A Master Plan for George Washington Birthplace National Monument, Virginia
NPS Logo


For a moderate investment at this monument, the National Park Service can achieve a number of broad educational and conservation objectives: an effective retelling of the Washington story, the display of land, ruins, and artifacts associated with the Washington family, the demonstration of farming practices in Washington's day, and the preservation of a stretch of the Potomac shore. The opportunities are many, and if the work is skillfully done, we should be able both to enjoy now and pass on to future generations a park in which history and nature can be pleasantly encountered. As the great urban centers to the north, west, and south, press onto the Northern Neck over the next decades, the value of this small park should become even more apparent.

How these objectives can be realized is the subject of this section of the Master Plan. The requirements fall into three broad categories: resource management, visitor use, and administration.

In 1896 the Nation first marked the birthplace site with this granite shaft. It was later moved to the present location.

A survey of land near Bridges Creek by young Washington in 1747.


The Historic Scene

A major interpretive objective is to recreate authentically, insofar as possible, the farm scene at the time of Washington's birth. The Memorial House and the Colonial Kitchen—both period reconstructions on 18th-century foundations—and the Colonial Garden and a few other features, along with the natural glory of the land, suggest today a semblance of a colonial Virginia tidewater plantation. Yet there are grave deficiencies in the present scheme, whether the reconstructions are taken singly or considered as a whole. The exact site of the birthplace house has never been conclusively determined, and general data on the historical appearance of the farm is lacking. So far as is known, none of the reconstructions preserve any authentic historical features of the original plantation. Moreover, other buildings are so unfortunately designed and located as to be themselves intrusions.

Present efforts to preserve and maintain the natural and historical setting should continue as long as they do not conflict with new findings in history and archeology. Roads will be restricted to those necessary for visitor and administrative use.

Because sound preservation and interpretive programs must proceed from a reliable fund of knowledge, a comprehensive program of historical and archeological research should be carried out as soon as possible. The site, size, design, and character of the birthplace house and other physical features of the Augustine Washington plantation and the sites of other colonial farm houses and outbuildings must be determined, if at all possible. A Historic House Furnishings Plan should be prepared to guide the refurnishing of the Memorial House and the Colonial Kitchen with items appropriate to the times. When research is completed, the findings should be utilized to design a setting that is both historically consistent and aesthetically pleasing.

Cedars on Burnt House Point.

To avoid damage to any archeological resources that may be present, the planning and construction of the main Interpretive Facility should move forward only after salvage studies have been completed. The facility should not encroach on the plantation setting along Popes Creek; it should permit access to the main interpretive and scenic areas of the monument.

Some thought should be given to stabilizing and exhibiting the ruins of structures associated with the farms of both John and Augustine Washington.

Land-Use Controls

The Park Service has a vital interest in the use made of the water and land adjoining the monument. The private farming now being carried on nearby is compatible with the Service's objectives and should be encouraged to continue. But hunting and commercial development along Popes Creek are incompatible.

To insure the preservation of the rural scene, the land on both sides of Popes Creek, the land along the monument's western boundary, the interior properties bounded by monument lands and the Potomac River, and the land bordering Va. 204 between the future route of the George Washington Country Parkway and the monument entrance should be controlled by the Park Service. Several methods can be considered: acquisition and the lease or resale of certain rights, perpetual easements, county zoning, or any other practical arrangement.

The waters of Popes Creek fronting on the monument should be protected by either outright acquisition or by regulations developed jointly by the Park Service and the Commonwealth of Virginia. Use should be restricted to non-powered boats; all adverse uses, such as hunting, swimming, and commercial activities, should be eliminated.

An ecological study should be made of the wetlands along the upper reaches of Popes Creek. This study should determine what effect the disturbance of natural conditions along the headwaters would have on the ecology of the estuary. The study may lead to later recommendations for scenic easements or other controls over the wetlands.

A foreshadow of the living farm, proposed by this plan for the monument.

LAND ACQUISITION PLAN. (click on image for a PDF version)

Farming is an agreeable use of land bordering the monument.

Agricultural Use

Under a Special-Use Permit cattle and crops are now raised on 170 acres of monument land to help retain the farm character of the area. The association also grazes sheep here for the same purpose.

The Historical Base Map should guide the proposed historic living farm restoration, with its appropriate farm buildings, roads, fences, and the growing of period crops and the raising of period farm animals by 18th-century methods. This restoration should be restricted to about 20 acres south of the Memorial House, unless research justifies additional sites. Farming of the 170 acres should continue under a Special-Use Permit, unless it conflicts with the living farm.

Soybeans, grown on monument land under a special-use permit. This farm setting will be maintained.

Historical Collections

There are some 50,000 items in the monument's artifact collection, most of them derived from past archaeological work here. They are stored in the basement of the Memorial House, and a dehumidifying system in the house helps preserve not only them but also the fragile textiles and other furnishings there. A Museum Collections Study needs to be made to identify each object and to furnish management with guidelines as to their usefulness for interpretation.

