Dare to Discover ... Virginia

By Marcot, Molly | American Heritage, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Dare to Discover ... Virginia


Marcot, Molly, American Heritage


No State offers more opportunities to visit and enjoy history than Virginia, which boasts, among other sites, the homes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, the site of the first permanent English settlement, the location of North America's first Thanksgiving celebration (yes, it's earlier than Plymouth), and the battlefield where the Revolution ended. Virginia offers something for everybody: rich living history for families, such as wandering through a reconstructed Powhatan village or the streets of 18th-century Williamsburg; enjoying beautiful antiques and spectacular architectural details in plantations perched pleasantly along the James River, learning about the Civil War firsthand by walking into the crater left by Union soldiers who blew up the Confederate line at Petersburg and then got caught inside it and died in droves.

Here you'll find our whittled-down list. We confess that it was a difficult task and some of our favorite sites were dropped for space. But we can guarantee you that each site listed here is a certified gem. We broke the sites up into nine themed and geographic sections, each one ideal to use as a basis for a driving tour.

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Remember to call ahead before visiting, hours and events often change seasonally. Click over to our history website, www.heritagesites.com for more information about Virginia sites--as well as for historic points of interest around the country.

Travel safely ... and drop us a line to tell us about your adventures at editor@americanheritage.com!

Revolutionary War Alexandria and Northern Heritage

1. Arlington National Cemetery

In 1864 Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton designated Gen. Robert E. Lee's 200-acre estate as the federal military cemetery. Now 624 acres divided into 70 sections, the grounds contain more than 300,000 gravesites, including those of President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy, guarded by the eternal flame, and William Howard Taft. A short walk west leads to the Tomb of the Unknowns, where the changing of the guard ceremony occurs on the hour, the Spanish-American War Monument, and the USS Maine Mast Memorial. (703) 607-8000 or www.arlingtoncemetery.org

2. Carlyle House Historic Park

This 1753 Palladian stone home was built by British merchant John Carlyle for his wife, Sarah Fairfax, and later became Gen. Edward Braddock's headquarters during the French and Indian War. Fifty-minute guided tours of the home include the master quarters, study, parlor, and bedroom. Visitors can tour a historic 18th-century boxwood parterre. (703) 549-2997 or www.carlylehouse.org

3. Christ Church

Robert E. Lee and George Washington worshipped in this Georgian red brick Episcopalian church, which has been in continuous use since 1773. Docents guide visitors through the original structure, which contains Washington's original pew and hand-blown glass windows depicting religious scenes. (703) 549-1450 or www.historicchristchurch.org

4. Gadsby's Tavern

Opened in 1749, the tavern provided the likes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson with food, drink, and rest. Visitors today can dine in colonial rooms and choose from a variety of early American menu options, including Washington's favorite, glazed duckling. Exhibits inside the two adjacent buildings feature a pair of looking glasses and a portrait of English founder John Gadsby. (703) 838-4242 (museum), (703) 548-1288 (restaurant), or www.gadsbystavernrestaurant.org

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5. George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens

Home to George Washington between 1759 and 1799, the 21-room Georgian mansion sits on a bluff overlooking the Potomac. Self-guided tours of the interior showcase original Washington family pieces, including George's dressing table and Martha's china tea service. Two new visitors facilities a quarter mile from the house contain 25 galleries and theaters, lifelike wax models, and personal items, such as family jewelry and clothing.

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