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Hillwood Estate, Museum and Garden

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Offering family programs throughout the year, Hillwood Estate is a "hidden gem" in the city, one that you should take your children to at least once per year.

"Founded by American collector and heiress to the Post cereal empire Marjorie Merriweather Post, Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens is one of the premier art collector's museums in the United States. The museum features the most comprehensive collection of Russian imperial art outside of Russia and a world-renowned collection of eighteenth-century French decorative art and furnishings."

Contact Info
202-686-5807
Price: $15 adult suggested donation
Age: 8 and up
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Hillwood Estate, Museum and Garden
4155 Linnean Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20008
 
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We've been twice now with our 2 year old. Once to explore and the second time to attend a special crepe, French festival event. In nice weather, the grounds are lovely and fun with an active toddler. I carried my child in an ergo to do a quick tour of the house. The second time, we attend a French crepe festival in February. In addition to crepes, they had special activities for the kids including story time and a craft activity. We briefly took her inside the home and the greenhouse to look around. Look forward to going back once the new cafe is open.

Thu Mar 12, 2015 by jenniferw

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by Kathleen Molloy
April 2, 2013

Overlooking Rock Creek Park, Hillwood Estate celebrates spring with an annual Russian festival revolving around the country's culture, music and admiration for Fabergé eggs. While the gardens weren't blooming yet, it was quite crowded just after the opening of the festival.

To understand the history of Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens, you have to know a little bit about Marjorie Merriweather Post. Her father manufactured Post brand - think Grape Nuts and Fruity Pebbles. She owned Postum Cereal Company and founded General Foods, Inc. At one time, Marjorie Post was the wealthiest woman in America. This former socialite had a flair for the finer things in life, including her beloved Hillwood.

To celebrate Marjorie Merriweather Post's life, she requested that her estate become a private museum. During her lifetime, she collected French and Russian works of art including furniture, paintings, and Fabergé eggs. The mansion is exquisite and gives you insight into the socialite lived. However, strollers, food and flash photography are prohibited.

When you enter the visitor center, the staff greet you with a map and schedule of the activities. From the moment we entered until we left the festival, we interacted with over half a dozen employees, all of whom were so pleasant, even thanking us several times for attending the event. Bathrooms with changing stations, step stools for little ones and water fountain are located on the main floor. We followed the lively music upstairs to hear the Samovar Folk Music Ensemble playing traditional Russian instruments like the balalaika and domra. The theater had two performances each by Tsar Nicholas II and a storytelling of The Fabergé Surprise, however, my daughter was more interested in making a Fabergé egg. Since we heard it was Orchid month, we visited the adjacent greenhouse to admire orchids cultivated by Mrs. Post.

The Fabergé egg workshop is held in the Adirondack building, which resembles a log cabin. There were several tables set up with jewels, stickers, ribbons, and paper. In the back of the room were containers filled with various colors and designs of plastic eggs. The staff informed patrons that the activity was for the entire family, encouraging parents to join in the fun. And join in the fun we did. I ditched the glue dots and assembled with other parents at a table donned with a dozen mini glue guns to finish my creation. If you seek inspiration, samples of Fabergé eggs are on display here through Passion, Playfulness, Process: Decorated Eggs by Bonnie Mapelli. You can also see other beautiful eggs collected by Marjorie Merriweather Post in her mansion.

Nearby on the Lunar Lawn folk games like egg-rolling and egg on a spoon had children racing against one another without dropping wooden eggs. They even had a pretend poached egg hidden in the mix to add a bit of humor. I never knew that these games were actually of Russian origin. Stop by Russian Easter Food Basket Display table to see replicas of traditional Easter food and pick up ideas for recipes.

All the fun was tiring my family out so we stopped in for a snack at one of the two cafés. Both offer cold sandwiches, sweets and beverages. The café that does not bear a canopy is a quieter room for those who want to relax. Both indoor and outdoor seating are available and restrooms are on site.

We made the museum shop our final destination seizing chocolate soap made in France and an authentic Russian Marioshka doll to add to my collection. You can also find Sugar Booger's line of kiddie plates and sippy cups in the Marioshka design, French flash cards, eeboo sketch books and pocket kites.

Upcoming Family Programs

  • The three part Preschooler Series takes place Thursday mornings from 10:30-11:15am and is for ages 2 to 5. The next installment is Garden Sculpture Safari on April 11, 18 and 25. The cost ranges from $25-$30.
  • Teens and adults can learn more history at the exhibit Pageant of the Csars - The Romanov Coronation albums on view at the Dacha building until June 18, 2013.
  • Spring and summer are popular seasons for wandering through the gardens of this twenty-five acre estate. During our visit in March, many children were enjoying the Japanese-Style Garden filled with stepping stones, mini bridges and ceramic animals. My husband got a kick out of the Putting Green while my daughter was intrigued by a table whose legs consisted of metal flowers in the French Parterre.

