Travel

History Geeks’ Founding Fathers Home Tour–Part I Mount Vernon

Our youngest daughter graduated from college this May and much to our extended family’s dismay we did not plan to throw a celebration in her honor. It’s not that we were not extremely proud of her (she graduated magna cum laude), but knowing our child, we understood that she would prefer a sharp stick in the eye to a party of any kind. So, how to celebrate her accomplishment without torturing her? Her degree is in Creative Writing, but she is an avid student of History and a crazy George Washington fan-girl. As fellow nerds, her father and I recognized that what she would really appreciate as a graduation gift, would be to tour Washington’s home at Mt. Vernon. Having made the decision to make the nearly 7 hour trip to Mt. Vernon, over the Memorial Day weekend, we decided we might as well take advantage of the proximity of Washington’s estate to those of Jefferson and Madison, and make it a Founding Father’s Home Tour History Geek-out Weekend. Since Washington was our first president, it made sense to visit his home first on our itinerary. Mt. Vernon is located on the banks of the Potomac River in Virginia about 30 minutes south of Washington D.C.

We had booked a house tour on-line for 11:20 a.m., providing us (much to my husband and daughter’s consternation) with a good bit of time to walk around the gardens before the guided tour began. There’s a 60-minute garden tour as well that I would have loved to do, but sadly, neither of my traveling companions would have tolerated that.  Mt. Vernon’s flower gardens were in full bloom, beautifully maintained, and I adored them. Because I am not a very skilled photographer and shake like a leaf when I attempt to take a photograph, I made my husband lug my tripod around the estate. He is such a good sport, but I know that, particularly in the garden where I wanted shots of everything, he was ready to strangle me.

Boxwood Fleur-de-lis formal garden.

Washington’s garden greenhouse is the second largest structure at Mt. Vernon and the most advanced greenhouse of the time for growing tropical and rare plants.

I think it is so cool that the gardens have been reconstructed by historians to replicate what they would have looked like in Washington’s time. And it makes me feel better about my own horticultural missteps to hear, that, while Washington was an avid gardener, he had many failed experiments in the garden. However, as a would-be gardener, I think Washington must have been cracked to construct an 18-acre deer park on the property. He actually, imported deer from England to create “the picturesque spectacle of wild deer” in his yard. Didn’t he know that marauding deer will eat anything and everything in the garden that is not poisonous?

After the war, Washington commissioned architect Joseph Rakestraw to construct the cupola and crown it with a dove of peace weathervane.

Thank God for the Mount Washington Ladies Association who rescued and restored this precious landmark from ruin and neglect (all with private funding–no tax dollars). Over the years, they painstakingly tracked down many of the original paintings and furnishings that had been sold off when the family could no longer afford to maintain the property. Washington built Mt. Vernon over a period between 1758 and 1778 on the site of a smaller home previously constructed by his father, Augustine. The house is made of wood and built in the Neoclassical Palladian style which was popular at the time. Despite the elegant decoration which included fashionable and expensive vibrantly painted Prussian blue, egg yolk yellow, and bright green rooms, imported marble fireplaces, exquisitely detailed paneling, and composite relief decoration on the ceilings and walls, Mt. Vernon still has the feel of a family home.

The New Room was the last and most grand room to be added to Mount Vernon. The two-story gathering and large dining space is wallpapered in a vibrant blue-green said to be Washington’s favorite color. As a design enthusiast, I really appreciate the vibrant colors used in many of the rooms at Mount Vernon.
The small dining room features verdigris green glazed paneling and a gorgeous decorative composite relief design on the ceiling.

I knew that this tour was a hit when as we were ascending the native black walnut staircase to the second floor, my daughter turned to me, and like a real groupie said, “just imagine George Washington actually touched this very banister that I am touching now.” I am quite concerned that she will never wash her hand again.

One of the many things that I most admired about George and Martha Washington’s estate was the stunning view of the Potomac which you can take in from one of several rocking chairs situated on the back porch of the mansion. I could have sat there all day.

The expansive back porch spans the entire rear of the mansion and commands a stunning view of the Potomac River.
View from Mount Vernon’s back porch.

