On my way home from a lovely weekend with college friends in Kilmarnock, Va., signs promising a glimpse of George Washington’s birthplace lured me off course. (Remain on seat’s edge: Kilmarnock post forthcoming.)
Before the Commanders in Chief were from Arkansas, California or Hawaii, Virginia was the preferred spot to give birth to presidents. In fact, more presidents were born in the Old Dominion than anywhere else. It was a pretty hot streak all the way to 10, if you don’t count those interloper Massachusetts Adamses (John and John Quincy at second and sixth, respectively); or, of course, that rascal Andrew Jackson (seventh) of South Carolina. Or New York’s Martin van Buren (eighth) and his unruly sidewhiskers.
Ok, well that’s not the hottest streak. But, as you can see, every time Americans tired of these flirtations with honchos from elsewhere, Virginia was ready to provide more leadership. Check out the illustrious list: George Washington, 1st; Thomas Jefferson, 3rd; James Madison, 4th; James Monroe, 5th; William Henry Harrison, 9th; John Tyler, 10th; Zachary Taylor, 12th; and Woodrow Wilson, 28th. I’m not sure what happened between Zachary Taylor and Woodrow Wilson (and since then), but if you’re traveling in Virginia and you’d like to tour a president’s first home, you’ll never have to go too far.
Even if you’re not on a quest to rack up birthplace site visits, it’s worth a stop to roam the grounds of Pope’s Creek Plantation and think a little bit about young George, who was born here in 1732. The farm and buildings are only about two miles from Route 3. (You’ll know you’re there when you see the ubiquitous obelisk that seems to accompany every memorial of our first leader. This one is one-tenth of the size of the Washington Monument in D.C.)
Stroll along the brick pathways and visit the few reconstructed buildings. (I will personally never tire of standing in a low-ceiling colonial kitchen watching a costumed demonstrator channel a plantation cook.) A Christmas Day fire in 1779 wiped out the original structures, but archaeologists excavated the foundation of George’s first home in 1936. The outline is marked in oyster shells—so appropriate to that riverside Virginia geography.
The Potomac River flows along the edge of the farm looking vast and brown. You can fish here or even sunbathe (say the signs). I think George enjoyed the first activity, but not the other—he always looks stately, but pale.
Across the lane you can enter a walled burial ground where three generations of Washingtons are interred, including George’s grandparents. A gift shop (the other ubiquitous accompaniment to memorials of George) and visitor’s center offer books, films and exhibits about the first Father of Our Country.
I’d say that the country is ripe for another Virginia-born leader (after Obama’s second term, of course). It’s been a long stretch since Woodrow Wilson dealt with Prohibition and World War I. How about it, Virginia readers: Are any of your daughters or sons up for the job?