Located approximately seventy-five miles west Washington D.C. at the northern end of the Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, Winchester offers rich history and well-preserved historic sites. Though Civil War or music history probably first comes to mind from Winchester’s past, George Washington actually spent time here in the Colonial Era and took his first political steps representing this area.
The small log building that Washington used as an office during his time here has been preserved by the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society and is open for touring April through October. Let’s stop here and take a look…
George Washington Office Museum is located in historic downtown Winchester at the intersection of Cork Street and Braddock Street. There is some street parking in the area, but a little farther north at Braddock’s intersection with Amherst Street there is a public parking garage. Plan ahead; street or garage parking will cost a small fee.
- 32 West Cork & Braddock Streets, Winchester, VA 22601
- Season: Open Daily April 1 to October 31
- Hours: Mon-Sat: 10 am to 4 pm Sun: 12 pm to 4 pm
- Admission: Adults $5.00; Seniors $4.50; Students $2.50
- Check website for most current details: https://winchesterhistory.org/george-washingtons-office/
- Wear good walking shoes if pedestrian travel is an option for you. Winchester is good town for walking and several other historic sites mentioned in this post or in the following weeks are within walking distance.
- If you intend to visit other historic museums in Winchester, consider purchasing the combination ticket offered by the historical society which offers access to all three of their historic sites at a slight discount.
- Don’t try to take photographs inside the office museum, but take as many as you like outside!
Let’s Talk History
George Washington. We usually think of him as a general or the first president of the United States. However, in his youth, Washington wanted to be a surveyor and his work in the profession was what originally brought him west, into the Shenandoah Valley. Here, the sixteen-year-old surveyed Lord Fairfax’s land and made a nice sum of money.
With his surveying profits, Washington purchased land in Frederick County, including a plot in the just started town that would become Winchester. His purchases qualified him for elected office and for seven year he served as a Burgess for Frederick County in the Virginia Colonial representative government (1758-1765).
Some of Washington’s first military leadership experience started here. Commanding the Virginia Regiment during the French and Indian War, he oversaw the construction of Fort Loudoun. Needing to supervise the work, he used a small log building from September 1755 to December 1756 as a military office. From his building headquarters, Washington planned and kept a close eye on the fort’s construction to the north.
Fort Loudoun was constructed as a redoubt fortification with four bastions; logs and earth formed the walls surrounded the half acre enclosure which offered protection and barracks for 450 militia soldiers. Fourteen cannon added to the defense. Inside the fort, a well cut through limestone offered a consistent water supply.
Fort Loudoun was used for the remainder of the colonial period and through the American War for Independence. However, as Winchester grew, the un-manned fort offered building supplies and the buildings fell into disrepair and were dismantled. Happily, the log building George Washington used was preserved, and the Kurtz family that lived there boasted that it had been Washington’s office!
What We’re Looking At
George Washington’s Office Museum preserves the structure that the young military officer used while overseeing the construction of Fort Loudoun. There have been add-ons to the building in later eras. Inside the museum, a carefully researched and created model shows the town site around 1755 and helps visitors visual where the fort stood. Other displays include information about Washington’s life and adventures in the western part of Virginia. Surveying instruments and some of Washington’s personal possessions are also presented.
A cannon, displayed near the front entrance to the museum, dates back to the French and Indian War (1754-1763). Remember the history of General Edward Braddock’s expedition and defeat? (I guess I should write a blog post about that someday… It’s quite a story.) Well, this cannon was left behind by Braddock in the town of Alexandria when he started out, but it dates back to that period of colonial fighting and military service.
Don’t miss the statue of George Washington as a young surveyor! This wonderful piece of art offers a different image the one we usually associate with Washington. Looking very young (he was only sixteen when he started surveying), he studies the surveying instruments and gestures ahead.
And then there’s the pig statue. During his time as a burgess, Washington proposed a piece of legislation: that local citizens around Fort Loudoun had to keep their pigs locked up because the beasts were a nuisance and were ruining the fresh water supply! To commemorate his bill, a statue of a pig stands in the corner of the property.
If you have time, there are several other points of Colonial Era interest in Winchester.
About a five minute walk from the office stands Christ Episcopal Church. In a small courtyard, just to the right of the sanctuary and visible from the sidewalk is Lord Fairfax’s grave. This man owned vast tracts of Virginia during the Colonial Era and sent Washington west to map and establish the boundaries of his land. A prominent and influential man in Virginian Colonial History, he now rests within this raised grave in Winchester. (Head west on Cork Street. Turn right on E. Washington Street. The church is at the corner of Washington and Boscowan.)
About a half-mile from the church is Fort Loudoun’s well, sunk 103 deep into limestone rock. To check out the location of the fort and see how far it was from Washington’s office, head north. This location is listed with the National Register of Historic Places and is preserved by the French and Indian War Foundation; tours may be available – check their website for details. (From the Church: head east on Boscawan. Loudoun Street is a pedestrian mall and when you reach it, turn left (north). The intersection of Loudoun Street and Clark Street puts you approximately at the fort’s location. The building at 419 Loudoun Street is where the well is located. From the Office Museum: head east on Cork Street until your reach the Loudoun Street pedestrian mall entrance then head left (north) and follow the details above.)
Getting hungry? There are lots of places to eat in Winchester. One of my favorites is Cork Street Tavern! Their BBQ sandwiches are delish… In fact, I’m getting hungry just thinking about their food. The west side of tavern is non-smoking, if that’s an important detail for you… (Located just east of Washington’s Office Museum at 8 West Cork Street; same side of the street as the museum.)
There’s lots to see in Winchester and we’ll explore a few more sites on the coming Wednesdays before we head south in The Valley. What other colonial points of interest should we add to the Winchester list? Let’s chat in the comments.