Observations from Mt Vernon

Let us begin by saying, “WOW”. As amateur history buffs, what took us so long to get here?

In 2008, we skipped Mt Vernon, but took in Monticello. These farms and homes are as different as the men who owned them. Where Monticello is beautiful and a mixture of styles with Jefferson’s own inventions and constant state of remodel throughout, Mt Vernon is elegant and maybe a little understated. While there are luxurious elements, expensive paint, fabrics and furniture, the rooms are relatively small and simply decorated. Washington believed in using good quality items, whether for his home or his appearance. He inherited the home from his half brother’s widow, Anne Washington. Initially the home was a typical eighteenth century 2 up, 2 down design. By the time all the renovations were complete, Mt Vernon boasted a ball room called “The New Room”, 2 parlors and 9 guest rooms. The only one of these guest rooms known for sure to have hosted someone of significance is the Lafeyette room. It is known only due to Lafeyette’s correspondence, in which he mentions his accommodations. It goes without saying, that many other important people stayed with the Washington family, but there is no record in which room anyone in particular stayed.

The farm is expansive. At one point, he owned 8000 acres. He was known as the best horseman of his age. The stables and farmyard at Mt Vernon reflect the pride he took in his animals. His 2 favorite horses were a grey called Blueskin and a chestnut called Nelson. Blueskin especially was known to be “bombproof”. They were heavy and stout horses that could easily carry Washington’s 6ft 2-inch frame. These 2 horses went to war with him and came home with him.

We took the regular tour of the home, which begins every 5 minutes. There are so many people, that this is necessary. There is an option for an in depth tour, given once a day and includes all rooms from the attic to the cellar. It’s $60 and although more than I’d normally pay for a house tour, was really tempted to do it this time. The tour we took was very rushed. Literally 5 minutes per room, maybe a question answered but probably not, generic information given then herded into the next room. I looked longingly into the stairway to the 3rd floor….both of them. I have questions. I want to feel the presence of the Washingtons. I want to hear the stories. I want to see the room that Martha retreated to on the 3rd floor after her husband passed away in their shared bed chamber.

Something that the Mt Vernon’s Ladies Association, owners of the estate, do well, is acknowledge and honor the enslaved who lived there. Their names are spoken and remembered. There is also a memorial to tribute them, near the tombs of the Washingtons. Graveyards and graves are also noted and marked. The enslaved butler, Frank Wills was the one who, when guests presented themselves, would determine if they were worthy of a visit with the family. He had that power. Also, of note is that Washington emancipated his slaves upon his death. There is considerable debate on why he waited until that time, but it was unusual to do it at all. In the end he followed his conscience.

OK- so I am enamored with Mt Vernon. I could go on for ages. I’ll leave it here and strongly recommend that if anyone has the opportunity to visit Mt Vernon, do it. You won’t be sorry. The general admission for the grounds is $28, there is a discount for military, first responders and medical personnel. The tour of the house is $6 more (I think).

One last thing I’ll mention is that if you are arriving by boat, it’s a unique situation. We had purchased our tickets online. We dingy’d to the wharf dock. There was not a dockmaster on site. There was no one monitoring our coming and going. We first went through the farmyard and I approached a worker there, asking if I needed to show our tickets anywhere. She said we did not, only when we went into the house. So, when it was time for the house, we got in line. No one looked at our tickets. When purchasing, I had also added the guidebook to my cart. I asked a worker on the front lawn where I would go to pick that up. She said I should have gotten in when coming in through the main entrance….. and therein lies the problem. So, we made our way backwards through the “do not enter” signs and got the guidebook. We then realized there was a museum we had missed by not coming in the usual way. We went back to the boat, had lunch and returned to the museum. We were there until closing and faced our next problem. The guests were being ushered out….through the exit to the parking lot. So, we asked a guard to let us out the door that would allow us to backtrack to the wharf. “No, we can’t do that, ” said in utter confusion. Apparently, our situation is unique, or the staff we were dealing with didn’t know it was possible to arrive by boat. The end result is we were escorted and driven to the wharf by armed guards and made sure we went to our boat. However, I’m still not convinced they ever checked the wharf again after that. I would have loved to sneak back into the mansion…. yes, I know, I’m sure I would have invited a lot more attention than that of an armed escort off the property.

Until next time,

Slainte’