Fire Control

Although no major fires have occurred since the monument's establishment, a potential hazard exists because so few workers would be available to fight a fire: two, if the fire broke out during working hours; only one or none, if it broke out at any other time. For equipment the staff has only a few small extinguishers, a 75-gallon pumper, garden hoses, backpack pumps, and hand tools until help arrives.

The nearest fire-fighting units are volunteer organizations in Montross and Colonial Beach, each about 12 miles away. The Park Service has no legal agreement with either, but both have cooperated splendidly in the past.

To assure public and private assistance in a fire emergency, it is vital that the present level of good relations with our neighbors be maintained. At present only one employee lives in the monument. Three permanent employees should live here to protect the monument adequately. There is also an immediate need to back up the present unreliable telephone service with short-wave radio equipment, tied-in if possible with Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.


Information Services

In summer visitors first meet park personnel at the gate house in the monument circle. During the winter only the Memorial House is manned. At both points guides introduce the visitor to the facilities and the main points of interest at the monument.

The proposed Interpretive Facility will remedy the lack of an effective entrance experience for visitors. It will also fulfill the requirements for a suitable place in which to receive and orient visitors and offer them the personal services they need and have come to expect.

The present entrance station should be eliminated and the entrance road relocated so that visitors proceed directly to the main interpretive point. Fees should be collected at this facility and space made available in it to the Association for their sales operation.

The exercise of use-controls on the land along Va. 204 between the proposed parkway and the monument entrance, as discussed earlier, should assure a pleasant approach. The Park Service should also acquire administrative control over Va. 204 between that route and the monument.

A nature trail, relating natural features to life in colonial times, will take off from this pond near Bridges Creek.

Interpretive Services

The present interpretive program stresses the Memorial House as an educational exhibit with inspirational overtones and the surrounding grounds as a setting of natural beauty. The program does not offer effective interpretation of either George Washington or his family and regional background. Because of a lack of historical and archeological data, interpretation remains largely memorial in character.

An Interpretive Facility, artfully located to take advantage of the view over Popes Creek without becoming an intrusion in itself, is needed to house this program and a number of related functions. The historical objects associated with the site should be liberally displayed here to lend reality and authenticity to the story.

More and better literature, both sales and free, is needed to interpret important aspects of the Washington-Wakefield story. There is an especial need for children's literature.

Historical Buildings

Interpretation of the Memorial House and the Colonial Kitchen would be greatly improved by completing the furnishing of both buildings with items appropriate to the period and by using better interpretive methods inside. When exhibits are removed from the backroom of the kitchen, this room should be furnished according to recommendations laid down by research studies. Additional interpreters, both seasonal and permanent, will be needed to staff these buildings and to carry out other interpretive functions.

The study in the Memorial House.

The Historic Grounds

Perhaps the most memorable visitor experience at the monument comes as one stands on the broad front lawn of the house and looks out over a scene remarkably unchanged from Washington's day. The mood generated by this view should be reinforced by skillfully designing a walking tour of the grounds that will emphasize significant features related to the birth and boyhood theme. This tour should incorporate interesting findings from the historical and archeological research, among them important structural ruins, such as "Building X" and ruins at the John Washington and Henry Brooks sites.

The second theme presented on a walking tour should be the story of the operating farm as Washington knew it. Through the reconstruction of working farm buildings, the raising of period crops and livestock, and the demonstration of 18th-century farming methods, it should be possible to create a convincing portrait, in reduced scale, of the Washington farm. To succeed, this effort must be based on wide and deep research.

This theme can be strengthened by laying-out nature-history walks along the Popes Creek shore which will relate natural history features to colonial life and Washington's experiences. It would also be appropriate to interpret the waterfowl present seasonally on nearby waters. A secondary interpretive facility should be developed overlooking Popes Creek for this purpose.

Recreation Activities

Swimming Because nearby Colonial Beach and Westmoreland State Park offer public swimming, boating, and camping facilities, the Park Service has an opportunity here to develop facilities of a quieter and more contemplative nature. Special regulations are needed to prohibit swimming at the monument.

Trails In the past over 2-1/2 miles of foot trails have been built in the monument. They allow visitors to experience a woodlands environment similar to the one George Washington may have known. A system of foot trails should be newly developed to give access to significant natural areas of the monument, including the shore, and to boost such activities as walking, nature observations, and the quiet enjoyment of the land and water.

GENERAL DEVELOPMENT PLAN. The monument as it will be.

1. Main interpretive facility.

2. Living farm area.

3. Entrance road.

4. Self-guiding history trail.

5. "Building X," uncovered and stabilized.

6. Colonial Kitchen: furnishing to be completed.

7. Memorial House: furnishing to be completed.

8. Colonial Garden: possibly relocated.

9. Foot bridge

10. Log House: to be rehabilitated.

11. Secondary interpretive facility (theme: seasonal waterfowl).

12. Picnic area.

13. Self-guiding nature trail: to use existing trails.

14. Residences for farm laborers.

15. Self-guiding nature trail: to be developed.

16. Quiet use of Potomac Shore.

17. Interpretation at Henry Brooks house site.

18. Picnic area.

19. Interpretation at Bridges Creek site.

20. Maintenance area.

21. New residence for park employee.

22. Acquire administrative control of Va. 204.

23. Land to be acquired.

(click on image for a PDF version)

Picnicking The picnic area is adequate for the present number of visitors. When the park is fully developed and visits begin to lengthen, the demand for picnicking sites in such an attractive area will undoubtedly rise. Two small picnic areas are recommended, both closely associated with scenic views of the monument's pond and creek environment.

