Escape Plan DC: George Washington’s Washington - Atlas Obscura
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Escape Plan DC: George Washington’s Washington

See the area around the nation’s capital the way our first president did, complete with trips to Washington’s local tavern and apothecary.

(Previous page, cover photo of Capitol Hill: Kārlis Dambrāns/text overlay and color change/CC BY 2.0)

Don’t get stuck in the city this weekend! This summer, Atlas Obscura and Zipcar have partnered up to bring you inspired day trips in and around major American metropolises. We guarantee there’s something right around the corner that will surprise and delight you.

You can’t throw a three corner hat in this town without bonking something either named after America’s first president or someplace he walked, ate, slept or strategized. Pull up your white, knee-high socks and get ready to walk in the man’s footsteps.

Trip Highlights

  • Begin the day reading up on our first president in D.C.’s most famous bookstore
  • Learn some of GW’s secrets at a Masonic memorial
  • See a note from Martha Washington requesting digestive help
  • Visit Washington’s favorite fort
  • Observe Mount Vernon’s own cabinet of curiousities

Itinerary

Politics and Prose bookstore in DC. (Photo: Politics and Prose Bookstore/CC BY-SA 2.0)

1 Read Up 9:00AM

Politics and Prose, Washington D.C.

This independent bookstore, events space—and now cafe—is firmly entrenched in D.C.’s political fabric. Founded by a former member of the Carter administration, the store has hosted famous authors and politicos, such as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Pop into its latest venture, The Den, on the lower level, for a snack and coffee before hitting the campaign trail.

Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008

George Washington Masonic National Memorial Alexandria. (Photo: Jim Larrison/CC BY 2.0)

2 Heavy Masonry 10:30AM

George Washington Masonic National Memorial, Alexandria, VA

This stately building in Alexandria, Virginia was erected by Freemasons to honor one of their most famous members—George Washington. This 333-foot structure was inspired by the Lighthouse of Alexandria, boasts nine floors and is home to a collection of Washington’s personal belonging owned by the Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22. Docent-led tours depart throughout the day. When touring the memorial, take note that this is also a monument to the Commander in Chief of Hollywood, Nicolas Cage, who shot scenes for National Treasure: Book of Secrets here.

George Washington Masonic National Memorial, 101 Callahan Drive, Alexandria, VA 22314

The Old Town of Alexandria, Virginia, home of the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary. (Photo: Ken Lund/CC BY-SA 2.0)

3 Cure What Ails You 11:30AM

Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary, Alexandria, VA

Opened in 1805, this apothecary counted many notables among its clients, including the Washington family. In its heyday it dished out everything from candy to opiates. Now a museum, the interior of the store appears very much as it did during its operation, with an eclectic assortment of eclectic assortment of herbal botanicals, hand blown glass and medical equipment on display. Recently renovated, its caretakers even did a careful paint analysis in order to restore the building’s appearance to its circa 1900s look. Its archive includes a note from Martha Washington requesting castor oil, a once-popular laxative.

Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary, 107 S Fairfax St, Alexandria, VA 22314

Gadsby’s Tavern, Alexandria. (Photo: Josh/CC BY-ND 2.0)

4 Make Merry 12:00PM

Gadsby’s Tavern, Alexandria, VA

“George Washington slept here” has become something of a joke in this political burg, but Washington at least danced at this tavern built in 1777, as it held two balls in his honor that he attended. Other prominent guests include John Adams, James Monroe, and Thomas Jefferson. The tavern is also home to a museum devoted to the cultural history of Virginia and is part of the American Whiskey Trail, which celebrates the cultural heritage of distilled spirits.

Gadsby’s Tavern, 138 N Royal St, Alexandria, VA 22314

Cannons at Fort Washington. (Photo: MrTinDC/CC BY-ND 2.0)

5 Commander in Chief 1:30PM

Fort Washington, Fort Washington, MD

Washington had a great view of across the Potomac from his Mount Vernon estate. He would frequently gaze across the water and clap eyes on a piece of land opposite his home where the Colonial Governor of Virginia had built a manor in 1661.

And like most of us do when we see a lovely, waterside estate, he thought, “That needs a fort!”

He urged the United States government to build one on the site, but it wasn’t until after his death that they finally did. Construction on Fort Washington began in 1808 and when completed was the only fort on the Potomac and the only one devoted to guarding the nation’s capital. It was destroyed in 1814 and rebuilt in 1824 and remained active through World War II. Today you can take guided tours of the historic fort or wander freely through the park, which is a favored birdwatching spot.

Fort Washington, 13551 Fort Washington Rd, Fort Washington, MD 20744

Mount Vernon. (Photo: SilkTork/CC BY-SA 3.0)

6 Home Base 3:00PM

Mount Vernon, Mount Vernon, VA

George and Martha Washington’s stately home is a well-loved tourist attractions, but besides the obvious offerings, it has many offbeat ones. For instance, in Washington’s study you’ll find a sawfish rostrum—basically a scary, serrated projection that once topped off the nose of a sawfish, a member of the ray family. It was once popular to collect such whimsical objects for a “cabinet of wonders”, and Washington probably nabbed this item for just such a display. The estate’s outbuildings include a composting and dung repository and a 16-sided barn and the farm’s animals include rare heritage livestock such as rare Ossabaw Island Hogs.

Mount Vernon, 3200 Mount Vernon Hwy, Mt Vernon, VA 22121

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