By Debi Lander
The Tidewater area, including our nation’s capital, makes a memorable and educational trip for the family. Tour the city, see the famous landmarks and browse the museums — but Washington can feel overwhelming and congested. Therefore, I suggest a side trip to nearby Fredericksburg, Va., either by rail or car, to continue the theme, but relax amidst colonial history. The charming town offers many special events in December.
Start with a visit to Ferry Farm, George Washington’s boyhood home. Archeologists discovered the foundation in 2003 and after careful study, reconstructed a new building on the site. Visitors hear the story about young George, his parents, and his brothers and sisters. Did you know that Washington’s father died when he was 11? Many of the values that shaped George into a future leader came from his widowed mother. The site includes interpretive displays, buildings to tour, a working farm, hiking trails, and beautiful views.
Here’s the best part: since the house and furnishing are replicas, visitors are encouraged to touch and interact. They can sit at the dining room table, try out the beds or pick up items. It’s great for kids. And as an added holiday treat from Dec. 8 – Dec. 30, the annual gingerbread contest and exhibits will be on display.
In addition to Ferry Farm, Fredericksburg also showcases Kenmore, the most elegant house in town built in the 1770s by Washington’s sister and her husband. From Dec. 8 – Dec. 30, Kenmore will exhibit A Wee Christmas — Dollhouses and Miniatures Show with highly detailed, replica dollhouses, including the mansion, and miniatures.
The Mary Washington House, where George’s mother lived in during her last years, is open for tours year-round. On Dec. 1 from 4:30 p.m. – 7 p.m., a candlelight tour of the house will include hot cider and a chance to taste Mary Washington’s famous gingerbread.
George’s brother also built a home in Fredericksburg, but it later became the Rising Sun Tavern. Tours of the tavern by costumed docents explore period furnishings and 18th-century tavern customs. A holiday open house on Dec. 6 includes seasonal treats and Glasgow Punch.
Perhaps my favorite Fredericksburg attraction, the Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop, presents costumed staff who passionately explain the methods and ingredients used in Colonial medicine. See a glass jar of live leeches and learn how they were used for bloodletting. You’ll leave feeling happy to live in the 21st-century.
The James Monroe Museum was first opened in 1927 by Monroe descendants as a place to house their prized family collections. Today the James Monroe Law Office, used by future United States President James Monroe from 1786 to 1789, is a popular museum. An open house on Dec. 6 will feature music played on the harp and the Monroe family’s Astor pianoforte, plus a reception.
Fredericksburg contains more than just colonial history; visitors can follow a National Park Service auto tour through the Civil War Battle of Fredericksburg. The battle was one of the most lopsided victories for Confederate General Robert E. Lee. From Dec. 11 – 15, 1862, the Federal Army of the Potomac attempted to dislodge Lee’s army from the fortified heights of the city. Although the Federals did manage to breakthrough, the success was short-lived, and the Confederate position held strong for the remainder of the battle.
Fredericksburg thrives with a variety of modern, fine restaurants such as kybecca, Orofino, and Benny Vitali’s, selling the hugest slice of pizza ever. Consider a stop at the A. Smith Bowman Distillery, and overnight lodging at the Courtyard by Marriott Fredericksburg or a few lovely Bed and Breakfast Inns.
Be sure to stop by the Visitor Center for more information or VisitFred.com.
Visit www.bylandersea.com to read more of local travel writer Debi Lander’s stories and travel tips.
Photo courtesy Debi Lander