A Historical Family Stop – Fredericksburg, VirginiaSeptember 6, 2011 No Comments
Looking for a friendly town full of history? On a recent east coast visit, charming Fredericksburg Virginia more than fit the bill for history buffs, scenery lovers, and shopping enthusiasts. It made a great stop as we drove from the Washington D.C. area into the south. Just off busy Interstate 95, the town retains a small town, historic feel, and is centrally located in an area filled with historic attractions. The town would also make a great pairing with a trip to the much more tourist driven mecca of Williamsburg Virginia. As a single night and day stop, it also serves well. Our kids loved the quaint streets and unique gift shops; and learning about the history of the region was easy and fun, with so much centered in the immediate downtown area. And we had one fascinating part of our history handed to us with our choice of accommodations.
The reasonably priced Richard Johnson Inn was built in 1754 by one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, architect John Taylow. The property is in the middle of the historic downtown area, allowing us to walk easily to Mary Washington’s house and the Fredericksburg museum. The rooms are large and pleasant, and an outdoor patio with a pretty fountain offers a nice gathering place for star gazing on a clear night. We liked the added bonus of a full breakfast served on weekends. While the Inn gladly accommodates children, families should let the inn know you’re coming with tots in tow. Some rooms are more appropriate than others. For families with children over twelve, no need to alert the staff.
Our first stop in the historic downtown core though was the Rising Sun Tavern, built by George Washington’s brother. Here, just a short walk from the inn, costumed guides wowed the kids by explaining the fascinatingly grotesque medical procedures of the time period from leeches to blister beetles and putting a hot cup over an open wound to draw out “poison” and blood. While the Tavern is no longer serving, we also learned where the word bartender originated: apparently servers used to keep their best bottles in cages.
Just outside of town, you’ll find Ferry Farm, George Washington’s boyhood home, and the location of the apocryphal cherry tree story. While most of the plantation is long gone, you can still see the cellar and the property itself. A little farther down the road there’s a national memorial to Washington’s birth place, where only the foundation remains. Still, the pastoral setting is lovely. The Farm has an interesting visitor center where you can start a self-guided tour of the property. We loved the rolling green countryside and the sense that we were literally walking in the footsteps of our country’s first president.
Back in Fredericksburg, we enjoyed a short but restful sunset carriage tour of the historic streets, and our kids were allowed to feed the horse an apple treat. While the sounds of hooves clip clopping down the streets were soothing, and local landmarks were pointed out, that was too tame a look at the town for our children. As we do in many cities, we found ourselves opting for a ghost tour. While there are several to chose from, we took the “Ghosts of Fredericksburg” tour that leaves directly from the visitors center. We learned that Fredericksburg held over a hundred thousand casualties from the Colonial to the Civil War period, making the streets ripe for haunting. The tour featured costumed guides leading us on an approximately ninety minute walking tour through the downtown area, telling us ghoulish tales and historical facts. The ghostly stories were mild enough for all ages; families with strollers welcomed.
Daylight brought us to the James Monroe museum, a collection of personal possessions belonging to Fredericksburg’s own James Monroe, the fifth U.S. president. While the kids enjoyed the garden the most, this is a must for older children and history buffs of all ages.
Another pleasant garden and more history awaits at the Mary Washington house, purchased in town for her by her son George.
We took a break from the history to let the kids explore the lovely Duff McDuff Park which overlooks the Rappahannock River. Running the grassy expanse with a great view of the rolling river worked up an appetite, which we sated by a stop at the charming sidewalk cafe Bistro Bethem. Named for its chef, the organic fruits and veggies served up were delicious, and we found this spot both family friendly and willing to accommodate the varied diets in our family.
Our favorite menu item was desert – a berry cobbler with local fruit sweet enough to please the kids and elegant enough for more sophisticated palates.
We enjoyed the easy going history that fills the town, the costumed guides, and the stories they told. Unlike nearby Williamsburg, where history is its business, Fredericksburg is a real community of businesses and vacation spots that just happens to wear its history with pride and relate it with zestful story telling. A low key way to pair history and relaxation, Fredericksburg as an off-highway find for our family.