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Published: November 17th 2008
The beautiful home of George Washington.
George Washington inherited Mount Vernon in 1761 and proceeded to expand the quaint farmhouse with a property of 2,000 acres into a grand mansion settled upon 8,000 acres. Today the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, who purchased the property in 1858, keeps up the house and land as it was in 1799, the year of George Washington’s death. In 1794, the gracious Washington wrote that he had “no objection to any sober or orderly person’s gratifying their curiosity in viewing the buildings, Gardens &ct about Mount Vernon,” even though people were so passionate about journeying to the estate to visit this famous war general that there was one year they received 677 visitors, causing Washington to claim, in a letter to his mother in 1787, that his house was akin to a “well resorted tavern, as scarcely any strangers who are going from north to south, or from south to north do not spend a day or two at it.” The estate now receives about a million visitors each year… sorry, though, no more overnight stays in the Lafayette Bedroom.
There are 50 acres of the property open to exploration by the public, but heat and humidity quickly convinced us to
Plaque in the Orientation Center.
spend more time in the museums and stores than wandering the grounds. We did see the mansion, the kitchen and nearby outbuildings, stable and mule shed, as well Washington’s Tomb and the Slave Memorial and Burial Ground. After this, we made a conscious decision not to trek all the way out to the Wharf or the 16-sided Barn, but I didn’t even realize that we’d missed other parts of the estate, like the Greenhouse, Slave Quarters, and Archaeological Museum until we’d left and I started writing the blog. Mount Vernon is so vast and forested with Washington’s “Wildernesses,” that it’s easy to walk for miles and still miss things. I would love to visit again in cooler weather, so that we might stroll for hours and really explore every nook and cranny of this fabulous property. It was, though, late enough in the year to avoid extensive crowds on a weekday, which was nice.
I also loved wandering though the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center. Within this building you will find the fairly traditional Museum with paintings, manuscripts, china, jewelry and hunting equipment, while next door is the interactive Education Center, which is more kid-friendly but fascinating
George and Martha with Martha's grandchildren, George Washington Parke Custis (on the left) and Eleanor Parke Custis (right). Supposed to be them about 1785. In the Orientation Center.
for adults as well. There is a neat theatre with real snow and simulated cannon-fire to immerse you in the story, life-size and life-like mannequins representing Washington at various stages of his life, hands-on exhibits showing the times in which Washington lived - for example, the Boston Tea Party, and a display ironically labeled “A Leader’s Smile” and dedicated to the infamous teeth of a man who, self-conscious of his false teeth, rarely smiled. Albeit taking care of his teeth the best ways that were known at the time, Washington unfortunately had lost all but one tooth by the time he was sworn into the presidency. His dentures, made of hippopotamus ivory and human teeth, are on display in the Education Center, a display which informs us that Washington’s teeth were, incidentally, never made of wood. There is also an exhibit, including video, which examines the presidency in general from George Washington until George W. Bush (as of Sept. 2008). Here is located one particular display explaining that the title “Mr. President” was determined after many other options were suggested, including “His Highness the President of the United States of America and Protector of their Liberties” and “His Exalted High
Mightiness.” Other items of interest were on display within the mansion, such as the key to the Bastille, hung within the foyer.
Mount Vernon is definitely worth a visit, whether you are interested in architecture, history, nature, shopping (there’s lots of shops), or just sight-seeing in general. Aside from touring the mansion, grounds, and museums, we also ate a late lunch at the Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant, which was delicious, and enjoyed browsing the rambling shops packed with various souvenirs, food products, children’s toys and Christmas decorations. It seems to me that the extremely beautiful Mount Vernon really has something for everyone, and aside from an enjoyable experience, one can be satisfied that the money spent here goes toward the upkeep and preservation of this hugely important piece of American history.
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