Learning about Mt Vernon and George Washington

A few days ago we visited Mount Vernon, just south of DC. George Washington is the only President to be elected unanimously, and he did it not just once but twice! Fortunately his home, always referred to as his beloved Mt. Vernon, has been kept as a national treasure. It is still a beautiful building.
The front of the house faces the "bowling green", which is a huge green lawn, while the back has a full, deep porch that faces the Potomac River. There are still chairs lining the porch, same as there were in Washington's day, where guests can sit and relax, watching the river flow by.

Mt. Vernon includes over 8,000 acres and serveral buildings so it is impossible to get a good picture of the whole thing. But inside the museum is a layout of the central area that includes the house, bowling green, gardens and other buildings. President Washington liked symmetry and balance so his design placed the house as the centerpiece, while the grounds on each side are almost identical.
The outside of the house is treated with a technique called “rustication”, where the pine boards are grooved and beveled to resemble bricks. Then they are varnished and painted, with fine sand added to the paint. The result is surprisingly realistic, except where the paint has chipped. The whole thing gets a paint job every 5 years, and it's probably not too long until the next one.
They don't allow pictures inside the house, which bummed me out. They have kept it as original as possible, which includes some things I would not have chosen, like that virulent shade of green in the small dining room. The large dining room is much prettier in color and design. I couldn't take a picture but they have a decent one in the museum.
The beautiful dinning table in the picture is not actually in the room now. Instead, all the chairs are lined up against the wall and the floor is partially covered by a carpet for the guide to stand on. The guide told us that originally there were no nails in the floor, it was strictly tongue-and-groove. But during the restoration it became necessary to firm it up with some nails.

Upstairs are 5 guest bedrooms, including the personal bedroom of the Washington's. Their bedroom is accessible only by a back staircase, while the other 4 are accessible by another staircase. That was one way they kept some privacy even when they had several hundred visitors. President Washington died in that room and afterwards Martha closed the room up and moved into another room. 

Back downstairs is the study, which contains something else I wished I could take a picture. He had a fan chair, where the sitter could create his own personal breeze overhead by pumping pedals. A photo of a miniature version will help me remember.
The house was fascinating and we loved seeing it, even though we happened to be there on a day when there were busloads after busloads of schoolchildren there. Because of the number of people there, we were sort of rushed through the house and some of the "interpretive volunteers" were not in a very good mood. Most of them weren't very helpful and were kind of rude, although a couple of the younger ones were still giving it their all. One of them pointed out a large key in a display box outside the small dining room. This, it turns out, is the real key to the famous French Bastille. The Marquis de Lafayette was a pretty good friend of Washington and after the French citizens stormed the Bastille (and thereby started the French Revolution), he sent it to Washington, as a symbol of liberty.

Outside are the two large garden areas. The one on the left is called the Upper Garden and was planted with flowers. Today there are some unusual-shaped hedges there.
On the other side of the bowling green is the Lower Garden where they grew vegetable and herbs. The main kitchen was in a separate building, which Randy checked out, of course.
Plus they had a spinning room, a blacksmith shop, a house for the overseer, a smokehouse, even a paint cellar, to store the paints. And a “Necessary” room, which is a pretty name for an outhouse, but then, it's a pretty building.
At the door of one of the buildings (I'm not sure which one) I looked down and saw that the "doormat" was half of a millstone. I doubt if that is an original use but I like it.
And of course, the stables are still here. There are no horses here now but somehow it still smells exactly like a stable. One of the old carriages is housed there. It's beautiful but I'll bet George would have a fit if he saw it looking like this.
Further out on the grounds, near the river, we found an old brick structure in disrepair. We thought it might be an ice house but it turned out to be the old wine cellar. I like old ruins so I liked this and would have loved to look inside, even though I suspect that the ceiling caved in years ago.
It actually looks quite a bit like the original Washington family tomb, which is also near the river. It's in a pretty sad state now but that's probably OK since it hasn't been used since 1837.
The Washingtons are buried in another, newer and much more formal tomb. President Washington has a lead-lined mahogany casket, inside a marble sarcophagus. Mrs. Washington has a marble sarcophagus, too, off to the side a bit. From what I read in the museum, every head of state has visited and most of them, such as Winston Churchill, the Prince of Japan, Madame Chaing Kai-shek and a host of others, have laid a ceremonial wreath here.

Down a path from the Washington tomb is a memorial to the slaves and servants who worked at Mt. Vernon. There is one grave cover to stand for them all and the afternoon we were there it was almost covered with coins and bills. I mentioned this to the guard at Washington's tomb and he seemed surprised, so I guess this doesn't happen every day.
Our next stop was the museum, where I learned a lot about Washington. I learned that he led a venture to create a canal around Great Falls. And that at Mt. Vernon they used to catch 1.5 million herring in seven weeks, filling their own stores and selling the rest. I learned that Robert E Lee married into the Washington's family tree by marrying Martha's great-granddaughter. The museum has the Washington box seat from his church; the first time I saw these box seats was in 2011 when we visited BostonHis Revolutionary war pistol, made of wood, brass, iron and silver, is on display here.
And I found out that when he wanted to serve in the Virginia House of Burgesses, he campaigned at taverns by buying drinks. In 1758 he bought more than 150 gallons of rum, punch, brandy, beer and hard cider, which won him 307 votes and a seat in the House!

When we were ready for lunch, we ate at Mt. Vernon restaurant, where Randy ordered the peanut and chestnut soup, plus a corncake with crab meat and hollandaise sauce. I ordered the pulled pork, and wished I'd ordered what Randy did. 

We only spent one day in this area and were glad we spent it here. George Washington was, as the saying goes, "first in war and first in peace", but what made him a legend is that, having gained the ultimate power in the nation, he gave it back. History is full of people who said they would do that, (Julius Caesar, Oliver Cromwell, Napoleon), but who, once they got that power, just couldn’t let it go. President Washington did what he said he would do and did not let power corrupt him.

We sure could use someone like him now.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice post, I enjoyed the pics and explanations very much. Thanks for sharing. Sure agree with your closing statement!