A trip to Mount Vernon is highly enjoyable! For those of you who don’t prefer to visit historical landmarks by living aboard a boat for 117 days, traveling for 23-hours 20-minutes up the Potomac River, and kayaking (approximately) 15-minutes to arrive on the shoreline of Mount Vernon, you can take this virtual tour in the comfort of your own home!
George Washington acquired Mount Vernon in 1754. Throughout the next 45 years preceding his death he transformed Mount Vernon into a finely tuned farm to reflect his status as a Virginia gentleman. The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association purchased 200 acres of the 8,000 acre estate in 1858 for $200,000. The Ladies’ Association continues to restore and preserve Mount Vernon; buildings have been rebuilt to the original designs, crops are planted in accordance with those on premises during Washington’s oversight, and even the breeds of animals on the farm are those that would have been present at that time. I’ll spare the historical details since the Ladies’ Association presents you with a very comprehensive website (link above). What I can share, having not retained much knowledge about George Washington from my grade-school days, is that he was a very progressive farmer. His intent for the land and his home was to improve, preserve, and become economically efficient in his farming and lifestyle.
The homestead, to us, was very much a farm house. You’ll notice that the outside structure looks like stone however it is wood that has been cut and painted to resemble stone, a process called rustification. Sand was added to the paint to give the gritty feel of stone. Most remarkable about the inside of the house were the colors of the rooms. They were vibrant yellows, turquoises, and greens. The decor was all simple, walls mostly bare. Of particular interest hanging on the wall in the main entrance is the key to the Bastille, given to George Washington as a gift. There were nine bedrooms in the house, Washington’s study, two dining rooms, and one parlor. The kitchen was the smaller, attached building you see in this back view of the house. The kitchen was set apart so that guests didn’t have to smell the smells and see all the inter-workings of the ever busy room.
Washington’s view of the Potomac.
Washington’s view with (ity-bity) Rode Trip bringing down property value.
Washington’s primary mode of transportation.
George and Martha Washington had over 300 slaves working on Mount Vernon and surrounding farmland. Throughout the grounds there were outbuildings for the various work being done; a spinning building, laundry building, shoemaking, smokehouse, salt house, blacksmith’s building, clerk’s quarters, etc. The slaves working the homestead resided in “family houses.” These were women’s’ and men’s quarters attached to the greenhouse. But, in fact, several slaves’ families were separated among Washington’s properties. Many men would visit their families only on Sundays, sometimes week nights, and would walk 3-5 miles to do so. Slaves were issued food and clothing and had to tend to themselves once their daily work was done. Some were able to make income by selling fish or birds they had hunted. Some ran away and were sought after with reward money of “$10 for the return of…” It was a grueling lifestyle.
Inside view of the women’s quarters.
Washington hired European gardeners to oversee his gardens and greenhouse. He introduced various foreign plants to the grounds. He seeded his own crops and practiced crop rotation for wheat, corn, and potatoes which were his cash crops. We enjoyed walking through the gardens. Since our icebox was bare from our Potomac venture, we had all we could do to keep from picking the fresh produce! (Ok, ok, we did sample one lima bean.)
At the Pioneer Farm Site we learned that Washington had designed this building for threshing wheat. On the top floor of the building, the circular floor was built with 1-1/2 inch spaces between the planks. Wheat would be laid out all along the floor and then horses would be trotted around for about 1-hour. The trodden wheat would yield wheat berries that fell through the floorboards. On the lower level, slaves would sweep the berries together and clean them to make ready for the mill. Washington had his own distillery and gristmill as well.
Along our tour we stopped by the blacksmith shop. The blacksmith was making hooks; nails, hooks, etc are made for reconstruction on the property and also sold in the gift shop. We learned that during Washington’s days, the blacksmith would have made carriage pieces and farm equipment. Had Washington needed nails, it would have been more economical for him to have ordered from a supplier. We also learned that the blacksmith was using coal, a change Washington instituted from the original charcoal.
We visited Washington’s Tomb and the Slave Memorial Graveyard. Specifications for Washington’s tomb were given in his will; this was a new tomb and family members in the old tomb were moved to it after completion, per Washington’s will. A memorial had been constructed on the site where hundreds of slaves had been buried; unmarked.
We visited the farm animals along our travels. Sheep, pigs, chickens, cows. In this first picture of the sheep pasture, you’ll see a small, circular building at the top corner. This was one of many Necessary buildings on the property – aka outhouses. With my composting endeavors I am always curious how people manage these things in the ‘ol days. Washington’s Necessaries had removable boxes underneath so the waste could be discarded elsewhere…possibly added to his composting as well!
After a beautiful morning ashore we headed back to the boat to get underway. Today was the day we’d finally make Washington DC! We motored, against the wind, weaving through the narrowing river channel.
Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge – you guessed it…under we go!
Planes and helicopters were whizzing by! (And continue to while at anchor, LOUD NOISES!)
Anchored safely and among friends in Washington Harbor. Our first monumental stop…