A mid-October weekend found me at Stratford Hall, a historic house museum on the coastal plain of central Virginia known as the Northern Neck. It’s nestled between the Potomac and the Rappahannock rivers, about an hour from Fredericksburg, VA. It was a weekend of discovery, and I wished I lived closer to visit more often.
The region was the cradle of the American revolutionary movement, an outcome of a wealthy, sophisticated, and learned society that honed a uniquely American philosophy honoring civic duty and informed by the values of the Enlightenment.
In this context, I learned that Thomas Lee, patriarch of the Lee family, acquired land along the Potomac in 1713, built a successful tobacco and shipping enterprise. Over the next century, the Lees contributed much to the formation of our fledgling nation – 2 Lee brothers signed the Declaration of Independence – and their influence extended for decades afterward.
Robert E. Lee, who ably led the Confederate Army during the American Civil War, was born at Stratford Hall in 1807.
Nearly three hundred years later, the Lee family’s iconic home, Stratford Hall, is a touchstone to our nation’s agrarian past and start as a Republic. Here’s why you should go….
You needn’t be a student of history to enjoy Stratford Hall and the surrounding area. There’s plenty for cyclists, hikers, amateur geologists, nature lovers. Stratford Hall itself is a relaxing get-away destination. Just being “present” in the setting gives you the sense of its significance in our shared heritage. And of course, there’s the gift shop; an important credential. It measures up, believe me.
Stratford Hall sits on nearly 2000 acres of gardens, woodland, and open fields, laced with trails. Along the Potomac shore, a rare geological quirk dating back millions of years has left its mark with soaring cliffs; beach fossil hunting is a big attraction.
On the history front, knowledgeable docents offer an enlivening history of the Great House, the four generations of Lees who lived there, and insight into 18th Century plantation life. Mobile, self-guided tours are also available. Other historic sites, from the Revolutionary period through the Civil War, are close by.
Accommodation at Stratford Hall
The Inn at Stratford Hall offers accommodation, dining and weekend packages.
- The Cheek Guest House has lovely and comfortable full-service rooms. “Cheek” has a very spacious and comfortable common room, a tranquil outdoor deck, and service kitchen facilities; you get the feel of visiting the country house of a good friend.
- Larger parties, up to 6, can reserve the Astor Guest House, a full stand-alone house perfect for a family or friend reunion weekend. I have my eye on Astor for an intergenerational weekend…
- Weekend packages are a great value; my favorite is the “Getaway for Two” that includes an overnight at the Inn, a tour of the Great House, bike rental, lunch, and wine tasting at nearby Ingleside Winery. All in at $188 per couple. Really. I kid you not.
- Just for lunch? The dining room serves lunch 7 days per week; perfect for a day-trip to Stratford Hall.
- Meetings and Retreats Stratford Hall can accommodate business groups for meetings or retreats. Private events are welcome; a lovely venue for weddings, reunions or other milestone events.
Things to do at Stratford Hall and the surrounding area
- Stratford Hall is a destination in itself. Start with the exhibits in the Visitor Center that will give context which is so important if, like me, you need grounding. Don’t miss tours of the Great House, either guided or at your own pace with mobile tours. The technology of the mobile tours brings Lee family members alive, sharing their voices and perspective, even centuries later. Ok, creative license here but a very cool device.
- Visit the gardens and grounds, walk the hiking trails covering the property. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the presence of the Stratford Cliffs, formed during the Miocene Epoch 10-17 million years ago. Rising 150 feet above the Potomac shoreline, they offer a mother lode of fossils for the sharp-eyed explorer.
- Local Wineries – Yes, Virginia is for (wine) lovers!
- Northern Neck Birding Trail
- Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail (National Park; bike, hike, paddle)
- Nearby Historic Sites
- And finally….Angelo’s Restaurant Montross, VA. Ten minutes from Stratford, this restaurant is a treat, and owner Bryan Oliff a charming host. We had the seasonal oyster special, something I’d go back for.
Why I want to return
My visit to Stratford Hall was with peers – intellectually curious 60+ who embrace new viewpoints, places, and experiences – definitely “my people”. But my goal is to return for a family retreat. My adult children with their young families love the outdoors, one daughter-in-law hails from Virginia, a 9-year-old grandson is really into fossils and is a perfect candidate for the children’s programs at Stratford. Seeking out interesting, off-the-beaten-track locations of historic import has re-emerged in the next generation. Now, to coordinate calendars…..
I’d love to hear your experiences if you’ve visited Stratford Hall or the Northern Neck – please comment below, and thanks!
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