Although this facility is farther away from the Washington area than most places
in this book, it's so specifically tuned to children's needs
that it's worth the haul. In fact, if battlefields bore you and you can stand only a single Civil War trip with
small kids, make this the one. Half the building is given over to an intimate museum
highlighting the back-and-forth Battle of Cedar Creek, whose resolution in favor of
the Union kept the Shenandoah Valley under Northern control. It also celebrates
the museum's namesake, who became a legend for his military maneuvering at
Manassas and elsewhere in these parts.
More important, the back half of the museum is a kid zone, featuring boys' and
girls' period costumes, tiny encampments with tents where the kids can hunker, and a
pair of saddled wooden horses they can mount. There are all sorts of real and
replica artifacts to play with, from soap dishes to scabbards. The kids
easily can kill half an hour here, and the play-acting invites them to view the war from a participant's
point of view. The artifacts on display under glass are also memorable terrifying
medical and dental tools, stamps and coins, pens and letters and, of course, weaponry.
The kids can touch primitive artillery shells and even some rifles. The grounds outside
are pitted with trenches and "lunettes," earthworks used as cannon mounts, which
again invite kids to see the war as something that really happened
right here and, as the landscape reveals, not all
that long ago.
Words to the wise: The signage for the museum proper is insidery
and nearly impenetrable. Unless your group includes a serious buff, don't
expect to understand much about the Cedar Creek
Food: The Hotel Strasburg has an elegant dining room; if you're flush and
the kids can be respectful, it's a special place for dinner. There are less expensive Strasburg
choices as well.
Nearby: Many Civil War sites, including the Battle of Cedar Creek Battlefield
and the Old Hupp Homestead (703-465-9197). The
Museum of American Presidents (540-465-5999), with a modest collection (a lock of Washington's hair, James Madison's desk), also is close by.
Directions: From the Beltway, take I-66 west to I-81 south. The center is about a mile down on the right.