So, what do the Nomads do on Father’s Day? Hike the Appalachian Trail? No! That is Mother’s Day. We went to the home of our first President and one of the original Founding Fathers. That’s right. We visited Mount Vernon, Virginia, home of President George Washington.
Mount Vernon is located right on the Potomac River about 15 to 20 miles south of Washington D. C. It is an easy drive to the property and fairly easy to navigate the parking options. After parking, for free, in one of the provided parking lots, you will walk to the entrance of Mount Vernon. As you walk up to the main entrance, called the Texas Gate, you will pass a restaurant, gift shop, restrooms and more. When you pass through the Texas Gate, you will enter the Ford Orientation Center. This is where they will verify your tickets and where you can pick up a map, which I highly recommend.
Mount Vernon, in total, is about 8,000 acres of farm, fields and woodlands. You do not get to traverse all of the property, just the Mansion House Farm. Which, in and of itself, is huge. I heavily suggest that you plan your trip and buy your tickets ahead of time. You can do so on Mount Vernon’s Website. When you buy your tickets, you can choose when your mansion tour is. I suggest either first thing in the AM or last thing in the afternoon. Why? Since the property is so expansive, you do not want to be far from the mansion and have to run back for your tour.
We scheduled our mansion tour at the end of the day. This allowed us to explore the rest of the grounds before hand. And boy oh boy did we explore. First we walked up to the Bowling Green Gate. This is located directly in front of the mansion and grants you access to a large, open grassy field adorned with a pathway on each side and lined with various types of trees. The pathways circle around and meet right in front of the mansion. We took a stroll around the whole thing, stopping off at the Lower Garden along the way. The Lower Garden is a great representation of what a formal English kitchen garden would have been during George Washington’s time. Once we completed the loop, we decided to venture on to other parts of the property.
We chose to walk to the furthest part and work our way back to the mansion. So we hiked through the wooded trail which brought us across a wooden bridge and came out by the slave cabin and 16 sided barn. Over 300 slaves operated the farms and lands of Mount Vernon. George Washington placed it in his will to free them all. The 16 sided barn was a great innovation in wheat processing. Wheat was placed inside in an upper level and horses trotted in a circular path. The impact broke the wheat straw and the loose grain fell through the gaps in the floor where the grain was collected, shoveled into bins, ground into flour and sent to the gristmill to be ground into flour.
Once you passed the 16 sided barn, you saw a field planted with crops to show you the agricultural practices that would have taken place. On the side is a bathroom and water fountain. If you go when it is warm, as we did, stay hydrated. At the end of the field is the Potomac River and the Mount Vernon Wharf; for visitors that arrive and depart by boat.
George Washington did not just set up farming on land, he farmed the river too. He set up 3 fisheries which operated for almost 40 years. These fisheries brought in food for his workers and profits for his estate. When the fish began to run by Mount Vernon’s 10 mile shoreline, everyone stopped their other duties and headed to the river. Within a few weeks, the team could haul in and process around 1.5 million fish. This was enough food for the next year for the workers with excess for estate profits.
We left the shoreline and headed to the Washington Family Tomb. This is where George, Martha and many other family members are buried. They were relocated here from an original, much smaller tomb on the property. George Washington left instructions on construction of the bigger tomb upon his death. With a short jaunt from the Washington Family Tomb, you will be able to view The Slave Memorial. This is to commemorate the lives of the slaves that worked and died at Mount Vernon. This memorial is near the location of the slave cemetery. Which, while we were there, an archeological group was surveying the land.
We left the slave memorial and hiked back up to the main mansion grounds where we saw the icehouse, stables, smokehouse, spinning house, blacksmith and the living quarters of his personnel that oversaw the gardens and records keeper.
We continued past the main grounds and came upon a building where George and Martha Washington were engaged in conversation. The two that portrayed them seemed to know their characters well. They should, just outside of the Mount Vernon grounds is a library dedicated to learning about George Washington.
Just a few steps away were the male and female slave quarters. They were adjacent to the stove room. This was the room that generated the heat needed to keep the greenhouse warm during cold times. The greenhouse was on the backside of the slave quarters and stove room. Just opposite the greenhouse is the upper garden. In the upper garden there were a plethora of beautiful plants and vegetables. This garden seemed to really strive to be more decorative than functional. And they did a good job of it.
We left the Upper Garden and bumped into George himself. We all had to stop and grab a photo with him. We said “Good Day” to Mr. Washington and headed over to the Museum. Inside the museum you can see many personal affects of George Washington, including his dentures; which were not made of wood as rumored. His dentures were constructed of human and cow teeth as well as ivory. You can also follow the timeline of George’s life.
With our tour time coming near, we headed to the mansion. There is no photography in the mansion, so this will be a verbal tour. First of all, the outside is made completely of wood. But, George wanted it to look like stone so he applied a rustification process to it. The pine was beveled to look like stone and then sand was thrown into the wet paint. This made it look and feel like stone. it was quite effective.
We walked through the many rooms of the mansion. Most of them were decorated very ornately. We saw the room where the Marquis de Lafayette slept as well as the bed where George Washington actually drew his last breath. The tour was simply amazing and we learned so much. The final room we ended up in was the kitchen. It was separated from the main house and connected by a beautiful breezeway.