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July 12, 2008 12:16 am




On an arc linking the Northern Neck, southern Stafford County and Alexandria are the three sites that tell George Washington's life story.

Popes Creek in Westmoreland County is his birthplace.

Thirty-eight miles west at Ferry Farm on the Rappahannock River in Stafford County is where he spent his formative boyhood years.

And about 45 miles to the north on the Potomac River at Mount Vernon, the nation's first president spent most of his adult life.

The discovery of the remains of Washington's boyhood home, announced last week at Ferry Farm off State Route 3, is likely to fuel more interest in all three historic sites.

But whether it will lead to a George Washington "history trail" remains to be seen.

For the droves of tourists who visit the sites each year, "There has long been a desire to connect [Washington's birthplace] to Mount Vernon. Now that we have all three pieces in place to link those sites" it makes more sense, said Philip Levy, the archaeology fellow at Ferry Farm and an associate professor of history and anthropology at the University of South Florida.

Levy said details of any such cooperative arrangement would have to be worked out.

John Hennessy, chief historian of Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, said the recent discoveries at Ferry Farm are so significant that visitation there could, within a few years, easily rival that at the park's Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center. About 80,000 people visit there annually, and tens of thousands more visit nearby Marye's Heights and the Sunken Road without being counted at the center, he said.

Mount Vernon attracts about 1 million visitors annually; Washington's birthplace, 100,000. Ferry Farm had about 15,000 visitors last year.

"We don't see these sites as competitors," said Dennis J. Pogue, Mount Vernon's associate director for preservation. "We see it as reaching a larger audience.

"The importance of place is not to be discounted," he added--to be able to say, "This is where those events occurred."

Pogue said Ferry Farm will have more of a challenge, "not having any [existing] buildings, and not as much information as they would like" about what the actual Washington home at Ferry farm was like in detail.

Still, there are plans to build a replica house on the property in the future.

While there's no formal working agreement among Mount Vernon, Ferry Farm and Washington's birthplace, "We are collegial with all those places," Pogue said.

"The world of Washington is a small one, and we have lots of contacts. We talk about the other sites, and nobody views it as competition in any way."

The birthplace and another Washington site, Sulgrave Manor in Britain, signed a formal "sister parks" agreement last year under which they share educational programs and other efforts.

Sulgrave Manor, the family's ancestral home, was built by Lawrence Washington, George's great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. Three generations later, John Washington--the first of the line in the Colonies--emigrated in 1656 to Westmoreland. He is buried in the family plot at Popes Creek.

Mount Vernon and Ferry Farm are owned and operated by private, nonprofit organizations. George Washington Birthplace National Monument is operated by the National Park Service.

Dave A. Laclergue, acting superintendent at Washington's birthplace, said more of a relationship among the three could develop.

"There's is nothing in the works right now," he said, but he has talked with officials at Ferry Farm in general terms about promoting each other's sites.

"We all think about it and are aware of that possibility," Laclergue said.

Paula Raudenbush, spokeswoman for The George Washington Foundation, which owns and operates Ferry Farm, agreed.

"We've been talking about this for a long time, but there's no definite plan yet. It's something I think all of us are interested in."

Staff writer Clint Schemmer contributed to this report.

Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431


Mount Vernon, George Washington's estate overlooking the Potomac River eight miles south of Alexandria, is owned and operated by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, a private, nonprofit group founded in 1853. George Washington spent 45 of his 62 years at the site, which features his home, farm and gardens, outbuildings, interpretive and educational programs, the Mount Vernon Inn restaurant and a gift shop.

Ferry Farm, owned and operated by The George Washington Foundation, is Washington's boyhood home. The remains of the house have just been discovered on the 113-acre site on the Rappahannock River in Stafford County. George Washington moved there with his family in 1738 at age 6. The site has a visitors center, educational activities, self-guided tours, ongoing archaeological digs that visitors can observe, trails and demonstration gardens. The foundation plans to re-create the Washington home on the property.

George Washington Birthplace National Monument is off State Route 3 on Popes Creek in Westmoreland County. The home in which Washington was born burned in 1779 and was excavated by archaeologists in 1936. Oyster shells outline its foundation. A re-creation of the house was built in 1931, along with a Colonial kitchen. The site also has a visitors center, a living-history Colonial farm, hiking trails and the Washington family burial ground.

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