George Washington’s Ferry Farm (Virginia)

Last month, I reviewed George Washington’s birthplace in Westmoreland County, Virginia, and last year, I reviewed the estate where he spent most of his adult life, Mount Vernon.  Did you know that there is an additional location where George spent the formative years of his youth?  For my Presidential focus this month, I visited George Washington’s Ferry Farm, just outside of Fredericksburg, VA.

After his birth in 1732, George spent his first three years at the family’s farm along Pope’s Creek, in what is now known as Virginia’s Northern Neck.  From ages 3-6, his family lived at Mount Vernon, and when he was six years old, his father, Augustine, moved the family to Ferry Farm, located on a bluff across the Rappahannock River from the city of Fredericksburg.  This location was strategically located near his Pope’s Creek farm and on the river to additional property.  Augustine grew mostly tobacco, corn, and wheat here, some of which is still grown in the gardens today.  The farm was adjacent to a popular ferry for travelers who often stayed at the Washington home before or after taking the ferry, hence the name Ferry Farm.

This farm is where two of the most enduring mythological stories about George originated.  It was at Ferry Farm that George supposedly chopped down the cherry tree and skipped a coin across the river.  Both of these long-standing tall tales are not true but that doesn’t stop kids from trying to find a cherry tree on the property!

George’s father died here in 1743 when George was just 11 years old, leaving the farm to George while his two older sons by his first marriage inherited the Pope’s Creek farm and Mount Vernon.  Due to George’s young age, his mother, Mary, actually ran the farm until he came of age at 21 years old.  By that time, however, George was spending most of his time as a surveyor in western Virginia so he was not living here.  Mary continued to live at the property until 1772 when she moved across the river to be closer to her daughter’s family (who owned the sister property of the farm, Kenmore).  After she left, George sold the land to a fellow Revolutionary War soldier, Hugh Mercer.  

The land also played a role in the Civil War during the Battle of Fredericksburg in December of 1862.  The Union Army was stationed on the northern bluff of the Rappahannock River and soldiers camped on the farm’s land.  During the horrific battle, which was the first major combat of the war to take place in a town, the Union Army crossed the river using pontoon boats and made a futile attack on the heavily entrenched Confederates on the high ground south of the city.  The unfortunate citizens of the town were caught in between.  Only a few miles west of Ferry Farm is Chatham Manor where Clara Barton helped run a hospital for wounded Union soldiers.

In more recent years, the site was slated to become a Walmart before the George Washington Foundation saved it.  Thank goodness for the citizens who fought to preserve such an important piece of American history!

Your kids will enjoy seeing the land where Washington grew up on the daily tour of Ferry Farm.  Be sure to buy your tickets for visiting Ferry Farm online to ensure a spot in the limited tours.  The tour lasts 30 minutes and is spent mostly outside.  A small portion of the tour is inside the replica home, built on the original home’s foundations.

You will start your tour at the visitor center where you will pick up your tickets and map of the property. The interior of the visitor center was closed during my visit due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The visitor center has a lovely garden!

Make your way along the stroller-friendly paved path to the back entrance of the home where you will meet your tour guide.  Be sure to arrive 10 minutes before your tour to allow time to walk from the visitor center to the home site. Note that strollers are not allowed in the home.

If you arrive early, explore the other points of interest along the path.  You can see the area where the enslaved persons would have lived and worked, including the kitchen house which was located in the corner of the large enclosed yard.  Archaeologists are still finding artifacts from both the family and the enslaved workers every year.

My favorite part of the grounds was the walk down to the banks of the Rappahannock River.  Take the stairs down to the lower part of the property, which will give you a great view of the house up on the bluff.

Don’t miss seeing the remnants of the 1763 ferry road, which is very close to the Washington home!  You can see why many travelers ended up staying at the home along their journey.

When it’s time for your house tour, be sure to meet your guide at the designated spot. 

Luckily, with most of the tour now outside, it is fine for little kids to run and play around the trees while you listen to the tour guide. 

You will spend 15-20 minutes outside and about 10-15 inside the home.

My son loved hearing more about George Washington’s boyhood, especially his time spent learning the rules of farming and interacting with Fredericksburg society.  We learned how the house was painted a dull red to imitate the color of brick and how we know the exact contents of the home due to the probate documents from his father’s passing.  The foundation has used these documents to recreate the interior of the home to the exact specifications from the time period.

Once your guide takes you inside the home, you will have to wear a face mask.  The home is a recreation based on the original foundations that were found in 2008.  There are four main rooms that you will see, all downstairs.  The largest room is the dining room, with the adjacent master bedroom.  

It was in this bedroom that Augustine passed away.  

The other rooms to see include a small parlor and another bedroom.  The parlor has a huge fireplace!

This bedroom is quite interesting as it has an additional interior lock and direct access to the outside.  Our guide said that this seems to indicate that this bedroom, which was an addition to the original home, may have served as a room for travelers to the ferry.  Mary could have locked the interior doors and protected the family from these travelers.

One thing to note is that the house is very simple.  Even my 11 year old commented on the plainness!  I asked our guide why it was so different from the grandeur of Mount Vernon.  She explained that this home had been built in the 1730s and this is how it would have appeared during Washington’s day.  Maybe Mary made renovations to the interior of the home before she left but we will never know!

Our guide also had some interesting tidbits to share with kids about finding wig curlers in the ground during archaeology digs.  Kids think it is funny to learn that men and even boys wore curled and powdered wigs!

My son asked our guide about the hardwood floors, which are beautiful and wide-planked but with nails showing.  She said that the wider the plank and the more nails that showed indicated how wealthy you were.  How interesting!

After the tour exits the last bedroom, you will be back in the little courtyard.  Take this time to wander the grounds a bit and take in the beautiful view of the Rappahannock River.

George Washington’s Ferry Farm is a great place to visit this fall with your family.  From the beautiful vistas over the river to the leafy walkway, your kids will love to run and play in the place where George Washington ran and played when he was their age.  Put it on your list for a fun fall outing!

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