What most visitors don’t know about the Northern Neck of Virginia is that, besides its beautiful water views and lush countryside, it was the birthplace of three of America’s first presidents (including the head honcho)!
The Northern Neck is the northernmost of three peninsulas (called “necks”) on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. It’s only about a two-hour drive from D.C. and even less than that from points in Maryland and Northern Virginia.
A Little Northern Neck History
Before 1600, (even before the first English settlement), the Northern Neck was the land between the “River of Swans” to the north and the “Quick-Rising Water” to the South, to use the translated Indian terms for the Potomac River and the Rappahannock River. Captain John Smith visited the area in 1607 (as a prisoner of a tribe related to Powhatan), and his writings are the first English proof we have of its existence:
“This is a place heaven and earth never agreed better to frame man’s habitation.”
(That just means he didn’t think there was a place better to live on heaven OR earth. Old English is hard).
Anywho, after 1649, the English built plantations and farmed tobacco for export to England, which became the Northern Neck’s main export during the Colonial era. The other main export was presidents! George Washington was born in Pope’s Creek in 1732, James Madison (third president) in Port Conway in 1751, and James Monroe (fifth president) in Monroe Hall in 1758. (Also born there were Richard Henry Lee and his brother, Francis Lightfoot Lee, signers of the Declaration of Independence and ancestors of Robert E. Lee — we all know who he was)!
Why am I giving you all this history? Number one, because I think it’s cool. Number two (ew), there are LOADS of museums and historical places in the Northern Neck! To name just a few, there’s G-Dubs’ birthplace national monument, Belle Grove Plantation (birthplace of James Madison), and Stratford Hall (home of the Lee family). There are 17 museums or historical/heritage sites in the Northern Neck, and you can find them all here.
Take in the Sights and Smell the Salt Air!
The Northern Neck has 1,100 miles of shoreline, containing beaches, marinas, old steamship wharfs, and small, colonial-era towns. Fishermen catch rockfish, blue crabs, and the renowned Virginia oyster from the brackish waters around the peninsula. You know what that means: awesome seafood restaurants! (There are also eight wineries to visit)!
The Northern Neck has FIVE state parks and natural areas, including Caledon Natural Area, Bush Mill Stream Natural Area Preserve, Dameron Marsh Natural area, and Westmoreland and Belle Isle state parks. Check them all out here!
Want to rent a kayak, take a sailboat out, go on a yacht cruise, book a fishing charter, or take your own boat to the Northern Neck? There are scores of options!
Well … WHAT are you waiting for? Pack up the family, or take your main squeeze, or just take your own dang self on down to the Northern Neck for a historic and scenic day-trip or weekend getaway!
Have you been to the Northern Neck? Tell us about your favorite spots in the comments!