For Washington's Birthday, it hosts a special tea -- with George as a guest; Colonial Festival brings muskets and cannons this summer
PORT ANGELES — You just never know what you’ll see when you turn off Highway 101 on the far side of Sequim.
Zig and zag the back lanes toward Dungeness Spit and there’s plenty to gawk at: the occasional lavender farm, wide views of windswept water, heavily loaded ships plodding past Victoria, and, oh look, there’s George Washington’s house.
I know, I know, America’s first president made his home in Virginia, some 2,900 miles southeast of here. His well-preserved, red-roofed mansion, called Mount Vernon, sits on a bluff overlooking the Potomac River.
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Little did George expect, I’d hazard to guess, that someday there would not only be a state named after him, but that state would have a twin of his stately home — this one between Sequim and Port Angeles, topping a 120-foot-high bluff overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Yet there it has sat, since 2008, ever since Dan and Janet Abbott had a brainstorm for a historical bed-and-breakfast that they call the George Washington Inn.
And, trust me, it’s all about George.
Books, artwork and more
The inn’s library has books about George Washington, and if they’re not about George, they’re about the Colonial period. Each of five guest rooms is named for a period in his life (the Surveyor’s Retreat, the Presidential Suite, etc.). Artwork on the walls is of George, or his home, or some event in his life.
When someone builds George Washington’s house in Clallam County, the obvious question is: Uh, why?
“I just love history, and to me that period is the most fascinating part of American history,” says Dan Abbott, the idea man behind this place, who got the inspiration after visiting the real Mount Vernon, not far from Washington, D.C.
He got help from the historic home’s stewards in the form of dimensions and drawings, and then bought a computer-aided design program for $100 and learned how to use it to design his inn.
“It’s the same dimensions outside, 94 feet by 48 feet — we wanted to keep the outside look,” Abbott says.
It’s not a replica inside. The actual historic home “is all chopped up in small rooms” that wouldn’t work well as an inn, he explains.
Nor is the exterior a perfect replica — you just can’t get those old wavy-glass windows at Home Depot — but it’s pretty good. Red roof? Check. Cupola topped by weather vane? Check. Columns and veranda facing the water? Yessir.
OK, the drive-through portico out front is a modern addition (making for a guest-friendly entry). A second-floor balcony was added to the waterside veranda, with the lower level glassed in for dining. And the bird atop the weather vane looks more like a flying eagle than the pounded-copper dove of peace that Washington personally commissioned in 1787. The inn is not, after all, a replica built to the standards of America’s National Park Service.
In fact, Dan Abbott wasn’t an American to begin with. Born in Alberta and raised on a farm there, he originally made a career as an officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). So, if you want to speak in terms of larger-than-life figures, you might call this “Dudley Do-Right meets the Father of Our Country.”
For love of the rain shadow
An RCMP posting near Victoria, B.C., gave the Abbotts a love for living in the Olympic Mountains rain shadow with the Salish Sea all around them.
Later life led them to South Carolina, where Dan got a master’s degree at Bob Jones University and became an investment counselor while Janet was an office manager. Looking for a pre-retirement career, after a visit to Mount Vernon in Virginia he found the inn’s site near Port Angeles about a dozen years ago.
“I said, ‘This reminds me of Mount Vernon, high on a bluff overlooking water.’ And with the mountains as a background and this being Washington state, what could be better?”
As first-time innkeepers, the Abbotts discovered there are quirks to matching history with modern tastes. While the luxurious guest rooms are painted in rich colors from Benjamin Moore’s historical palette, soothing to the contemporary eye, Janet Abbott notes that actual interior colors in Washington’s home tended toward an alarmingly bright aqua.
In that day and age, flashy colors were expensive to produce and signified wealth.
Another quirk: When he hired local artist George Crabb — who also works for Sequim’s water department — to replicate a famous painting of Washington’s family to become a signature artwork visible as guests enter the inn, Dan saw a problem. If the painting was copied true to the original, George Washington would have faced away from entering guests.
The simple solution? Historical purists might “tut, tut,” but artist Edward Savage’s “The Washington Family” — the original hangs in D.C.’s National Gallery of Art — was copied in mirror image. (Martha Washington is now left-handed.)
In the purple
Along with the inn, the Abbotts used their 10½ acres to create Washington Lavender Farm, which is part of Sequim’s July lavender festival tours and provides lavender for everything from the inn’s bath products to Janet’s biscuits served at breakfast.
A happily obsessive researcher and sixth-generation farmer, Dan recently attended a forum to learn about growing heritage grains. He plans to plant Red Fife, Sonora and Marquis wheat, along with hull-less barley, on the property this spring.
