Day 10: Tuesday, October 13, 2015
Who loves snakes? This girl! That will become relevant later on – trust me…
The next morning, we got up and went downtown to take a walk (and a run for Jon) on the Fredericksburg Riverwalk. The morning was cool and crisp, and the sun was just rising. I took my camera along and was able to get down to the riverbank and take some beautiful pictures of the river with the rising light. Then Jon and I met back at the car to get ready for the day.
Our day was going to be action packed! We headed out from Fredericksburg, passing George Washington’s boyhood home, Ferry Farm, along the way. It would have been nice to stop, but we have to make choices about what we are going to see, and what we have to skip – can’t wait until retirement! We were going to see some of the Northern Neck of Virginia!
Our first stop of the morning was at George Washington Birthplace National Monument. As indicated by the name, George Washington was born here, and this was his home until he was three years old (when he moved to Ferry Farm). The home that Washington was born in was built sometime before 1718, and then enlarged between 1722 and 1726 – by the time Washington was born in 1772 it was a ten room mansion that the family had named Wakefield. Sadly, the home was destroyed by fire on Christmas Day 1779 and was not rebuilt, but there are other points of interest on the farm.
The Commonwealth of Virginia acquired the property in 1858 with the intention of restoring it, but the Civil War got in the way. The state donated the site to the federal government in 1882, but nothing was really done there until the 1920s. A historic preservation society raised the money to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Washington’s birth. They had a 1/10th replica of the Washington Monument built and placed at the entrance to the site, and also built a Memorial House.
The site was established as a National Monument on January 23, 1930, and has an annual visitation of about 130,647 (in 2011). When Jon and I walked up about 10:30 am, the place was empty. But we were greeted by a beautiful bald eagle who was sitting in a tree just above the Visitor’s Center. Talk about symbolism!
The Memorial Home is not intended to look like Washington’s birthplace home, as there are no surviving records to show what it looked like. Rather, it is supposed to look like a typical home from the period, constructed with hand-made bricks from the area, and furnished with period furniture. There is one tea table that is believed to have been in the birthplace home.
We visited the home site and saw where the outline of the original home is marked with crushed oyster shells. Then we got to see the inside of the Memorial Home. We could tour it at our leisure, as the rooms are just blocked off with plexi-glass in the doorway so you can’t go inside. Even though it wasn’t an authentic 18th century, they did a good job of making it appear to be period.
The ranger was pretty useless though – I asked her a couple of questions about the home, and she just kept saying that the home was not intended to look like the original home on the site. Even after I explained that I understood that, and I was really asking a more general question about homes of the era, she just kept repeating the same thing until I gave up. She was, without a doubt, the strangest park ranger I have ever encountered. Sigh…
After seeing the Memorial Home, Jon and I set off to find an old cabin on the site. We had to cross a short bridge that lead over an inlet of Pope’s Creek, and then walk long a trail that led alongside the creek (Pope’s Creek is really more like a river, by the way). We saw a gorgeous Great Blue Heron out fishing for his breakfast.
We had just gotten across the bridge when Jon spied a snake in the brush next to the trail. He (Jon) stopped dead in his tracks and refused to go any further. He waited cautiously as I took a couple of photos and then announced that he was going back. Apparently no cabin for me, unless I wanted to go it alone…
So back over the bridge we went, and suddenly, we saw a second snake swimming up to the bridge, and then under the bridge and out the other side! This snake was bright orange, and gorgeous! I was able to get some good photos of it too. At that point, Jon was very insistent that his exploring was over.
I did convince him that it would be safe to see the heritage sheep and cows on the farm though – they are so cute! The monument does a lot of educational programs with local schoolchildren, but thankfully we were there on a day that the farm was not crawling with kids.
As we were wrapping up our visit, I headed back into the Visitor’s Center to check out the exhibits, and to see if the ranger could ID my snakes. The first one was a Black Rat Snake, a non-poisonous snake that eats mice and rats and are considered very helpful snakes. However, they grow to about 6 feet long, so they freak a lot of people out. The one we saw was only about 2 feet long.
The second snake we saw was a copperhead! This snake is poisonous, although they aren’t really aggressive and prefer just to be left alone. From what I read, it is unusual to find them swimming, so I consider us lucky to see him!
George Washington Birthplace National Monument gets extra points for having fascinating wildlife! A Bald Eagle, a Great Blue Heron and two snakes, all in one visit!