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 Ladies' Association.

      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."

Rex Reiley
Rex Reiley
6084 Franconia Rd Suite A Alexandria VA 22310