Sunday, October 25, 2015

Visiting George Washington's Home - Mount Vernon

While the city of Washington offers a plethora of opportunities for tourists within its city limits, traveling a short distance outside the city opens up an entirely new realm of opportunities. This fall a dear friend visited; she is someone who has been to Washington many times, but she had never visited Mount Vernon, the estate of America's first President, George Washington. Therefore, on a breezy, chilly, yet sunny autumn day we set out to remedy that.

Located in Alexandria, Virginia, on the Potomac River and easily accessible by car via the George Washington Parkway (easily one of the prettiest urban drives anywhere!), Mount Vernon is open 365 days a year, and with one million guests a year, it is America's most popular historic estate. Although the estate totaled approximately 8,000 acres in Washington's time, it now encompasses 500 acres, with many buildings and gardens to view, meaning that a visitor should plan on at least two or three hours for a good visit. 

After paying our entrance fees ($18 each), we quickly walked through the fancy and relatively new visitors' center, knowing that we would return there at the end of our visit.  We had an hour before our appointed time in the mansion itself, and we used that time to look around the estate.

George Washington became sole owner of this land in 1761, and the mansion was constructed over twenty years, but completed in 1778.
George and Martha had such a pretty little home...
Gorgeous greenhouse & gardens
A few flowers were still blooming.
The sad reality is that the only reason Washington was able to upkeep such a large and successful plantation (in addition to the four other farms he owned in the area!) is that he owned many slaves. Can you imagine being someone else's property, working hard all day long but only receiving small amounts of food to eat, and having to live in tight uncomfortable quarters with many others?
Quarters for female slaves

After seeing the difficult conditions in which both male and female slaves lived, we stopped by to visit Martha Washington herself. The woman who played the role was absolutely phenomenal -- speaking almost non-stop about her and George's life, pausing only to ask whether anyone in the audience had a question. Martha had been married previously and had four children, but her first husband died. Only two of her children lived past the age of four, and thus she and George raised the two children -- Martha ("Patsy") and John -- who survived into young adulthood. John, however, died at age 27, and then the Washingtons took in and raised two of his children. Being a wealthy widow, Martha also brought much wealth into her marriage with George. As is so often the case, this famous, powerful, and wealthy man would most likely not have been as successful without his wife.

There are numerous other buildings one can visit, including the spinning room, the laundry room, and the overseer's quarter. The estate was essentially a self-sufficient small town, as with the many slaves who lived there and the countless visitors who came to spend time at Mount Vernon, much work had to be done to keep everyone fed, clothed, and generally content.
Eventually it was our turn to stand in line in order to tour the mansion itself. Photos are not allowed inside, as apparently all of the artwork in the house is not owned by Mount Vernon. Historical interpreters were present in several areas to explain various facts about the house and the Washingtons' life in it, as well as to answer visitors' questions. First one walks through the formal parlor, then exits the mansion briefly while walking on the portico, which affords sweeping views of the Potomac.
The home has numerous bedrooms, as other than family members, it was customary at that time for others to stop for a visit; there was one year when the estate hosted over 600 visitors! If you would like to learn more and take a virtual tour of the mansion, you can do so on Mount Vernon's website.

Among the rooms one sees is George and Martha's bedroom - including the bed in which President Washington himself died in 1799, at age 67, only a day or so after becoming ill. At Mount Vernon we were told that he died of quinsy, a rare but serious throat infection, however, it seems that this bit of history is still under debate.

The kitchen areas, located not in the house but adjacent to it, were certainly busy places with so many meals to prepare cooking meals to feed all of the estate's inhabitants plus visitors.
Imagine tending a fire during DC's hot summers!

After finishing our tour of the home, we continued to wander around the estate, stopping to take a closer look at the river view...
also checking out the stables....
and visiting some livestock...

Last but not least, we paid our respects to our nation's first President and First Lady by visiting George and Martha Washington's tomb, which is also located on the estate.

Mount Vernon offers a fascinating look at our history, and should be high on the list of things to see when visiting Washington!


  1. ...and we went to visi the third president's digs on our trip - eerily similar to Mount Vernon. Including the 'no photography', the great views, the visitor center and the cemetery. Thanks for the tour; I don't think we'll make it that way anytime soon!

    1. You are welcome! I like the third president's estate, as well...I was there about five years ago - pre-blog, so I look forward to your post!


I love having visitors, so let me know you stopped by!