My daughter, grandson, and I took a train from Newport News to Richmond (Main Street Station), then a taxi for the less than 4-mile ride to Monmount House Museum. I was interested in the place because of its reputation as a Victorian mansion; ironically, we never even made it inside the mansion, but spent all our time walking about the 100-acre grounds. It reached into the high 80's the day we were there (April 6, 2010) so we got a little bit of sunburn, but there are shady areas all over the place to either sit on the grass or a bench.
The attraction name is misleading, given that the grounds cover 100 acres and more of the attractions are outside. The grounds are absolutely glorious; most flowers and trees were starting to bloom and blossom. There is no admission fee, per se, but they "suggest" a $4 per person donation to keep the gardens maintained. You need to wear comfortable walking shoes and clothing because the grounds are quite hilly, and surfaces are not always flat (some gravel, some cobblestone). I was disappointed in how few water fountains, restrooms, and benches were to be found. Some of the smaller attractions (raptor area, for example) only had one way in and out, so you had to retrace your steps to leave the area, instead of continuing forward to the next attraction.
While some signage (of which there was not much) showed a knife and fork, we only saw one roadside stand offering refreshments...$3 for a hotdog; $1 for a cup of ice (cheapest thing on the menu). The one beverage machine we found cost $1.25 for soda, fruit juice (Gatorade) or water. We saw some families with small children enjoying brought-from-home picnic lunches on the grass in the shade of a tree.
There were some interesting architectural designs on the ground...several gazebos (stone and wood), some stone buildings and an arched stone walkway draped with what looked like beautiful lilac bushes (but it didn't smell like lilac). There were several different-type gardens (Italian, cactus) as well as beautiful greenery all around. There was a waterfall which started at the top level (and didn't look like much) and descended to the lowest level of the grounds where it was quite full and rushing; people sat on the edges down below and dangled their feet in the water to cool off. There were several ponds throughout, one with large goldfish (not sure if they were Koi or not) but they were each at least a foot long; another pond nearby had some ducks and geese on it. Several of the trees were huge with intricate exposed root systems, and one tree displayed many lovers' initials carved in hearts (oh, you college students)!
I don't know if it's an annual event, but students from the fashion design classes at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU--a short distance away) had designed and made skirts from some of the trees on the grounds...some quite elaborate with ruffles and flounces, some very simple. They all appeared to be made from a light beige material (I didn't check out what it was), but it gave all the skirts a "Colonial" feel and look. It was a cute display inspiring chuckles at the ingenuity...and just at the appearance of skirts on trees, period!
Including our frequent rest stops along the way, we spent a good four hours there. My thigh muscles were screaming by the time we left from the frequent uphill climbs we had to make, but the exercise would probably be nothing for someone who is fit and exercises often (which I am not/do not). I am also 63 and a former smoker (quit 5 years ago), so that probably had something to do with how I felt.
We asked a staff member in a golf cart when the trams ran, and were told they only ran on the weekend. We had walked thru about two-thirds of the grounds when a (two-section) tram loaded with passengers passed us. Think I saw a sign somewhere that indicated the tram ride was $3.50/person (didn't notice if it was cheaper for kids or Seniors). The tram wasn't near an official tram "stop" so wasn't about to pick up new passengers just anywhere. We figured we'd made it that far, we'd just keep plodding ahead. The map I had printed from the Internet gave no "real" indication of how far one attraction was from another, and we passed up the Animal Farm because of having to climb a huge hill to get to it. The very end of our trek required a climb up a huge hillside with dirt/gravel/grass walkways and very few railings or handholds. The only other alternative was to totally retrace our steps and repeat our meandering to that point. I saw older folks in less better shape than I was and wondered how they'd made it that far.
There is almost too much to see in one visit, but given the amount of walking involved, I'm not sure I would want to walk the grounds again...but think I'd like to come back and visit the mansion (there were several tours mentioned).
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