Saturday, June 7, 2014

Visiting Mount Vernon: George Washington’s family home

Mount Vernon is the family home of first U.S. President George Washington. The property is located in Northern Virginia which is just south of Washington, D.C. Each year millions of visitors flock to this popular destination.

Today the property is owned and run by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association. The mansion and grounds were purchased in the 1850s and were meticulously restored to its 1799 existence when George and Martha Washington shared the house until Washington's death on Dec. 14 of that year. This renovation is ongoing, and visitors to Mount Vernon can see the constant changes as the property is cared for and maintained.
Front view of Mount Vernon
The majestic Mount Vernon

The history of Mount Vernon is a rich one. During the early and post-colonial days, many prestigious people were visitors to the Washington home; it was also a home that welcomed and entertained lots of guests. Today's visitors get a close-up view of the Washingtons and a feel for both the historical era and the social aspect of daily life.

Planning your visit

The Mount Vernon mansion and surrounding grounds are open to visitors every day year round. There is plenty of parking, but the site does typically get a lot of visitors, especially during peak times of the year. If you want a relatively close parking spot and avoid the long lines for tickets or to enter the mansion, I recommend you arrive early. Sometimes it can get busy.

The grounds open at various times depending on the season. From April until August, the property is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., March, September, and October, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and from November through February, typically the coldest time of year in this region, Mount Vernon is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Touring the mansion

The main house is the primary attraction at Mount Vernon. The home has been meticulously restored and is fully showcased as the mansion that existed as the 18th century came to a close. Many of the pieces are original possessions of the Washington family. Careful attention has been paid to detail, so even where some pieces may not be original to the home, these are primarily period pieces.

When you pay your entrance fee at the main gate, your ticket will have a time noted when you can tour the mansion. A few minutes before your timed entry you can show your ticket and get on line. (Depending on the level of crowds the day of your visit, it could be minutes or hours from the time you pay admission). The inside of the house is a must see!

This is an image taken of a model of Mount Vernon which is located just inside the entrance to the property. Photos are not allowed inside the home, but the model gives a great sneak peek of what visitors are about to see. Note: Dining table appears now to be removed during recent renovations of the "New Room".

A special exhibit is the Bastille Key which was given to General Washington by the Marquis de Lafayette in 1790 and still hangs in the main hallway where Washington placed it. As noted earlier, many of the Washington's original furniture and possessions have been returned to the home. A highlight is the General's trunk and his presidential chair. Other artifacts include a bust of General Washington, a harpsichord, dishes and the bed George and Mrs. Washington shared, to name a few.

During a brief period in the winter months, Mount Vernon opens the seldom seen third floor of the mansion; this floor is tightly cramped quarters and is the location in the home where Martha Washington moved to after her husband's death.

Viewing the grounds

The grand house is built upon a hill with a fantastic view overlooking the Potomac River. Visitors can walk around the grassy area behind the mansion and enjoy the spectacular views of the river and landscape, as the land across the river in Maryland is undeveloped and preserved. 

Many buildings are located on the grounds which are replicas of those functional in the 18th century; many are filled with both original and period-era artifacts. Today these structures are mostly open for viewing, and visitors can get a peek into each one and get an up close feeling of how the plantation operated from a business perspective. Additionally, it is common to see historical interpretations taking place throughout the property.

Visitors can also visit the sacred burial grounds of Washington and his family. Twice a day from April to October there is a special wreath-laying ceremony and commemoration, and the public is invited to join.  There is also another older family tomb which existed prior to the current burial grounds called the "Old Tomb". In his will, the general stipulated a larger area be built and, in later years, family members were moved to the new burial location.

Washington family burial grounds
Washington family burial grounds. Built after Washington's death in accordance to his will, George and Martha Washington are laid to rest inside the brick structure and other family members are buried on the grounds.

The Pioneer Farm and Treading Barn is located at the bottom of the hill on the shore of the Potomac. This is fun for the kids because they can see the animals, the specially-crafted 16-side barn, and learn all about farm life. There are also cruises available for an additional fee, and the boat dock is located next to the Pioneer Farm (tickets are typically purchased at the Welcome Center when admission tickets are bought, but I think you can also buy them down here as well-double check to be sure when you arrive if you are unsure if you want a boat tour).

Interior of the Treading Barn
Interior of the Treading Barn. This structure is considered to be very innovative for its time.
Rear view of Mount Vernon
View of Mount Vernon from one of the boats

Other highlights

The Association has done an incredible job with restoration, and progress is ongoing. In October 2006, the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center and the Ford Orientation Center were completed, further enhancing the historical value and experience of visiting Mount Vernon. Visitors have the opportunity to see films, see displays and special exhibits. The museum houses a lot of original pieces. Just this past year the Fred W. Smith National Library was completed.

There is also a food court, restaurant, and a very nice gift shop. In addition, many annual and special events take place at Mount Vernon. When planning your visit to the Washington, D.C. area, it's a good idea to check the Mount Vernon calendar of events to get the most out of your visit as there are special tours and events offered throughout the year. 

Visiting Mount Vernon is an excellent experience at any time of the year. Each season highlights special exhibits or events. In the spring, summer and early fall, the gardens are in full bloom, harvest time occurs in the fall, and winter celebrates the holidays 18th-century style. 
A butterfly lands in a garden at Mount Vernon

A visit to Mount Vernon is a great excursion to augment a visit to the Washington, D.C. region. The historical tour through the eyes of George and Martha Washington is quite interesting. Since I live in the vicinity, I purchase an annual pass and make it a point to visit multiple times a year. I've found there is always something new to see or learn. For more information visit the Mount Vernon website, it is a resource chock full of information and tips to help you plan your visit.

[ Related reading: 15 fun facts about Mount Vernon ]
18th century carriage at Mount Vernon

1 comment:

  1. Great job, makes me realize I need to get back for a visit.