This may come off as very “Educational” and it is exactly that. The side of Virginia we think you should check out once in your life are some of the Historical properties where our Nation’s first Presidents lived as well see how they lived. You will see how some have embraced the total history (both the good and ugly) and how we should tell the story of the men who owned the homes and how their enslaved people helped build our country. Don’t worry, we have some places to go that won’t be so heavy.
1. Visit former President George Washington’s Mount Vernon home. Mount Vernon was the plantation of George Washington, the first President of the United States of America. His home sits on the banks of the Potomac River, directly across from Maryland. This house was built in 1758 and was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1960. However, Washington’s great-grandfather owned the land since 1674 and Washington’s father built the original home around 1734. George Washington expanded the house twice. The current property is 500 acres and consists of the Mansion, over 30 outbuildings, gardens and a whiskey distillery. Inside the mansion, the rooms have been restored to their appearance at the time George Washington lived there and include many portraits and possessions of the family. You even get to touch an original artifact….the staircase that you climb to reach the second floor. If you love trees, as Washington did, don’t miss several different types of trees that Washington planted along the edge of the Bowling Green in 1785 that can still be seen today. For an even more in-depth experience, take a tour. We took the National Treasure tour and learned about the filming of the movie at Mount Vernon. Sadly, this home does ignore (for the most part) the history of the enslaved people who built and maintained Mount Vernon.
2. Visit our third President, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello home. We purchased the Monticello Day Pass and enjoyed a tour of the home. You can also opt for other (free) walking tours, such as the story of the enslaved children of President Jefferson and their mother Sally Hemings at Monticello tour. This is easily the best we’ve witnessed addressing the original sin of our nation. Jefferson’s home was also full of his new inventions (for that time period) and decorated with Parisian style (noted Francophile). Be sure not to miss the garden pavilion. Jefferson loved gardens and this one is vast and impressive. We were even able to purchase heirloom seeds so that we can experience the same vegetables from his garden. As we said, there is a Life of Sally Hemings exhibit that is a collection of recollections drawn from the words of her son Madison Hemings. Visit the Griffin Discovery Room. This room is designed to touch history as you hold replicas of toys, games, and tools that Jefferson owned and developed. President Thomas Jefferson wore many hats and they are reflected in his Monticello home. This farmer, architect, leader, lawyer, inventor, slave owner, and diplomat led an interesting life, flawed life and it makes a visit to his estate well worth the time. Be sure not to miss his “clock.”
3. James Madison’s Montpelier. This is the lifelong home of our fourth President, James Madison, and his wife Dolley. You can tour his mansion, impressive gardens, historic buildings, and exhibits. You can also stroll the over 8 miles of walking trails, visit the archaeology lab and active archeological dig sites and explore the galleries. The staff here does an excellent job of telling stories about Madison and his family and well as the realities of slavery. This is a must-see to learn more about Madison’s most powerful idea: government by the people.
4. James Monroe’s Highland. This is the home of the fifth President, James Monroe, and is only 45 minutes from Montpelier. The staff did a wonderful job educating us about this lesser-known president and his family. When you visit, you will hear the story of the lost and found the main house. You’ll learn of the fire that contributed to the name “Ash Lawn” and visit the guest house which contains furnishings original to the Monroe family. This is also a great place to hike. The Highlands has well-maintained trails complete with butterflies and wildflowers. And don’t miss the gift shop. It’s huge and well-stocked!
5. Finally, something not so heavy is just a good old-fashioned local/regional chain. Eat at Pal’s. (AKA Pal’s Sudden Service). Pal’s is a small fast-food chain found in northeast Tennessee and southwestern Virginia. The first Pal’s opened in 1956 and they have been doing it right ever since. They have low turnover due to their required 200 hours in training and their customer service is top-notch. Their buildings greet you with eye-catching architecture. And their food is phenomenal. We can vouch for their sweet tea, sauce burger, shakes, Big Pal burger, and french fries. This place is a must-try if you’re in the area.