There’s already a stationary bicycle hooked up with a grinder on the inn’s veranda for making flour for the inn’s baked goods.
Next to that is a fancy coffee-roasting machine from which Dan roasts his own label of coffee served at the inn every morning as “a cup of George.” It harks back to World War I when the G. Washington Coffee Co. — whose founder claimed to be a distant relative of the founding father — supplied the first commercially marketed instant coffee to soldiers in the trenches.
To supply books for the inn Dan became an expert shopper on eBay. While you may be accustomed to finding a Gideon Bible in hotel nightstands, the Abbotts take that a step further: The favored biography they’ve placed in each of the guest rooms is Peter Lillback’s “George Washington’s Sacred Fire,” which seeks to prove that Washington was a devout Christian rather than a deist as many historians posit.
Author Lillback, president of the faith-oriented Providence Forum, gave a talk at the inn in 2011.
Tea and muskets
The place obviously lends itself to history-oriented events. The Daughters of the American Revolution have had brunches there. An upcoming annual celebration is the George Washington’s Birthday Tea, a catered affair at which a local George Washington re-enactor (see profile below) visits with guests. This year’s tea is Saturday, Feb. 20.
Two years ago, Revolutionary War re-enactors discovered the inn, and they love it.
“There just aren’t too many places in the Western U.S. where I have a replica of Mount Vernon to build around,” says Dan Wilbanks, director of this year’s Northwest Colonial Festival, which takes place on the estate Aug. 11-14.
Last summer, re-enactors constructed a scale replica of the wooden North Bridge, of Concord, Mass., and it’s still there. This summer’s festival will feature a village with period crafts, along with re-enactments of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, pitting would-be Colonial militia against would-be Redcoats from as far away as Arizona — complete with cracking muskets and booming cannons.
Like I said, you just never know what you’ll see when you take a few zigs and zags off the highway on the far side of Sequim.
If you go
George Washington Inn & Estate
939 Finn Hall Road, Port Angeles (on the western edge of Sequim); about 70 minutes by car from the Kingston ferry terminal.
2016 events at the inn
• George Washington’s Birthday Tea on Saturday, Feb. 20, with biscuits and scones, finger sandwiches and desserts; $33.95 per person. George Washington (impersonator Vern Frykholm) is featured guest. Multiple seatings; reservations required by Feb. 12: conta.cc/1Te1Rxj or 360-452-5207.
• Sequim Lavender Weekend is July 15-17, including festival at the Washington Lavender Farm, outside the inn. See visitsunnysequim.com/index.aspx?NID=166
• Northwest Colonial Festival on the estate is Aug. 11-14, featuring Northwest Colonial Reenactors Association, 2nd Connecticut Regiment of Militia, 7th Company Brigade of Guards, and others; $10 per carload. Details: NWColonialFestival.com.
Rates at the inn from $235/night, two-night minimum stay. Tasty, multicourse breakfast included. All rooms have carved wooden bed frames, all-season fireplaces (with replicated flames), whirlpool baths and large-screen TVs.
360-452-5207 or georgewashingtoninn.com
PROFILE: Sequim can say ‘George Washington sleeps here’
Since there’s a replica of George Washington’s home near Sequim, it only makes sense that George himself lives in the town known for sunshine and lavender.
Well, he’s actually Vern Frykholm, a retired real-estate appraiser, but he’s making his mark as Washington state’s foremost George Washington impersonator.
Among other things, he makes special appearances at the George Washington Inn, including the upcoming George Washington’s Birthday Tea on Feb. 20.
He shows up in powdered wig and full regalia. With firm jaw and a nose that isn’t shy, he’s not a bad likeness of the man whose image adorns our state flag and highway signs.
It started some years ago when he visited Washington’s home in Mount Vernon, Va., and was fascinated by a Washington impersonator’s presentations. Frykholm stood and listened to three sessions as other visitors trooped by.
“I was smitten,” he recalls. “I asked if there was a script I could read. He said no, that all he did was read books about George Washington and the Revolution.”
Then, after Frykholm heard Peter Lillback, author of a Washington biography, speak at the George Washington Inn in 2011, Frykholm and his wife joined a tour Lillback led of historical sites around Philadelphia and Valley Forge, Pa.
“At Valley Forge, Dean Malissa, the premier portrayer of George Washington, joined us for an hour. He was fabulous. As a result of that, I decided that the state of Washington needed its own George Washington. So, I began to read books about George Washington and the revolution. One topic led to another and another.”
Since then, he has made more than 100 presentations to more than 7,000 people.
Among other duties: reviewing the troops at this summer’s Northwest Colonial Festival at the George Washington Inn.
— Brian J. Cantwell