When it comes to seeing the sites in our nation’s capital, I consider myself a true Washingtonian. After spending four years here as a G.W. undergrad (go Colonials!) and nearly two years as a nine-to-five adult, I have most of the D.C. essentials crossed off my to-do list. Lincoln Memorial, check. Bike the Capital Crescent Trail, check. Eat a half-smoke at Ben’s Chili Bowl, delicious… I mean, check. I’ve got a lot of places under my belt, which is why when my mother came for a visit this past weekend, I tried to find something both she and I had yet to explore. Our destination: The Hillwood Estate, Museum, and Gardens.
The Hillwood, tucked away in a quiet residential neighborhood in Northwest D.C., is the former home of Marjorie Merriweather Post– the only child of entrepreneur Charles William (C.W.) Post of the Postum Cereal Company that would eventually become the General Foods Corporation. After her mother’s death in 1912 and her father’s in 1914, Post, at only 27 years old, became the sole heiress to her father’s company and fortune. She had become one of the wealthiest women in America.
In 1955 she purchased Hillwood, a 25-acre estate overlooking Rock Creek Park, where she would eventually showcase her impressive French and Russian art collections–amassed during her travels and life abroad. After her death in 1973 the estate was opened to the public as a museum.
Post’s collections are impressive and reflect a real passion for art and other fine objects. We meandered through the mansion’s elegant rooms and displays, including the French Porcelain Room where gorgeous Sèvres table wares dazzled in their famed hue, bleu celeste or “heavenly blue.” In the Icon Room, eighty Fabergé pieces were also on display, including two imperial Easter eggs.
The Estate’s gardens didn’t disappoint either. My favorite: the Japanese-style garden complete with waterfalls, stone lanterns, and small foot-bridges.
Another impressive collection currently on display is a small photographic exhibit of 1930s Russia. From 1937-1938 Post and her third husband, U.S. Ambassador Joseph E. Davies moved to Moscow with Post’s step-daughter Emlen Knight Davies. Emlen, then 20-years old and a senior at Vassar, photographed scenes of the diplomatic life abroad.
When visiting D.C. it’s easy to get wrapped-up in the history and politics that the city is so well known for. The Hillwood Estate offers a rewarding alternative. It’s a cultural destination that gives visitors a glimpse into what cosmopolitan life was like for Washington’s elite.
Photos courtesy of The Hillwood Estate, Museum, and Gardens
- Nat Geo Expeditions