To get the most value from your visit, I suggest visiting during one of their many special events. Throughout the year they also host the French Festival in July and the Russian Winter Festival. Admission is $15 for adults, $5 for children 6-18, and free for children under 6 years of age. My mother wants me to bring her to the gardens when they bloom and we already plan on returning for the winter festival. Marjorie Merriweather Post leaves a legacy for all to share and enjoy at Hillwood.

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by Beth Meyer
December 15, 2010

The Russian Winter Festival at Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens is a great opportunity to explore this Washington treasure that may not be an obvious choice for families. Hillwood holds about one activity a month designed to attract families. Its other major annual event is the Fabergé Egg Festival in April. However, Hillwood with its beautiful grounds and impressive collection of Fabergé items and French and Russian decorative art is a good place to visit at any time of the year.

Your first stop should be the Visitor Center, where you buy your tickets. Admission was $18 for adults and $5 for children 6 and up. The price for children is the same as on non-festival days. The price for adults is a reasonable $6 extra. The Winter Festival at Hillwood celebrates Russian holiday traditions. There are three different shows that repeat throughout the day and an ongoing craft workshop. Each show was held almost hourly and you can get a schedule at the information desk.

The first performance we saw was Russian Folk Music by the Samovar Folk Music Ensemble. This lively group performed carols with traditional Russian stringed instruments and an accordion. The festively dressed performers actively engaged young children by giving them percussion instruments and teaching them a Russian dance. This show was a half hour and the audience could sit on banquettes.

Next we saw the colorfully dressed Kalinka Dance Ensemble perform traditional Russian folk dances accompanied by the St. Petersburg Trio. The high kicking finale with the male dancer was a real crowd pleaser. This show took place in the Adirondack Building, a short walk from the Visitor Center. The room was set up auditorium style. This show was also a half hour.

Finally, we saw Grandfather Frost (Russia's Santa Claus) and his granddaughter the Snow Maiden perform a Russian folktale that explores Russian holiday traditions (20 minutes) also at the Adirondack Building. The rustic character of the building and the beautiful open window looking into the woods lent appropriate atmosphere to the show. The performers were available afterwards for photo opportunities. Everyone enjoyed all three shows. Our favorite was the Russian Folk Music. Every performance ran like clockwork; they started on time and ended on time.

We returned to the Visitor Center for the continuous craft workshop. Children could create hats worn by Russian nobility. The lady's headdresses are called kokoshniks. The materials were beautiful and abundant. Each child was provided with a plastic hat to decorate with ribbons, decorative paper, beads, sequins, and even fake braids and fur. This craft fully involved our daughters for almost a half hour. It was one of those perfect crafts, where every product turns out beautiful and unique. There were also a few Russian costumes for children to try on in front of mirrors. Have your child pose in a traditional costume by the Christmas tree at the Visitor Center entrance for a perfect holiday photo.

In between the shows, we took a break for lunch. The regular Café was very crowded so we went to the Café Express, which had light fare of sandwiches, pastries, and salads. Our salads were good but a little pricey. Note: The Café Express does not presently take credit cards.

Finally, we were ready to explore the mansion and grounds. Note: Strollers must be parked outside the estate. Hillwood was founded by Marjorie Merriweather Post. When her father Charles William (C.W.) Post, founder of Postum Cereal Company, died, Marjorie became one of the wealthiest women in America. She started to collect French decorative arts soon after. When she lived in Russia with her third husband United States Ambassador Joseph E. Davies, she began collecting Russian Imperial Art as well. In 1955, she purchased Hillwood, a 25-acre estate in Northwest Washington.

You can obtain a free audio tour (either regular or family) from the Visitor Center. We chose the family version. You could pick a general room description or go into deeper descriptions of individual portraits or objects. The numbers to press are not listed on the rooms themselves; you have to refer to the Hillwood brochure. The entire audio tour is estimated at one and a half hours. My 10 year-old went through the entire tour; my six year-old gave up after a couple of rooms. She was, however, wildly enthusiastic about the mansion, especially Mrs. Post's bedroom and pink bathroom and her ball gowns on the second floor. She wanted a home exactly like the estate. I know she will be disappointed.

The second floor had a continuously running 15-minute video about Hillwood in the Visitor Resource Center, which also had a selection of relevant books to peruse. You could sit at a long table or on the couch. The highlight of the first floor was the Icon Room with the two Fabergé Imperial eggs and Empress Alexandra's Nuptial Crown. The estate was surprisingly kid friendly. There was none of the snootiness or over vigilant guards that you often find in similar places. Most children would be attracted to the Imperial eggs or the tiny Fabergé animals, not to mention the many plates and ceramic figurines. The mansion was especially attractive during the holidays with its festive decorations particularly in the main dining room. It is very nice that you have the freedom to go at your own pace through the mansion.