Besides the house and gardens renovations, the Mount Vernon Ladies Association has constructed a fantastic museum and education center which is extremely informative and entertaining. In addition to many displays and interactive exhibits of artifacts and objects from Washington’s life, including his famous (rather disgusting) teeth and Martha’s wedding shoes, there are several short films which are included in the price of admission. My favorite was a 4-D interactive film about the Revolution in which it actually snows in the theater while Washington is crossing the Delaware.

Martha Washington’s purple silk wedding slippers

One of the things that is difficult to reconcile about Washington, and frankly many of our other founding fathers, is that while they were advocates for the idea that all men are created equal and deserve to live free, they were also life long slave owners. We know from Washington’s writings that he abhorred slavery and made a provision in his will to free his own personal slaves upon the death of his wife.  Mount Vernon makes an excellent effort to give an accurate picture of the lives and contributions of the individual enslaved people that lived and worked on the plantation, but there is no doubt that the fact that Washington owned slaves casts a pall on both Washington, the man, and his home.

Never-the-less, Mount Vernon is an awe inspiring place and well worth a visit, offering something to everyone from gardeners and architectural or interior design enthusiasts to presidential and revolutionary war buffs and history nerds of all types, like us. My husband, daughter and I ended up spending most of the day there, and we would all go back again anytime we have the opportunity.

Tips For Touring Mount Vernon

1.  Just go To Mount Vernon. I have been to Washington DC many times and toured the museums and monuments but I never included Mount Vernon in my itinerary–big mistake!

2.  Visit in the Spring when the gardens are in bloom and the temperature is mild.

  1.  You may want to consider staying in Arlington, VA, as there are not a lot of places to stay in Mount Vernon. We arrived the evening before our tour, stayed overnight in Arlington, and had dinner at the Green Pig Bistro which I highly recommend.

  2. Plan to stay most of the day at Mount Vernon so you can spend ample time touring the house, grounds, museum, education center and gift shop.

  3.  The House tour was excellent but if you have time, I would consider taking one of the additional guided tours that are offered including the “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” Tour, the Gardens and Groves tour, the Enslaved People At Mount Vernon tour, the Premium Mansion tour which goes behind the scenes, and the sightseeing cruise of the Potomac.

  4. View the movies which are free with your admission ticket and are presented in the museum and education center. Most particularly don’t miss the 4D Revolutionary War experience movie. Your kids will love seeing the snow fall in the theater.

  5. In addition to Mt. Vernon, stop by Washington’s Distillery and Grist Mill which is only 2.7 miles from the entrance to the mansion. You can see how Washington produced whiskey back in the day and buy a bottle to sample today.

  6. We grabbed a quick lunch in the Food Court but if you have time, the nearby Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant is highly reviewed and serves several authentic specialties from the colonial period.

 

Souvenier evidence of my history geekery includes George Washington figure and Mount Vernon blue transferware plate ornaments and a mug in the Mount Vernon Ribbons and Cornflower pattern, adapted from a French porcelain mug originally used by George and Martha Washington.

 

Our next stop was James Madison’s home, Montpelier which I will feature in the upcoming post of History Geeks’ Founding Fathers Home Tour Part II.

 

Sharing this post with these fantastic link parties:

Best of the Weekend, Inspiration Monday, Over the Moon, Monday Funday, Merry Monday, Inspire me Monday, The Scoop, Totally Terrific Tuesday, Wow Us Wednesday, Dream, Create, Inspire, Party In Your PJs, Inspire Me Wednesday, Share Your Style, Feathered Nest Friday, Inspiration Gallery, The Pin Junkie, Pretty Pintastic, Sweet Inspiration, Best Friday Features, Sundays At Home, Gardens Galore, Welcome Home Wednesday

 

24 thoughts on “History Geeks’ Founding Fathers Home Tour–Part I Mount Vernon

  1. Congratulations to the college graduate, and magna cum laude!
    I would love to see Mount Vernon again. As a young child, I do not remember even going! So it was exciting seeing your pictures. My family loves history as well and has enjoyed a trip to Monticello so far. But Mount Vernon is definitely on the list of adventures.
    I loved the flower pictures. The gardens are beautiful.
    Thanks to hubby for carrying the tripod!

