With Presidents Day weekend around the corner — February 17 this year — consider a fun and (shhh!) educational trip to the state of Virginia. Your kids’ teachers will be the ones sending you cupcakes.
Virginia earned her nickname “the Mother of Presidents” by raising four of the very titans who sunk all they had in creating America. We’re talking Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe. And then she gave us four more: Harrison, Tyler, Taylor, and Wilson. Each man — save Tayler who moved as a child — left sprawling mansions, glittering museums, boyhood homes and upscale retreats behind.
While you can’t see everything in one visit — you can explore a lot of history with this awesome go-to list:
Each year, more than a million people visit George and Martha Washington’s home (about 30 minutes from Washington D.C.), making it the most popular historical estate in America. The mansion rooms are arranged just as the Washingtons would remember with their actual furniture, including the bed where Washington died. But the crown jewel at Mount Vernon is the first-rate Donald W. Reynold Museum & Education Center that’s brimming with kid-bait artifacts like Washington’s famous dentures, Revolutionary War weapons, Martha’s jewelry, the couple’s silver and china, and incredible films about Washington’s life (not for the under 8 set). After three hours, I still had to shoehorn my boys out at closing.
Mount Vernon celebrates George Washington’s birthday during Presidents Day weekend by welcoming everyone for free on Feb. 17. Yes, 10,000 people descend there on Washington’s big day. Our suggestion? Save yourself and visit at a less trampled time. Adults are $17 and kids 6 to 11 are $8.
Our third American president, Thomas Jefferson, wrote the Declaration of Independence and created a marvel of a mansion, Monticello, located near Charlottesville, Va. The profile on the front of the American nickel? Jefferson. Home on the back? Monticello. With kids in tow, reserve the Family Friendly Tour where guides get down on one knee to point out all that would interest a child. Our impressive guide even read a letter from Jefferson’s granddaughter to the great man himself. Arrive an hour before your tour to enjoy the exceptional gift shop and (kid-safe) movie. Adult tickets cost between $18 and $25 depending on the season, and kids 6 to 11 are $8.
You’d think penning our Bill of Rights would keep a guy front-and-center in the minds of Americans. Not so much if you’re James Madsion — our fourth president — and married to the Beyonce of his day: Dolley Madison. Dolley, adored for her lavish clothes and fabulous parties, sealed the celebrity deal when she saved George Washington. You see, when the British torched Washington D.C. and the Executive Mansion in 1814, Dolley ordered servants to break the frame and save a famous portrait of Washington. Montpelier, the estate of James and Dolley, sits an hour from Monticello in Orange Co., Va., on its own 2,000 rolling acres. On the mansion tour, you’ll walk through the first floor filled with art, antiques and conversational pieces from Madison’s day. You’ll also see the presidential library with titles he used to create the Bill of Rights. Adults are $18 and children 6 to 14 are $7; a carload can visit for $10 in September for the Constitution Day celebration.
Visiting Colonial Williamsburg? Then you’re close(ish) to two presidential plantations that were both occupied by Union forces during the Civil War. William Henry Harrison, our ninth president, owned the Berkeley Plantation — a gorgeously preserved 18th century jewel box that sits on a stunning 1,000 acres about 45 minutes from Williamsburg. Adults are $11, kids 6 to 12 are $6, and students 13 to 16 are $7.50.
Sherwood Forest Plantation
John Tyler, our tenth president, owned Sherwood Forest Plantation and died in 1862. Today Tyler’s octogenarian grandson (yes, I said grandson), Harrison Tyler, lives with his family at Sherwood Forest, a 30-minute drive from Williamsburg. Upshot: Tyler had a child in his 60′s. That child, in his mid-70′s, had a child — two to be exact both of whom are still with us today. Self-guided grounds tours are $10 per person, children 15 and under are free. The guided house tour is $35 per person.
For more ideas, see our 10 Best Presidential Sites for Kids.
– Wendy Irvine
Wendy Irvine is a family travel writer living in Virginia and mom of twin 10-year-old boys. Thanks to her sons and husband, she has learned far more than she needed to know on historical weapons: cannons, muskets with bayonet, rifles, pistols, sabers, and other spear-like weapons.