Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Top 10 Highlights at Mount Vernon

Here is a list of "new" things I learned and saw by visiting the home of George Washington at Mount Vernon in Virginia.

1. Mount Vernon the home of George Washington for 40 years is located 8 miles south of Alexandria, VA and 16 mile south of Washington, D. C.  It was named a National Historic Landmark on December 19, 1960.  General and later first president of the United States, George Washington is considered the "most respected" American hero of all time.

2. The property on which Mount Vernon lies dates back to the great grandfather of George Washington.  George became the sole owner in 1761 until his death in 1799.  During that time, he expanded the property from approximately 2,000 acres to 8,000 acres.  There are beautiful vistas throughout the property but the most relaxing and picturesque view in my opinion is in his back yard.  It faces the Potomac River. It is a very peaceful setting and is currently a 500 acre estate full of rich history on the land that the Father of Our Country worked and prized.

3. Photography was not permitted inside the mansion the large dining room was the first room we entered into the house, an addition added later to the original house by George Washington.  It is in the process of being restored to its original state and all original furniture is in storage and the New Room is expected to be completed in 2014. Washington's secretary announced to Washington in this room that he was unanimously selected as the President of the United States. This was also the room in which former President Washington's body was kept for three days prior to his burial.  It is also  It would be to the right facing the house in the model below.

4. Inside the house are many gems but the one that struck me the most were encased and hanging inconspicuous inside the first floor passage in the main Bastille Key to the Bastille Prison given to Washington from Lafayette.  It is one of the original and permanent fixtures in the house.

5. Exploring the rest of the estate you can find traces  of a working city all its own. Connected to the main house by a winged walkway is the kitchen.

Beyond the kitchen, just across the path are a line of several buildings including the storehouse, the clerk's quarters, the smokehouse, and the wash room leading down to the barn.

Clerk's Quarters


It takes two years to cure a ham.

Wash Room

6. In the barn area, there are two vehicles from the time period. A riding chair similar to the one shown here was used to travel through rough terrain by all social classes.  The coach example and the one in which Washington would have traveled in were made by Philadelphia carriage makers David and Francis Clark.

7. One of the stops you must make is a visit with the first lady, Martha Washington.  She is very chatty or should I rephrase that and say very friendly.  You can tell by the grand smile on her facea nd the twinkle in her eye when she talks about her beloved husband.  You can ask her anything and she will tell you.  I asked her how they met and she told me it was in Williamsburg.  She was widowed at the time and her mother was trying to marry her off again but no one interested her until she met George and he instantly bonded with her children.  Martha also was in camp with George on several occasions during the war.  Whenever he sent for her she went.  During the house tour you get to see the private suite the Washington's had on the second floor and the bed that George died in from quinsy at the age of 67, just two years after his 2nd term of the Presidency. Martha Washington was so distraught that she did not attend the funeral and closed off that section of the house and moved to the third floor. Martha died just two and a half years later.

8. The Mount Vernon burial grounds are located in three distinct areas.  The Old Vault is the original burial spot for George and Martha Washington until they were moved per request of Washington's will to the current area that had to be continually built higher with a brick wall and eventually locked and the key thrown into the Potomac River, preventing vandals from desecrating the grave of America's first and greatest leaders. Read more about the "international" naval custom of paying tribute to Washington as ships pass by on the Potomac River.

Turn from Washington's Tomb and follow the brick path to the Slave Memorial.

9. George Washington was one of the four first five presidents of the United States that owned slaves. In his will he stated that he wanted all his slaves freed after the death of his wife.  Martha Washington in turn freed those slave 12 months after his death. There were complications though, she had her own slaves and those acquired through the estate of her first husband that also belonged to her children separate from Washington's slave and some of these slaves had intermarried.  Many of the founding fathers were not in favor of slavery but there is certainly evidence that they would not have acquired the success and at times unsuccessful times and possessions they acquired without the help of the slaves.

Slave Quarters

Inside the Slave Quarters

10.  The gardens of Mount Vernon have been restored and the fruits of that labor are donated to a local food bank.  There is an upper garden, a lower garden, a fruit garden and nursery. If you get the opportunity explore all of them and travel further down the trail towards the river and you will run into the Pioneer Farm and the 16-Sided Barn, a George Washington design.

and live animals too!


The property was passed down through the Washington family.  George and Martha had no children of their own.   John Augustine Washington III sold the property to the newly formed organization, Mount Vernon's Ladies Association founded by Ann Pamela Cunningham in 1853 just prior to the beginning of the civil war. Read more information on "How the Property was Protected During the Civil War", at the Mountvernon.org website thanks to the Mount Vernon Ladies Association and they continue today to maintain this property through tickets sales, the retail and dining facilities and donations an they do a beautiful job. My visit far exceeded my expectations.

Take the Behind the Scenes Tour, I did not but I overheard that guide talking about the naval tribute or I may have never known.  I will take it on my next visit.

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