“Washington spent the most formative years of his life in Winchester,” says the website of George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Between the ages of 17 and 27, Washington spent “more nights in Winchester than any other place besides his home.”
So a few weeks ago, I went to Winchester, Virginia to stalk George Washington. Washington was first there as a teenage surveying apprentice. Almost a decade later, as a commander in the militia that protected British Virginia, he was sent to the western front during the French and Indian Wars (a job he got because he had surveyed the area and knew it intimately), and made his headquarters in Winchester.
Washington’s office is a small log and stone cabin that he used between September 1755 and December 1756, while he was a militia colonel and supervising the building of Fort Loudoun, a few blocks away. He hated Winchester, calling it a “vile town.” That bit of information shows up nowhere among the exhibits at George Washington’s office.
What does show up is a copy of an order from Washington, prohibiting soldiers from frequenting any tavern but one or two sanctioned ones, on threat of a flogging. Because if George Washington ain’t happy, ain’t nobody gonna be happy.
In Washington’s day, only the middle of the three current rooms existed. I can’t show you any of them because – say it with me now — no photographs inside. Because “we’re a small museum.”
The only other Washington-related site in Winchester was the property on which Fort Loudoun once stood, with a well that is the only survivor from the Washington era. It was about eight blocks away and near our next objective, Stonewall Jackson’s Headquarters, so we thought we’d give it a quick look along the way.
Eight blocks is really far when it’s uphill and very hot and very humid. We
took a break stopped to take photos of the 1913 Beaux Art Hadley Library. It’s the main branch of the Winchester public library system.
Another block and we stopped to discuss how many blocks we’d gone and how much further we had to go.
Another block and we were waylaid by a khaki and polo clad man who, without a greeting, abruptly launched into a conversation that started with, “You will love the Jackson House. It’s the best tour we’ve ever gone on.” His companion who, in dress and manner looked very much like him, nodded vigorously.
We were taken aback. Who was this person and how did he know we’d just been wondering if we should just give up on the Jackson house and go to lunch? (Patricia — with absolutely no interest in the Civil War — had voted for lunch.) “How did you know that we were wondering if it was worth it?” I responded. “And how much further is it anyway?”
“Just another block. You need to make sure you take lots of time. There’s so much to see!”
He didn’t answer the “How did you know…” part but later, over lunch, we decided that we probably looked out-of-place enough that it wouldn’t have been hard to make the guess that we were on our way to the closest tourist venue.
It was past noon. “Not taking a lot of time,” said Patricia, rather hostile for normally chipper her. “I’m hungry and I want lunch.” Did I mention that she is not a Civil War person?
The man was not deterred. “Well, see what you can. It’s wonderful! Wonderful!!” But he and his nodding companion moved on.
Next: We make it to Jackson’s Headquarters and Patricia is not happy about that.