heritage breed animals who work at a four-acre farm site near the river.

Even in the dead of winter, Mt. Vernon is a worthwhile site. In addition to the daily Mansion tour, allow extra time to explore the 45 acres that are open for touring. The Mount Vernon Forest Trail begins at a Pioneer Farmer’s 16-sided treading barn and extends a quarter-mile through oak, holly and laurel woods, past Washington’s cobble quarry and a Native American site. In the weeks around Christmas, the home is beautifully decorated.

Many families whose kids have a day or week off in February associate that month with President’s Day, the national holiday that celebrates Presidents Lincoln and Washington’s birthdays. Daily throughout February, also Black History Month, interpreters at the estate’s Slave Quarters talk about the lives and achievements of its former slaves, with a special program of colonial slave music, singing and storytelling over the last weekend of the month.

In the past, George Washington’s birthday has been celebrated with what was, according to records, his favorite breakfast: “hoecakes swimming in butter and honey,” followed by a parade. One day of this weekend is usually free to the public, and on this day, there is a traditional wreath-laying ceremony at Washington’s Tomb, followed by patriotic music and military performances on Bowling Green.

Details, Details

Fro the summer of 2009, the site is offering special discounted rates for admission, meals and souvenirs, as well as offering a sightseeing cruise. Children under 5 are always welcome free of charge. If you, like most families visiting Mt. Vernon, choose to stay overnight, consider nearby Washington DC, where there are so many other things to see and do. Of the hundreds of hotels in town, here are a few choices that offer larger rooms, discounted summer rates, and often, complimentary breakfast.

Morrison-Clark Historic Hotel
1015 L St. NW., 20001
202/898-1200; 800/222-8474
The charming landmark Morrison Clark Historic Hotel is near Chinatown. Many rooms have pull-out sofas to accommodate families; suites are available.

Lombardy Hotel
2019 Penn Ave., 20006
202/828-2600; 800/424-5486
Just four blocks from the White House, also has suites, but with full-kitchens.

Hilton Washington Embassy Row
2015 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., 20036
202/265-1600, 800/695-7460
This establishment has a pleasant rooftop pool and snack bar, and is centrally located just half a block from the Dupont Circle Metro station.

Capital Hilton
1001 16th St. NW., 20036
A modern business hotel, offers summer “Vacation Station” packages that include age-appropriate toys upon arrival; babysitting is also available.

Fairmont Washington, D.C.
2401 M St., NW., 20037
This posh and contemporary establishment also has an outdoor pool, and offers discounts on their luxurious guestrooms in summer.

For more choices, contact your travel agent or the Washington, DC Convention and Visitors Corporation (800/422-8644). Remember that many chains, including Radisson (great hotel in Alexandria), Howard Johnson, Holiday Inn, Econo Lodge, Comfort Inn and others have lesser-priced accommodations in neighboring Maryland and Virginia.

For more information on Mt. Vernon tours, a schedule for the annual 18th-Century Fair, Black History Month or other events, call 703/780-2000 or visit www.mountvernon.org.

Photos provided courtesy of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association

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