There are few places in America encompassing important moments in the nation’s history quite like Virginia’s Cultural Region. From colonial times to current events, this has been the home of leaders and renegades, movers and shakers, all leaving behind plenty of evidence of the American spirit for you to explore.
It’s been a running bit since the dawn of the nation that any establishment claiming that “George Washington slept here” was worthy of the first presidential endorsement. But nowhere else on earth welcomed, soothed and inspired George Washington like his riverfront home, Mount Vernon. Today, it’s the most visited historic estate in America, giving you the chance to know America’s first president a bit better. The mansion is beautifully restored, along with four gardens and a working farm. There’s more to discover here than his famous dentures, which are, in fact, on display in the museum. You’ll get a glimpse of his habits, check out Martha’s jewelry, walk the grounds and hear the Potomac drift by just as they did.
GEORGE WASHINGTON MASONIC NATIONAL MEMORIAL
Just a few miles from Mount Vernon, Alexandria is known as George Washington’s hometown. Towering 333 feet high on a hill above the cobblestone streets of Alexandria is the George Washington Masonic National Memorial, an impressive construction dedicated to Washington’s history as a Freemason. A visit to the Memorial takes you into a realm of great respect for this founding father, honoring his virtues and character as the highest example of what Freemasons aspire to be. Take a guided tour to view a famed bronze figure of Washington along with many artifacts, murals and dioramas, and experience a diagonally ascending elevator ride through the eight floors of the ornate tower. Even if you don’t come away with all your questions answered about the Masonic organization, the view from the ninth-floor observation deck will have you feeling uplifted.
MARINE CORPS WAR MEMORIAL
Though they may not be able to come up with its correct name as a Jeopardy question, it’s an image familiar to many. The U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial depicts a brief moment that happened in the Pacific in the last months of World War II. The raising of the flag by five marines at Iwo Jima on the morning of February 23, 1945 is captured in this 78-foot tall memorial that features a 60-foot flagpole, 16-foot rifle and a canteen that would hold 32 quarts of water. Even more impressive than its statistics is the spirit of heroism and camaraderie it memorializes, expanding beyond WWII and that single moment in time to include names and dates of every principal Marine Corps engagement since the founding of the Corps at its base. Located outside Arlington National Cemetery, just across the Potomac River from D.C., the Memorial is dedicated to all Marines who have given their lives in defense of the United States since 1775. No matter what time of day you pay a visit, it’s a moving and spectacular sight – daytime views include the Washington Memorial and Capitol Rotunda in the distance, while at night the Memorial is lit in dramatic fashion.
MANASSAS NATIONAL BATTLEFIELD PARK
When Union forces met Confederate troops along the stream named Bull Run here in July of 1861, no one realized the years of conflict that would follow. In fact, citizens and congressmen brought wine and picnic baskets to observe the military maneuvers, soon realizing the serious nature of the event, one of the earliest battles of the Civil War. It was here on the grounds of Manassas National Battlefield Park that a young general named Jackson, from Virginia, held his troops in position by standing “like a stone wall.” A year later, this was the scene of a more famed battle – the details of Robert E. Lee’s Second Manassas campaign come to life on a visit here. Even if you’re not a Civil War buff, the quiet and reverie of these grassy fields and wide vistas have timeless appeal.
Near Leesburg in Loudoun County, you’ll find a thousand acres of beauty in Morven Park. Once home to Virginia Governor Westmoreland Davis, Morven Park is home to the Davis Mansion, a carriage museum, a hounds and hunting museum, spectacular woodlands and a mountainous ridge, along with formal gardens. In addition to its historic ambiance, the park keeps it current with a full calendar of equestrian events and field athletics including soccer, field hockey, lacrosse and Frisbee. You’ll also find more than two miles of hiking trails, including the Ridge Top Trail leading to the park’s highest elevation and scenic overlook.