As the delegate for the 44th District of Virginia covering much of Mount Vernon and parts of Lee, I would like to welcome all newcomers to our wonderful community. Normally, summer is a time to enjoy the outdoors, but with all the rain and muggy hot temperatures, many of us may be looking for indoor activities. Thankfully, we have the privilege of living in an area teaming with fascinating historical museums. Museums play a key role in education, job creation, tourism, economic development, historic preservation and environmental conservation. Below, I would like to highlight a few museums in the 44th district you simply must visit.
Mount Vernon is our most famous locale when it comes to historic places and is well worth a trip any time of year. Make sure to catch the ground-breaking major exhibit, “Lives Bound Together: Slavery at George Washington’s Mount Vernon”, and learn about the lives of the enslaved during the time of our first President. This exhibit is best viewed on the Enslaved People of Mount Vernon tour which is offered daily through October at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Additionally, one of most interesting attractions at George Washington’s Mount Vernon is the distillery and gristmill site, located roughly three miles from the main estate. It was at this location that George Washington placed his water-powered gristmill and his famous distillery. Starting in 1797, the distillery quickly grew to become one of the largest in the young republic. In 1799 alone, it produced almost 11,000 gallons of whiskey and other spirits. The Mount Vernon distillery is a fully functional 18th century replica that produces the general’s rye whiskey using 18th century methods. Named as the official spirit of the Commonwealth of Virginia, George Washington’s Rye Whiskey. These are only two of the many reasons a trip to Mount Vernon is a must. My cousins from England visited last week and wish they had dedicated an entire day just to Mount Vernon.
Gum Springs Museum is another museum in the 44th district with moving exhibits. At Gum Springs Museum you can learn about our region’s first freed black community and an art exhibit by Taj Elmelik until August 28th. The museum is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturdays from 1 to 3 p.m. There is no admission fee and the museum is located at 8100 Fordson Road, in the Gum Springs Community Center. Further south down Richmond Highway, is the Federal-style house, Woodlawn. Woodlawn was designed by the first architect of the U.S. Capitol, Dr. William Thornton and constructed in 1805 for George Washington’s nephew, Major Lawrence Lewis and his wife, Eleanor “Nelly” Custis Lewis. The Woodlawn Plantation is open Friday to Monday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and is home to the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture, part of a new vision that reflects Woodlawn’s agrarian heritage. The Frank Lloyd Wright designed Pope-Leighey House is at Woodlawn and well worth a visit.
Recently, I wrote about the National Army Museum at Fort Belvoir which will be opening in early 2020. The army is the only branch of the military without a national museum and this one will be awe-inspiring, with over 186,000 square feet of displays with countless rare and priceless artifacts never before seen by the public. For war buffs, there will be exhibits that focus on each of our nation's major conflicts from the Revolutionary War up to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The exhibits will be a great way to educate our younger generations about the sacrifices made by men like my father, who started out in the U.S. Army Air Corps and retired as an Air Force colonel, and the other men and women of the Army, which allow us to enjoy the freedoms we do today. Additionally, the interactive exhibits will be a great way to cultivate the next generation of those interested in serving our country. The National Museum of the United States Army will be a tremendous addition to our Commonwealth and I can’t wait to see it when it opens in 2020.
Overlooking the wonderful Huntley Meadows Park (also worth a visit!) is the Historic Huntley house that was built for the grandson of George Mason, Thomas Francis Mason. This federal period villa, built in 1825, has been used for many purposes over the years including a camp for Union troops during the Civil War. Today, you can take a tour of the stunning home from March-November. Additionally, there are engaging and informative programs for all ages from camps, and school groups to universities and professors.
Museums are economic engines to our community. They contribute more than $21.5 billion in spending to Virginia’s economy and account for over 12,000 jobs. The Arts and Culture industry generates over 213,000 jobs total in the Commonwealth, including numerous professions that support museums and other cultural entities, such as architects, exhibit designers, materials suppliers, contractors, independent consultants, historians and educators. Cultural and heritage activities account for nearly one-quarter of domestic travel in the U.S. These travelers, like my English cousins, are proven to spend more money, do more, and stay longer than the average tourist. Locally, museums contribute more than $21.5 billion in direct spending to local communities from tourists, returning almost $1.1 billion to the state and localities in tax revenues. Governments that support the arts on average see a return of over $7 in taxes for every $1 that the government appropriates.
I am proud to represent the 44th district here in Mount Vernon/Lee that is home to some of the best museums in the country. I encourage you to get out and explore them as well as the many historic sites throughout our Commonwealth. Virginia has over 1,000 museums, including 300 sites on the Virginia Civil War Trail, over 1,000 acres of botanical gardens and arboreta, over 100 art museums and galleries, six Smithsonian Affiliate museums and five of the 28 National Trust for Historic Preservation sites more than any other state (including locally, Woodlawn and the Pope-Leighey House.) So, go inside and experience one of our wonderful museums today, it’s a great way to beat the heat and experience our amazing history.