History on Virginia’s Northern Neck
By Candyce H. Stapen
Water—creeks, streams, ponds, rivers and the bay—define Virginia’s Northern Neck. The region, bounded by the Potomac River on the north, the Rappahannock River on the south, and the Chesapeake Bay on the east offers more than 1,200 miles of tidal coastline as well as 6,500 acres of natural areas, including marshes, state parks and preserves, plus 18th century plantations. Despite these attractions, the Northern Neck remains something of a less-traveled jewel.
The George Washington Birthplace National Monument on Popes Creek Plantation, Colonial Beach, is where the father of our country was born on February 22, 1732. Even though only the footprint of the original Washington home remains, you do gain insight into what early life was like for little Georgie. You hear the same lapping of the creek that soothed our first president. An informative film using excerpts of Washington’s own diaries sets the tone about life on a tobacco farm. Kids like seeing the animals of the period that the farm raises. There’s also a reconstructed 18th century upper class plantation house--not like the one George inhabited --that can be toured.
To learn more about how the 18th century upper class lived, visit Stratford Hall Plantation, Stratford. The stately Great House, completed in the 1740s and surrounded by nearly 1600-acres, was the family home of the Lees of Virginia. In the Great Hall, an impressive Georgian style reception area hung with family portraits, the Lees received the other landed gentry of the era. Richard Henry Lee and Francis Lightfoot Lee, both signers of the Declaration of Independence, grew up at the plantation whose green lawns roll toward the Potomac River.
Robert Edward Lee, born in the residence on January 19, 1807, resided here until he was almost four years-old, spending much of his time in the nursery. Legend has it that when the carriages were packed and the family about to depart, no one could find young Robert. He was discovered in the nursery saying goodbye to “his angels,” a pair of still visible winged guardians sculpted into the back of the nursery fireplace. Along with the mansion, see the carriage house, the “Negro” cabins, the kitchen and stroll the gardens. Check the schedule of special events, including hands-on history activities for children.
Virginia’s Northern Neck offers two great places to stay. The kid-friendly Tides Inn, an AAA Four Diamond property, sprawls on a peninsula on Carters Creek. The 106 room hotel features an 18-hole golf course, a par 3 complimentary golf course, a 60 slip marina plus the on site Premier Sailing School where you can learn to sail. A children’s program operates in summer and on holidays for ages 4-12. The resort closes after New Year’s Day until March.
The owners of the Hope and Glory Inn, situated in the small town of Irvington, describe the décor as “shabby-chic.” Add “ with a sense of humor” to describe the whimsical mix of slip-covered couches, white wicker and painted furniture with folk art and found objects that characterize the 1890 schoolhouse turned B&B. The 13 cottages offer more space and privacy than the inn’s rooms. Six one-bedroom units are behind the inn in the garden, whose highlight is an outdoor clawfoot, perfect for moonlit soaks. Seven cottages, called “tents,” are situated in a nearby vineyard and have easy access to a pool.