A RESOURCE INVENTORY
This small wedge of meadow, forest, and marsh, bounded by the waters of Popes Creek, Bridges Creek, and the Potomac, contains the plantation grounds and sites of a number of historic structures associated with the Washington family and the birth and boyhood of George Washington. Here is the heart of the plantation owned by Augustine Washington, George's father, the site of the house in which George was born, and the sites of various outbuildings characteristic of tidewater plantations of that day. A mile northwest, on the banks of Bridges Creek, stood the second home of John Washington, George's great-grandfather and the first Washington to settle on the Northern Neck. Only a short distance from that site is the Washington Family Burial Ground, holding the graves of the father, grandfather, and great-grandfather of George Washington and other early family members.
In 1718 Augustine Washington bought 150 acres along Popes Creek and a few years later began building a substantial brick dwelling on a rise about 200 feet inland from Popes Creek. The house was probably finished by 1726. It was here that George Washington was born on February 22, 1732, the son of Augustine and his second wife, Mary Ball. George only lived here for 3-1/2 years. In 1735 Augustine Washington took his family 50 miles up the Potomac to his Hunting Creek farm (now Mount Vernon). Four years later he moved again, this time to a farm across the Rappahannock River from Fredericksburg. When Augustine Washington died in 1743, the Popes Creek property passed on to Augustine Jr., George's half brother. Later, as a boy of 11, George returned to Popes Creek on visits of undetermined frequency and length, before beginning his career as surveyor, soldier, and farmer. The farm remained in the family, but during the American Revolution the birthplace home burned and was never rebuilt.
This is the central interpretive story at the monument. An important related theme is the general history of the Washington family, beginning with the coming of John Washington to these shores in the mid-17th century, his marriage, the building of his second home on Bridges Creek, and his services to King and colony. Both the family history and the formative years of George Washington are best understood when displayed against the social, cultural, religious, political, and agricultural background of 17th- and 18th-century tidewater Virginia.
The birthplace site is by far the most important historical resource at the monument. Its approximate location is marked by the Memorial House, a 1-1/2-story brick structure built in 1931. As the name suggests, the house is not a replica of the original. Because little authentic information was available at the time, the Wakefield National Memorial Association erected an early 18th-century-style dwelling, drawing upon existing period houses in the region for size, type of construction, and floor plans. There is a good possibility that the ruins uncovered by the Park Service in 1936 and designated as "Building X" are actually the foundations of the house in which George Washington was born. Archeological and historical studies, undertaken years ago but never finished, should be resumed to settle conclusively what is one of the most important historical questions about the monument.
The Colonial Kitchen, just west of the Memorial House, stands on the site of an 18th-century foundation which was first unearthed in 1896. Between the house and Popes Creek a colonial-style garden, with many plants common to Virginia gardens of the period, is laid out. The Memorial Shaft, put up by the Federal Government in 1896 to mark the birthplace site, was moved to its present location at the monument entrance when the Memorial House was built.
The artifact collection, gathered during the several archeological investigations, constitutes one of the monument's most valuable resources. It includes such items as wine bottle seals with the name of Washington's great-grandfather and the monogram of his father as well as a variety of household objects which illustrate the daily life of the Washington family. The best are displayed in temporary exhibits in the Colonial Kitchen.
An equally important resource in other hands are the records preserved in the office of the clerk of Westmoreland County. Unusually complete, they date back to the 17th century and have so far yielded a great deal of background information on the Washington family.
Although the monument is chiefly noted for its history, there are other resources present, as summarized below.
Wildlife The water areas around the monument are an important stopping place and wintering ground for waterfowl, among them whistling swans, geese, and ducks. The bald eagle can also be seen in the vicinity.
Special Scenic Features From many parts of the monument the view across Popes Creek and the Potomac is superb.
Last Updated: 16-Apr-2010