Since it was winter, we did not fully explore the beautiful grounds. The greenhouse had stunning orchids. My daughters loved the Japanese garden with its many stepping stones and bridges. They also were intrigued by the Pet Cemetery and its dog statuary. There is also a Rose Garden, putting green, and a French Parterre. An audio tour of the gardens is available at the Visitor Center and takes 60 minutes.

The Museum Shop in the Visitor Center is a great place for holiday shopping with many unusual items. It has an adjoining bookstore. There was a nice selection of postcards, jewelry, children's books and games. A library and archives are open by appointment only.

The entire visit took about four and a half hours. I would recommend going on a nice day since the grounds are so spectacular. However, especially with the festival, there was plenty to see and do indoors.

Hours and Admission

The Estate is open February through December, Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 5pm. It is closed on Mondays and most national holidays along with the entire month of January. Hillwood is also open select Sundays from 1 to 5pm.

Suggested donation is $12/public, $10/seniors, $7/college students, $5/children ages 6 to 18. Different rates may apply on Family Fun Days.

Restrooms and Refreshments

The Visitor Center has changing tables in both restrooms and a water fountain and coat check. The Café also has a changing table. The Adirondack Building had one restroom with no changing table. The mansion also had a free coat check.

The Café is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Entrees range from about $7 to 10. Everything looked good but it was a little expensive. Children's specials were grilled cheese with carrots and dip for $7.50 and pizza with carrots and dip for $7.70. Afternoon tea (an assortment of tea, sandwiches, and pastries) is $15. The Café Express is only open for special events.

Getting There

If you come by car, drive on Connecticut and you will see a sign on Tilden to go toward Hillwood. There is another sign that we missed on Linnean. Keep your eyes out.

Parking is ample and free. The nearest metro Van Ness on the Red Line is a mile away. The L1 and L2 buses stop at Tilden and Connecticut, miles away.

5
Average: 5 (2 votes)
by Jamie Davis Smith
June 23, 2014

Hillwood Estate, Museums, and Gardens is one of DC’s best keep secrets.  Their motto is “Where Fabulous Lives” and it is indeed fabulous.  

Hillwood is the former home of Marjorie Merriweather Post, the sole heiress to the Postum Cereal Company fortune and founder of General Foods.  At one time Post was the wealthiest woman in the United States and had lavish taste.  Today her DC home serves as a museum and the extensive grounds and gardens are open for touring, lounging, meandering, and picnicking.

Hillwood is very family-friendly and has several programs designed for children.

Hillwood’s Preschool Program runs concurrent to the school year and has sessions of three classes each with four different themes:  Fanciful Heroes; Kings and Queens; Gardens Alive; and Treasure Quest.  Each class begins with books set out for children and caregivers to read together, followed by an opening song and activity.

Next, the class goes to either the house or for a walk around one of the gardens or the main portion of the class, which ranges from hunting for treasure to searching for statutes with musical instruments, to finding flowers of certain colors.  After the house/garden tour, the class does an art project related to the tour, such as making a treasure box or cape.  Then there is a closing song and each child gets a sticker.  Many families stay after the class for a picnic, a bite to eat at the café or just to wander around the expansive estate.

A favorite area of all children who visit Hillwood is the Japanese gardens, with a bridge and stone footpath across a stream that they love to cross over and over and over again.  There is also a huge, steep hill great for rolling down, and other areas with lots of open space good for running and playing games.  Some children, like my daughter, love wandering around looking at the “beautiful flowers.”

There are several other annual family-friendly events at Hillwood as well.  During her lifetime, Post acquired a large Russian art collection during her time as the wife of the Ambassador to the Soviet Union and was also a collector of French art.  Hillwood honors these interests of Post’s with a Faberge Egg Family Festival, a Russian Winter Festival, and a French Festival.  There is also a Spooky Pooch Howl-o-ween Celebration where dogs are invited to roam the gardens in costume.

Additional Information

  • There is free parking at Hillwood.
  • Hillwood is mostly stroller friendly, with a few areas of the estate requiring the use of steps to access.
  • The on-site restaurant has highchairs and there are changing tables in the bathroom in the visitor’s center.
  • Hillwood is open Tuesdays through Saturdays: 10am to 5pm and select Sundays: 1pm to 5pm.
  • Admission is a suggested donation of $15 for adults and $5 for children 6 to 18.  Children under 6 are free.
  • Admission for the preschool classes is $10.00 per class.  Pre-registration is strongly encouraged as the classes do fill up.

 

 

Photos by Jamie Davis Smith.

Hillwood Estate, Museum and Garden
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