We’ve been so busy visiting and traveling the last few weeks it’s been hard to keep up with the blog. We feel so blessed to be able to visit these places and learn about the history of our country. As we’ve traveled through Northern Virginia, we’ve been able to stop at many of the historic sites there along with a visit to Washington, D.C.
Our timing was just right to get to visit our friends Javier and Elsa and we’re so glad we were able to see them.
Visiting these places has been a wonderful educational experience for us all. We’ve learned more about the founding of our country and some of the struggles and trials the founders faced. How lucky we are to live in this great nation and to enjoy the blessings of liberty. Visiting these places is a reminder to the current generation not to squander these precious freedoms, but to continue in vigilance to protect and uphold our hard-won rights.
As we visited George Washington’s birthplace, we started to get a glimpse of what a great man he was. Then we visited his home at Mount Vernon and learned more about his integrity and character. There’s no doubt he truly was the father of our country.
By his sheer force of will and determination, he held his army together through 6 long years of fighting against the British.
When the fighting was over and independence won, George Washington held ultimate power as the leader of the Continental Army. Unlike other leaders in history (think Caesar, Napoleon, etc), he did not cling to his power until death, declaring himself king over this new nation, but instead resigned his commission and retired to his estate at Mount Vernon.
When called by the people, he came out of retirement to serve as the first President, defining the office and helping establish the separation of powers that limited the Executive. Then he stepped down after two terms, again putting the interests of the country ahead of his own.
Arlington National Cemetery
We spent our first afternoon in our nation’s capitol visiting Arlington National Cemetery, where we watched the changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We marveled at the thousands of tombstones marking the final resting places of those who served our country so well. We learned about the Arlington House and how it belonged to George Washington’s adopted son, then later to his granddaughter, who married Robert E. Lee. We saw the grave site of John F. Kennedy.
We spent the next day visiting the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and the National Air & Space Museum.
The kids got to play with various insects, including a gigantic cockroach.
We saw the space suit worn by the last person on the moon and the Wright brothers’ original flying machine.
Then we walked to the National Archives where we saw the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
US Marine Corps War Memorial
After a quick dinner at Potbelly Sandwich, we drove to the U.S. Marines Memorial.
The White House
We finished the day by parking on the street just a block from the White House, then walking over to see it first hand.
The next morning, we visited the White House Visitor Center and the kids earned their White House Junior Ranger badges.
National Museum of American History
We walked to the American History museum and spent several hours looking through the exhibits. The highlight of the visit was getting to see the Star-Spangled Banner, the original flag that flew over Fort McHenry and inspired Francis Scott Key to write the words to our National Anthem.
After lunch we walked down the National Mall to see the Washington Monument, the World War II Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
As we were walking, we got to see an official convoy pass by, complete with sirens, motorcycle cops, and several black SUVs. We aren’t sure if the President was in the convoy, but we like to think he was.
Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown
There is so much rich history in the Northern Virginia area it’s impossible to see it all in one visit, but we did make a special detour to stop in the Williamsburg area for a few days. This area is just full of history and warrants at least a week or two.
Jamestown, the site of the first permanent English settlement, was interesting to see. We are direct descendants of John Rolfe and Pocahontas, so it was a special treat to walk where they once walked.
We got a very good tour guide who has helped excavate the area there. It’s amazing what they have found at this site within just the last 20 years. Until a few years ago, everyone thought the original fort had been washed away as the river bank eroded. Recently, archaeologists have found that’s not the case. They’ve discovered the original walls of the fort, along with thousands of artifacts that were hiding just under the surface.
There are two places to see at Jamestown. One is called Jamestown Settlement, which is a re-creation of Jamestown with actors dressed in period clothing and lots of activities. The other site is called Historical Jamestowne, and is run in partnership with the National Parks Service. It is the site of the original settlement and is the site we visited.
Williamsburg was once the capitol of Virginia until the capitol was moved to Richmond during the Revolutionary War. This is the place where the House of Burgesses, the first elected legislative body in the American colonies, met. This is where George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and other Virginia-born Founding Fathers first participated in a democratic form of government, helping prepare them to establish our current form of government.
We actually got to tour the Governor’s Palace, where Thomas Jefferson lived while serving as Virginia’s 2nd post-colonial governor. We also toured the Capitol Building, where the House of Burgesses met.
Yorktown is the site of the last major battle of the Revolutionary War, where General Washington defeated Cornwallis. It was also the site of a Civil War battle almost 100 years later.
We happened to visit the Yorktown Battlefield on a special day when a Civil War re-enactment and demonstration was happening. People were dressed as Union and Confederate soldiers and did a demonstration of a Civil War cannon firing and a Rebel bayonet charge.
Then we spent the day touring the battlefield and learning all about the British defenses and how the American and French forces attacked. We saw the site where 8,000 defeated British troops marched to lay down their weapons in surrender. We saw relics from the time period, including George Washington’s actual tent, preserved and passed down through his family.
After visiting so many historical sites in such a short time, are we overwhelmed? Yes, definitely. Our heads are crammed with dates and facts, full of stories about battles and settlers. But we’re learning history and patriotism in the places where these events happened. We’re walking the grounds where giants have walked.
Junior Ranger Badges
- George Washington Birthplace
- Arlington National Cemetery
- White House Visitor Center
- Historic Jamestowne
- Yorktown Battlefield
- Parking in downtown DC – People were telling us to take the Metro (train) into the downtown area, but after looking at the costs, it was much cheaper for us to drive in and pay for parking. It’s about $25/day. We found two parking garages within a close walking distance to the Smithsonian and the monuments. Both garages had plenty of room when we arrived in the late morning.
- Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center – Enter on 14th St NW.
- Under the 701 Restaurant. Enter on D St NW between 7th and 8th street. It is right behind the National Archives building
- Drive to Arlington National Cemetary. There’s plenty of parking there and it’s cheap.
- All the Smithsonian museums and the monuments are free, so you only pay for parking or for public transportation to get there.
- After 6pm, many of the streets in DC open up for more parking. We parked a block or so from the White House on I St NW right at 6pm.
- Be prepared for a lot of walking. We averaged about 5 miles each day, but some families do 8 or 9 miles in a day.
- There is a National Mall Junior Ranger badge, which involves visiting the major monuments in the area, but we didn’t have time to do it this visit.
Parking Garages in DC
- There is RV parking at Mount Vernon, so it can be done as a side trip on the way through
- Mount Vernon is very crowded in the morning with school groups, so do the outside stuff in the morning, then go watch the videos in the afternoon after the school crowds are gone
- They don’t let you bring food or drinks (except water) into Mount Vernon, so be prepared to buy lunch there. Prices are reasonable in the food court.
Buy the $5 audio tour CD in the bookstore. Then drive around the battlefield as you listen. It’s well worth the $5. It took us a couple hours though, instead of the 45 minutes they told us at the Visitor Center.