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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
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.