    1. Thank you for your comment and congrats for our graduate. Definitely, put Mount Veron on your bucket list. We really loved it!

  2. One of my favorite places to visit! On my last trip there, I bored my whole family with my constant litany of “fun facts.” Glad y’all had a good time! The pictures are beautiful, but no photo could do the place justice.

  3. Even though I’m not a big history nut, you’re description of your day at Mount Vernon makes me want to go!

  4. Your photos turned out wonderfully! The tripod was worth the effort!

    I’ve heard great things about Mt. Vernon. I hope to make it there someday soon.

  5. This looked like fun! I love history places and try to go to one each year. It’s torture for our kids but me and the husband love it! Thanks for the great tour and congrats to your daughter! Sharing on FB, Thank you for sharing on Merry Monday! Have a great week!
    Kim

    1. It was great fun. If you like history, Mount Vernon is a great place to visit and they do a great job of creating interactive and fun activities and exhibits for children, so maybe your kids would enjoy it too. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I very much appreciate it.

  6. I have been to Mount Vernon several times and I enjoy more each time I go! I love history as well and I am glad you included Monticello. Congrats to your daughter! Beautiful pics. I am having a link party Monday morning at 8 am (central time) called Gardens Galore.,,I would love you to link your post on Mount Vernon since you have the garden photos. Any garden posts are welcomed, hope you will join me! I enjoyed visiting your blog!

    1. Thanks so much for your kind comments about my post about Mount Vernon. I would be delighted to link my post to your Gardens Galore Party. Thanks for the invite!

  7. We have never gotten to go to Mt. Vernon, but have been to Jefferson’s home Montecello and Monroe’s home Ashlawn several times. I really want to go to Mt. Vernon though, especially after National Treasure! What struck me was the similarities between that home, and some of the other historic onces I’ve seen. I guess they really did have trends and fashions, like we do now! Of course I knew they did, but I don’t get to see enough of those places to note similarities I guess! Just love history!

    I came over from a link party, so glad I did!

    1. Thank you for your kind comment about my post about Mount Vernon. I have not been to Ashlawn yet but I will put it on my bucket list. I hope you make it to Mount Vernon someday because I found it to be really special. Thanks again for visiting my blog.

  8. What a wonderful way to celebrate your daughter’s achievements and have special memories for your family. I share your interest in the desire to spend much time exploring the gardens of historical homes, and the reality of needing to cut it short to keep up with the rest of the family. Thanks for sharing the photographs. They are beautiful! I also enjoyed seeing the interior wall and ceiling ornamentation and your dialogue.
    Our son and his wife enjoyed Mt. Vernon this summer with high school students on a history trip. It will be a must see if husband and I visit the area. I look forward to the posts of the rest of your trip!

    1. Thanks so much for your kind comments about my Mount Vernon post. I hope you and your husband get to visit it someday. It’s really worth it!

  9. Congratulations on your daughter’s graduation. This was such a great gift to give her. And it is obvious from her staircase remark that she had a great time. Thanks for taking all of us along with you. All the photos are great and I;mlooking forward to the next installment.

  10. From one history geek to another, thank you for this post. It’s been about 15 years since I’ve been to Mount Vernon, and I appreciated this little “Washington fix.” Can’t wait to see your next 2 stops, as it’s also been about 15 years since I visited those! Oh, and I did visit the Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant – and highly recommend it!

    1. Thanks so much. I enjoyed all three presidents’ homes but there was something really special about Mount Vernon. Next time we go, I will definitely try the Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant.

  11. I really appreciate this post because I am finally reading ‘John Adams’ by David McCullough and Washington is, of course, a primary figure in the book because they were contemporaries. I wonder if there is also a historical home dedicated to John Adams? Anyway thanks for the detailed post and congratulations to the new graduate!

    1. Thank you. I am glad you enjoyed the post. If you are interested, I have also published a post about James Madison’s Montpelier and I am in the process of writing about Monticello which will complete our History Geeks’ Tour. To answer your question, yes, Peacefield was John Adams’ home and it is part of a whole complex that you can tour in Quincy, MA right outside of Boston.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *