Virginia 2015: Mount Vernon


Day 3: Tuesday, October 6, 2015

There are founding fathers, and then there’s THE Founding Father…  We were going to see where George Washington lived!  After Arlington National Cemetery, Jon and I made our way over to our other Washington D.C. area attraction, a place I have been wanting to see for a long time – George Washington’s Mount Vernon. It is surprisingly tucked away in nature, for as close in as it is to D.C.’s giant metropolis.

Me in front of Mount Vernon

Me in front of Mount Vernon

The land on which Mount Vernon sits was first acquired by George Washington’s great-grandfather John Washington in 1674. The first home on the site where Mount Vernon now stands was constructed by Washington’s father Augustine Washington, sometime between 1726 and 1735. There are still features of this original home visible today in the central section of the house.

The Front of Mount Vernon - see how it isn't quite symmetrical?

The Front of Mount Vernon – see how it isn’t quite symmetrical?

George Washington did major additions to Mount Vernon in the Palladian style between 1757 and 1792, but he didn’t adhere strictly to the style, sometimes pulling features from other architectural styles. The three additions added wings onto the home, and turned it from a 1 1/2 story home to a 2 1/2 story.  After Washington died in 1799, the home was owned by a series of relatives, gradually falling into disrepair since they did not have the cash required to maintain the home.

The dove weathervane at Mount Vernon - this one is a replica; the original from 1787 is on display in the museum.

The dove weathervane at Mount Vernon – this one is a replica; the original from 1787 is on display in the museum.

Washington’s great-grandnephew, John Augustine Washington III inherited the estate in 1829, and found himself also unable to maintain it. He explored the option of selling it to the government, but did not get much interest. He eventually sold it to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, who paid $200,000 for the home and part of the grounds in 1860.  That is over $5M in today’s dollars; I’m not sure how the Ladies’ Association had that kind of money! The Association set about restoring the home and outbuildings and collecting artifacts owned by the Washingtons. The home is currently restored to the period of time when George and Martha Washington lived here.

The river side of Mount Vernon - a great place to catch a cooling breeze.

The river side of Mount Vernon – a great place to catch a cooling breeze.

We were able to tour the home on a guided tour, which included part of the upstairs where George and Martha slept, and George’s study, which was his private dressing room and work room. During Washington’s day, very few people were ever invited into the study; that was Washington’s private space.  They also explained a bit about the expansion of the home, and which parts were original to the house.  I purchased the guidebook for $10 as well, so I would be able to look back long after I couldn’t remember the tour.  Since photos are not permitted inside the house – I find it hard to remember the specifics. 

I found the tour a little crowded and a little rushed.  You are shuttled from room to room, and in the room, there is a docent waiting for your to give you the spiel on that room.  I think I would go crazy repeating the same paragraph all. day. long…  I did remember this little nugget though – many of the founding fathers struggled with slavery – they wrote about it, they debated the evils of the practice, they discussed whether slaves could co-exist with whites after they gained their freedom. Washington’s own writings show a man who did not think highly of their intelligence or work ethic.  Yet he is the only one of the southern founding fathers who freed his slaves in his will; his slaves were to be freed upon his wife’s death. 

After our tour, we checked out the grounds and outbuildings. We visited the barns, checked out the dock on the Potomac River, toured the living farm site, and went into the treading barn, a unique barn designed by Washington to facilitate the threshing of wheat using horses. The round barn has an upper floor with cracks, and the horses walk in a circle on the upper floor on the wheat stalks, which causes the grains to break off and fall into the cracks.  This treading barn is a reconstruction, built in 1996.  Washington was also known for trying new farming techniques – he even had a large compost bin on the farm!

The Treading Barn at Mount Vernon - this one was reconstructed in 1996.

The Treading Barn at Mount Vernon – this one was reconstructed in 1996.

 

The Stable at Mount Vernon - those saddles could use a good cleaning!

The Stable at Mount Vernon – those saddles could use a good cleaning!

 

A modern blacksmith, using historic techniques to make nails. They make everything that they need here.

A modern blacksmith, using historic techniques to make nails. They make everything that they need here.

Jon was sick with a cold that day (he picked up the bug that was going around at the family wedding we had been to right before we left on our trip), so he parked on a bench at that point to listen to music in the sunshine, while I went off to explore Washington’s tomb (built in 1831) and see the Greenhouse, slave quarters, blacksmith’s shop and overseer’s and gardener’s quarters.  It was interesting to learn that Washington grew lemons and oranges in the greenhouse, with an elaborate radiant heat system with flues bring heat up through the floor to keep the building warm in the winter.  The greenhouse was originally built in 1787, but the reconstruction that exists today is from 1951.

The Greenhouse - originally built 1787. This building was reconstructed in 1951.

The Greenhouse – originally built 1787. This building was reconstructed in 1951.

 

The men's slave quarters at Mount Vernon.

The men’s slave quarters at Mount Vernon.

 

The livestock at Mount Vernon are heritage breeds – the day we were there we just saw a few cows hanging around in the field outside.  I did find the privy though!  And of course, had to take a picture for my historic toilet collection. 

They have heritage breeds at Mount Vernon. This bull is a Red Milking Devon.

They have heritage breeds at Mount Vernon. This bull is a Red Milking Devon.

 

A historic privy at Mount Vernon. Sadly, the privy is not discussed in the guidebook, so I can't tell you when it was built, or if it is original.

A historic privy at Mount Vernon. Sadly, the privy is not discussed in the guidebook, so I can’t tell you when it was built, or if it is original.

Ultimately, we saw (or at least I did) most of what there was to see on the grounds of Mount Vernon itself, but there still was more to see if we had the time or energy. Mount Vernon also contains a nice museum within the Visitor’s Center with artifacts and a 25 minute movie on Washington, and a few miles away are a reconstructed distillery and a granary. The local spirits association even pitches in on a free shuttle over to the distillery!

All would have been cool to see, but Jon wasn’t feeling so hot, and we still had some of the infamous D.C. traffic to contend with, as we made our way back out of the city to get to our home for the night. We were staying at the north end of Shenandoah National Park, to get ready for a full day of hiking and scenic beauty! It did take us a while to make it through the wall of cars, but it dissipated fairly quickly after we left the city, and we were left with a pleasant hour long drive west to Front Royal, Virginia.

Jon wasn’t feeling up to something fancy, so we dined that night at Cracker Barrel.  I had an 8 oz Sirloin with cornbread, green beans, mac and cheese and baked apples!  Jon had the Lemon Pepper trout, with biscuits, coleslaw and collard greens.  After dinner, we spent a quiet evening relaxing at the hotel.

Admission to Mount Vernon: $18.00 per person, plus I bought the $10 optional guidebook.  We ate lunch at Mount Vernon; and it was ho-hum.  They have two options, either a sit down fancier restaurant style place, or a cafeteria.  To make the most of our time, we choose the cafeteria.  They could definitely do better – I had a Pizza Hut personal pizza (Pepperoni), and Jon had a Navy Bean Soup that he didn’t like, and Greek Yogurt.  Not museum dining at its finest… 

Driving Distance for Day 3: 135 miles – Frederick, MD – Arlington National Cemetery – George Washington’s Mount Vernon – Front Royal, VA

Hotel for the night:  Quality Inn, Front Royal – the room was big but dated; the doors opened to the outside but had a chain and a deadbolt, and you had to use your key to get into the stairwell leading upstairs.  Jon didn’t like the fact that the pillows were small, but there were several.  Breakfast was good, with eggs and other hot food items. 

Gas:  Front Royal, VA was our first fill up – we paid $1.97/gallon.

Advertisements

15 thoughts on “Virginia 2015: Mount Vernon

  1. Living in the area, I’m able to go to Mount Vernon in the winter, when it’s much less crowded. Plus, they open the third floor to tours, with the room that Martha occupied after George died.

    Sorry Jon was sick during your vacation. I’m proud of you, though: Frederick to Arlington to Mount Vernon to Front Royal, all in the same day. Especially that DC to Front Royal traffic: it can be brutal.

    Guilty secret: love Cracker Barrel (and Waffle House).

    • I think Mount Vernon in the winter would be amazing! Of course, the crowds could have been much worse for us! After we did our house tour and were close to heading out, there was a rather large elementary school group getting ready to go in. Oy! Glad to have missed that!

      Both of us were sick at various times during this trip – just colds, and not too terrible, so we just tried to keep soldiering on. 🙂

      I enjoy Cracker Barrel too! We don’t have them at home, so they are strictly a travel thing for us. It’s nice to have the consistency, when you don’t feeling like trying your luck on an unknown restaurant. We have yet to go to Waffle House, although both my sisters-in-law swear by them.

  2. I am with The History Tourist: Your day’s itinerary is impressive, especially with Jon’s cold! Well done. Fall and winter are my favorite times at Mount Vernon: Fall Wine Festival and winter candlelit tours of the mansion’s third floor are memorable, year after year. And the distillery is fun to see. Thank you for the reminder of one of my favorite DC escapes.

    • One of the worst things about living on the West Coast is not being near much of the history of this country! A wine festival!? That sounds like just my cup of tea – er… glass of Pinot Gris!

      We do try to get our money’s worth for the price of plane tickets and hotels. 🙂 The best trips are the ones in which I arrive home tired and ready to be done touristing… 🙂

  3. Nice post! Glad you got to see Mount Vernon ~ it’s a favorite of mine. I’m lucky enough to live close enough to go to it frequently. We traveled the DC to Front Royal route just the other day. As always, traffic near the city. The price of gas was a pleasant surprise in Front Royal!

    • That would be neat to live so close to all that history! That’s one of the drawbacks of living on the West Coast… I am not much for big city living though – I don’t think I could deal with the traffic all the time. I’m reminded of it every time we drive through Seattle.

      We were lucky the traffic disappeared pretty quickly after we got on the freeway heading to Front Royal. It wasn’t bad at all at that point. Hard to pass by the exit to Manassas though! 🙂

  4. I grew up a stone’s throw (literally) from Mount Vernon. So many memories for me there. Isn’t the Visitors Center fantastic?? I’m glad you and Jon had a good visit . . . sorry he was sick!

    • That would be amazing to visit on a whim! It was a very cool place – I would certainly go again!

      Jon and I both got colds on the trip – but nothing too terrible. My December cold was way worse, as is the current stomach bug I have. It’s been a tough fall and early winter for us!

  5. An historic privy photo collection?!! The things you find out about bloggers….

    Liked this post a lot, Camille. We often avoid the guided tour of historic homes. Wish they would set them up with docents available, but let folks wander through at their own pace. I really dislike the herding aspect of most tours.

    • I think Jon would skip all guided tours altogether if given the choice, but he is a sport for me. I really like it when the groups are smaller, and they give more of an opportunity for interaction. There was one in Savannah, GA that springs to mind. Arlington House was set up as a do your own pace thing, but of course, as a National Park property, they are not concerned with profitability.

      Ah yes, my historic toilet obsession has made an appearance in this blog on the rare occasion (more often on my Facebook). I’ll have to remedy that in the future, if you are clamoring for more historic toilets! 🙂
      Here’s Alcatraz: https://wineandhistory.wordpress.com/2013/05/25/california-road-trip-alcatraz-island-federal-penitentiary/

  6. Pingback: Toilets of Yesteryear… | Wine and History Visited

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s