The expected increased use resulting from development and construction of the George Washington Country Parkway may also open the way to offering meal services at the monument. A study of the need and desirability of such service should be made in the future.

Overnight Accommodations

There are camping facilities at Westmoreland State Park and several nearby private sites. If the Potomac Heritage Trail is ever realized, the monument might be a suitable overnight stopping place. But until the trail exists and the need for camping facilities becomes evident, the planning for such facilities should be delayed.

Law Enforcement

The management assistant and his staff are responsible for protecting visitors and the monument's resources and facilities. The Park Service has welcomed the assistance of local and State law enforcement agencies in the past, but these agencies are least able to patrol park roads when visitor use is the heaviest—in summer. The Potomac beach near the burial ground is a trouble spot then. Groups gather to swim and engage in a variety of activities inconsistent with the purposes for which the monument was established. Swimming is permitted only during the day; at night the road beyond the burial ground is closed, but many find it easy to park at the burial ground and walk to the beach. Unless the management assistant patrols this area at night, these activities go on unhindered.

Two general measures will contribute to better law enforcement at the monument: (1) the management assistant and his staff should increase their efforts at traffic control and the regulation of certain improper uses; and (2) more employees should be assigned to live in the monument. To regulate the uses of the shore, the Park Service should (1) control all inholdings; (2) construct a gate across the main park entrance; (3) take out the road leading from the burial ground to the river; and (4) issue special regulations banning swimming in the monument.

The Potomac shore.


Administrative Services

The management assistant, under the supervision of the Superintendent, directs the operations of the National Monument. He schedules, manages, evaluates, and coordinates the work of the monument staff and applies policy directives for the proper conduct of various programs. He participates in long-range management and development planning, in the preparation of Master Plans, and in programming and supervising construction work. An important aspect of his work is the cultivation of good relations with park neighbors and the assorted agencies whose work bears on the monument's activities. He holds membership in or provides liaison with the following groups: • Westmoreland County authorities • Virginia State Police • Colonial Beach Fire Department • Colonial Beach Rescue Squad • Regional Civil Defense authorities • Dahlgren Naval Proving Grounds • Robert E. Lee Memorial Foundation • Wakefield National Memorial Association.

The present lack of adequate office, storage, concession and Post Office space will be remedied when the proposed Interpretive Facility is built. When a number of proposed programs get underway, such as the 18th-century farm, a management appraisal should be conducted to determine whether more administrative responsibilities should be assigned to the park staff.

Maintenance of Facilities

Maintenance in the National Monument is a steadily expanding operation. There are 4.5 miles of roads, 2.59 miles of trails, numerous signs, markers, and fences, a colonial-period garden, and some two dozen buildings, most built during the 1930's. As could be expected, age, weather, and termites have taken a toll of the monument's facilities.

Maintenance operations are now inadequately housed and staffed. These are the requirements for an effective maintenance program for the immediate future:

(1) The existing maintenance area should be removed and new facilities (both storage and work space) built at a place outside the important historical zones.

(2) More maintenance workers are needed to meet the increasing responsibilities that will be imposed by development.

(3) Archeological investigations should precede any construction project to avoid damaging or covering up valuable ruins or sites.

(4) To avoid unnecessary road construction, historic farm roads, restored as part of the living farm, can be used to bring essential maintenance services to the farm complex.

Staff Housing

There are two residences in the monument now, both in good condition. The rest of the staff live in the nearby community.

One additional residence is needed in the monument to provide protection at night and when the management assistant is away. The operation of the living farm may make it necessary to provide quarters for some farm employees. Temporary seasonal housing will also be available through conversion of the Log Tea Room for this purpose.


Staff increases are needed for the following functions:

Office of Management Assistant

To provide part-time clerical help to the management assistant.

Visitor Services

To man the proposed Interpretive Facility.

To provide effective on-site supervision of the interpretive program.

To guide programs dealing with the management of historical, natural, and archeological resources.

To give more effective 24-hour protection to resources and visitors now and to meet increasing responsibilities as development of the monument proceeds.

To provide improved informational and interpretive services on the grounds during the travel season, especially at the living farm and along the shore.


To maintain the proposed Interpretive Facility.

To maintain an expanded system of roads and trails.

To maintain the several staff facilities proposed by this master plan, including residences.

To operate and maintain the living farm all year.


The Wakefield National Memorial Association, the authorized concessioner, sells boxwood slips, mementos, and interpretive literature. Their facilities for sales and storage are sadly inadequate.

The Interpretive Facility should be planned to provide suitable space for the association to carry on its activities. The association should be encouraged to expand its sales operation to include new interpretive publications and the commodities produced by the living farm.

<<< Previous <<< Contents>>>

Last Updated: 16-Apr-2010