The History of Mount Vernon
Located in Alexandria, Virginia, on the banks of the Potomac River,
Mount Vernon hosts about 1 million visitors each year. The popularity of
George Washington's estate stands as proof of his lasting fame as the
first president of the United States. However, given the history of
Mount Vernon, it's amazing that it has survived for over 200 years.
George Washington inherited Mount Vernon from his half-brother,
Lawrence. At the time, a small wood frame house was the main structure
on the 4,000 acre farm. Upon his marriage to Martha Custis, he began to
implement a grand plan for a new house, slave quarters, outbuildings,
gardens and a working farm. Martha was one of the wealthiest widows in
Virginia, and covered the cost of making Mount Vernon a showcase for the
country's First Couple.
The mansion, which is open to visitors every day of the year, was
expanded twice: first in 1759, and again during the Revolutionary War.
Because Washington was frequently away and could not supervise
construction, mistakes in its design went uncorrected. What visitors see
today is a well-preserved "great house" of its time, slightly
asymmetrical in its proportions.
The history of Mount Vernon took an interesting twist at Washington's
death in 1799. Though he had land, slaves and property worth over $1
million, he willed Mount Vernon in equal parts to 23 relatives and freed
all his slaves, virtually ensuring that the property would fall to
ruin. It nearly did. Fate intervened, however, and the dilapidated
estate was purchased in 1858 and lovingly restored by the Mount Vernon
Today, many Mount Vernon attractions dot the 500 acres surrounding the
mansion, and all are testament to Washington as farmer, gardener and
statesman. At the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center,
visitors can view family possessions, household items, rare books and
artifacts from the Revolutionary War. The education center is equipped
with an immersion theater that "snows" on the audience during a film on
Valley Forge, to the delight of children and adults alike.
Outdoors, the Colonial Revival Gardens still produce fruits and
vegetables. The Botanical Garden displays Washington's interest in
flowers and exotic plants, and a four-acre working farm is still planted
and tilled as it was in the 1700s. Though many of the outbuildings did
not survive, reproductions have been built in their place, and costumed
actors play the roles of slaves, servants and overseers.
Few people know that Washington briefly ran one of the largest whiskey
distilleries in America. Though this building did not survive, a
reproduction was built on the very spot, and whiskey made there is sold
only in the Mount Vernon gift shop.
No visit would be complete without paying respects at one of the most
historical places of interest in Mount Vernon: George and Martha's
resting place. First interred in the family crypt, they were moved in
1831 to a new burial vault at a location specified in Washington's will.
The slave burial grounds lie nearby; an eloquent choice for "the father
of our country."