Some southern secrets are worth keeping – unless one is feeling generous - and, today, I am!
COVID curtailed travel over the last several months, but now that things are starting to open up a bit and since my all-time favorite Washington, D.C. museum has re-opened, this is a fabulous place to begin a Maggie Blue adventure.
Famous for its marble monuments and cherry blossoms, the Nation's Capital is much more than hallowed halls and Capitol Hill (although, the Capitol Building is a deliciously gorgeous piece of architecture as well as a fascinating place to visit). Because I worked in DC for several years and grew up just a few short miles from the DC line, I've enjoyed many years of exploring this gracious, southern city.
Visiting the Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens just off Linnean Ave., in upper Northwest, with its the winding drive, verdant foliage (spring through fall), you’ll find there is much to unwrap, with every layer, and discover at this unusual estate and the treasures within.
The home of the philanthropist Marjorie Merriweather Post, is not only aesthetically pleasing with its historic and valuable fine French and Russian art and artifacts, it is a significant cultural contribution to the United States. Those items within the house, which have captivating provenances, along with fabulous Japanese and French gardens, an indoor and outdoor café, gift shop and orchid greenhouse, make for a visually stimulating day. If you're a photographer beyond the smart phone, be sure to bring your camera.
Elegant, with breathtaking vistas in the distance of the capital city, Hillwood estate was purchased as a home, but with the intention that it would serve, one day, as a museum.
Ms. Post's third husband (one of four), Joseph E. Davies, was the American Ambassador to the then Soviet Union. On my first tour there years ago, it was stated that Ms. Post was said to have "dug around in Soviet basements" where communists tossed priceless Russian artifacts. She ultimately amassed the largest collection of Fabergé eggs outside of Moscow, along with countless other Russian art and artifacts and, as such, has gifted visitors the largest collection of Imperial Art outside of Russia.
Hillwood's collection contains nearly 20,000 objects of Russian imperial art, French eighteenth-century decorative art, and Marjorie Merriweather Post's personal collection of apparel, jewelry, and accessories. I have been to the Museum and Gardens several times, two of which were last year, so I’m sharing personal photos from our recent excursions.
A house tour, particularly if you are from out of town, is definitely in order. You will be greeted in the impressive marble lobby and you’ll be unable to remove your gaze from the massive rock crystal chandelier, the French sculptures and enormous oil paintings that line the stairway to the second floor.
My favorite story from house tours concerns the dining room rug. Our docent many years ago regaled us of a story about a rug made in Mexico for King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette of the French Court. The rug reportedly arrived at the palace, but a day after the couple had been beheaded. The palace staff, worried that the rug may fall into the hands of revolutionaries, wrapped it back up and sent it directly back to Mexico, where it remained until it came into the possession of Ms. Post, hence why it looks brand new. On my last visit, I confirmed this story with our most recent docent.
The tour includes the private rooms of Mrs. Post, where you will view portraits of her two daughters, Mrs. Post herself and other family members. Pieces from Mrs. Post’s private jewelry collection are stunning; you will tour the once-very-busy-kitchen and butler's pantry, be impressed by the long dining room, artwork, tapestries, and my personal favorite artifact in the home – the dining room’s needlepoint rug.
I’ve long had a fondness for the small breakfast room with the emerald green chandelier, which overlooks the Lunar Garden. Naturally, you will be dazzled by enamel work, the wedding crown of the last Tsarina and, of course, the gorgeous Fabergé eggs.
The Lunar Garden, protected by a regal stone lion, is over 13,000 feet of expanse which overlooks the tiny tip of the Washington Monument, a mere 3.8 miles away. With grounds as vast and verdant, you will feel as if you are in your very own estate as you stroll the Japanese and French gardens and visit the incredible number of orchid specimens in the greenhouse.
The estate has a lovely cafe and is presently only serving to-go items with your selection of outdoor seating. I highly recommend the Coronation Chicken Salad on croissant and, the Chocolate Hazelnut Pot de Crème - which you will work off if you're touring the gardens!
Visitors are also welcome to bring a picnic lunch to the estage, relax under an umbrella and peer across the miles with one of the best views over DC with your own lunch!
Hillwood has reopened but you must make reservations and same-day reservations are not available online; visitation is timed to accommodate COVID-related guidelines. Please contact the office by phone at 202.686.5897. You may also visit the museum online at Explore Hillwood from Home.
I recommend a membership to the museum, particularly if you are within a three hour drive as you will certainly want to see the ever-changing landscape and bring guests. The gardens, orchid greenhouse and mansion are completely memorable. Annual membership for an individual: $60; family: $85. Daily admission: $18, adult; $15, senior; $10 students. For more information, visit http://www.hillwoodmuseum.org This is one Washington, D.C. secret we are letting out of the bag!
UPDATE: February 2021 - due to fluctuations in COVID concerns, please be certain to check the stats of the museum with re: to being open. Note, also, that the museum has several options for exploring its collection and estate virtually online.