A fun and interactive history lesson for families looking to keep their kids passionate about learning, even after the final school bell rings this summer.
Luckily for us, Virginia is a state that keeps its rich history alive and entertaining for new and young audiences. Among the many nationally recognized historic landmarks are the following former presidents’ homes, all of which are open to the public, offer engaging tours that are appropriate for all ages and are within roughly two hours of Northern Virginia. Immerse your child in history while also spending some quality time in the beautiful natural landscapes that surround these estates.
Of course, first and foremost, there’s George Washington’s Mount Vernon right here in NoVA. The first president’s estate is an incredibly popular site for families and history buffs alike to explore its beautiful gardens and trails, on-site historical depiction of a pioneer farm and even the tombs of Washington and his wife. There are often art exhibits and easily accessible tours in the mansion. An added bonus is the dog-friendly nature of the estate due to Washington’s great affection for his own pets. // George Washington’s Mount Vernon: 3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Mount Vernon
Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello home includes his presidential library, a research institution, a museum and a historic plantation. There are many tours available for visitors to choose from listed on the website, such as slavery, house and garden and grounds tours. There are many interesting facts about Jefferson’s life at the estate, a small one being that he planted 330 varieties of vegetables in Monticello’s 1,000-foot-long garden terrace—all of which are still thriving today thanks to diligent upkeep. // Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello: 931 Thomas Jefferson Parkway, Charlottesville
James Madison, as described on the Montpelier home website, was the Father of the Constitution and Architect of the Bill of Rights; needless to say, there is an enormous wealth of information to be gleaned about the president at this residential tour. There are walking tours along the Civil War trail, a tour of the Gilmore Farm and the surrounding grounds and a Journey from Slavery to Freedom walking tour—among others. House tours are free for children from July 5-Sept. 1 and include interactive kid-friendly activities. // James Madison’s Montpelier: 11350 Constitution Highway, Montpelier Station
Learn about James Monroe, president during the Era of Good Feelings, and his role in the birth of the nation by debating the Missouri Compromise, expanding the nation westward and other key moments in the country’s history. Highland, which is the moniker Monroe gave his Albemarle County estate, is adjacent to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello if you want to try to tackle both homes during a day trip. // Highland: 2050 James Monroe Parkway, Charlottesville
William Henry Harrison
William Henry Harrison, ninth president of the United States, was born in 1773 on the Berkeley Plantation. The historic plantation is also the site of the first Thanksgiving and the place where the emotional bugle melody “Taps” was first played. Tours of the house, gardens and grounds are given in groups, and there is a special student discount available. // Berkeley Plantation: 12602 Harrison Landing Road, Charles City
Sherwood Forest, home of President John Tyler, was considered a historic landmark in Virginia after it survived the Civil War. Notably, this president’s home has a legacy of ghost stories such as that of the Gray Lady, who has been heard rocking in the Gray Room for over 200 years. The grounds and surrounding forest are beautiful and worth a visit. // Sherwood Forest Plantation Foundation: 14501 John Tyler Memorial Highway, Charles City
The birthplace of Woodrow Wilson is a manse, meaning the home of a Presbyterian minister, that has been restored to its pre-Civil War era Greek Revival roots and is currently open for tours. The house is filled with the Wilson family’s possessions, including furniture and paintings. There is a guided house tour and a series of special tours for those interested in Wilson’s presidential library, the lives of the slaves on the estate or a behind-the-scenes look at the president’s restored 1919 Pierce-Arrow limousine. // Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum: 20 N. Coalter St., Staunton