Mount Vernon Column: Beat the Heat, Visit a Museum

Mount Vernon Column: Beat the Heat, Visit a Museum


Normally, summer is a time to enjoy the outdoors, but with record-setting heat broiling the region, many of us may be looking for indoor activities. Thankfully, Mount Vernon and Lee residents have access to several local museums that can help us escape the heat and learn more about our interesting history.

Museums play a key role in education, job creation, tourism, economic development, historic preservation, environmental conservation, heritage preservation and global competitiveness.

Mount Vernon is our most famous locale when it comes to historic places, and I don’t need to tell you that it is well worth a visit anytime of year. And some exciting news, opening Oct. 1, we can visit the ground-breaking new 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 has been in the works for a while now and is sure to be a major draw to Mount Vernon.

Another good local museum where you can learn about our region’s first freed black community is the Gum Springs Museum (open 6 - 8 p.m. Monday - Friday, 1-3 p.m. Tuesday and Saturday). And, down the road and once a part of Mount Vernon, is the Federal-style house, Woodlawn, designed by the architect of the U.S. Capitol, Dr. William Thornton, constructed in 1805 for George Washington’s nephew, Major Lawrence Lewis and his wife, Eleanor “Nelly” Custis Lewis. The Woodlawn Plantation is open Friday - Monday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Soon, our area will be home to the National Army Museum at Fort Belvoir which will be celebrating its ground breaking Sept. 14. 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.

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, open for tours on Saturdays from April to October. 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.

Museums are first and foremost educational institutions and augment classroom education. They often partner with libraries and schools to provide learning experiences to people of all ages. Virginia’s museums spend over $57 million on educational programs and activities annually to service 1.6 million visitors.

Museums like Mount Vernon are economic engines in our community. As a whole, 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 US. These travelers are proven to spend more money, do more, and stay longer than the average tourist. Locally, museums contribute more than $12 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 on investment of over $7 in taxes for every $1 that the government appropriates.

I am proud the 44th district is home to some fantastic museums and I encourage you to get out and explore them. Virginia has over 1000 museums, including 300 sites on the Virginia Civil War Trail, over 1000 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 (including locally, Woodlawn and the Pope-Leighey House) more than any other state.

So, go inside and experience a museum today, it’s a great way to beat the heat.