Mount Vernon has been the home of George Washington’s family since the President was about three years old. At the time though, it was Little Hunting Creek, built by his father Augustine in 1734. The current mansion didn’t start out as such, and was expanded on, including raising the roof to it’s current height (2 1/2 stories), a few times after Washington’s older brother passed away and he begin leasing the property – eventually obtaining it himself.
It is a gloriously restored and pristinely maintained mansion, complete with many original pieces of furniture scattered through the home. It was interesting to know that in the formal dining room, the mirror to the left – just as you exit the back door to come around through another entrance to continue your tour – was original to the home. It was very cool to a history geek like myself to know that I was looking into the mirror that he used to check is own appearance, reflect candle light during elaborate dinner parties, and served as a focal point in the room when any number of famous historical guests visited the house. On the wall, just to the left of the door through which you enter the main hall is a key to the Bastille in France – it was given to Washington after the French Revolution. Amazing!
My favorite of the rooms in the home was the blue room. It has lovely blue and white decorations from the comforters to the upholstery, to the wall paper itself. It was a busy, but lovely room. You are able to see the General’s private room that he shared with his wife, and eventually lost his battle with a throat infection in just down the hall. The home served as the first Executive Mansion while Washington was President as the White House was not finished in the Capital yet. Martha must have been a busy lady hosting all of those guests! Unfortunately they do not allow photos I side the mansion.
The grounds have sweeping views of the Potomac River and surrounding hills. The scenery was so lovely that it was hard to get the kids to move on when we were ready to see the tomb of the General and his wife. They were having such a good time romping about on the lawn that we had to just let them for a few minutes (don’t worry, it’s allowed). The out buildings are available for viewing – everything from the whiskey distillery (Washington was quite a producer in his day), to the black smith, to the larders and all manner of trades and supplies that would be needed to keep that many people supported at the scale that was required.
A trip down the hill led to the tomb of General Washington himself – note that his tomb reads General, not President – history would create the significance of the title, but to him, General was more important. Near the tomb is also the memorial for the slaves that provided the labor to run such a massive plantation. The original marker was added in 1929, with a more modern one (and more modern language) replacing it in recent years.
On the opposite side of the plantation are the gardner’s facilities, kitchens, store rooms and slave quarters. These are interpreted as historians didn’t truly know what the rooms would have looked like. It is still humbling to see the meagerness of their living conditions compared to the main house. Near the slave quarters, just before you get to them, is a little recessed porch. This leads to a small room where Mrs. Washington is talking to “her guests” (that would be you).
She is adorable. Both times I have visited Mount Vernon, Mrs. Washington has been amazing. This time, with my children in tow, she was perfect. The sessions do not have a start or stop – you enter when you like and leave when you are ready to go – but it is really hard to go! She really makes you feel like you are talking to Mrs. Washington herself. She tells stories and answers questions in the first person, and engages children with the expert ease of a seasoned actress. It is so difficult NOT to stay too long and miss other activities. Even my four year old was enamored with her and wanted to stay longer to listen to the “nice lady.”
If your children are into spying or online games, check out the app – Agent 711. The “Agent 711 – Revolutionary Spy Adventure” is an engaging app that sends the player on a “mission” from point to point on the property, giving them clues as they go. The game must be played on property and is free, though it does use your data if you need to monitor that. My 10 year old love it – she is already tremendously interested in history, but this added a whole different level to her experience.
Finally, we visited at Christmas, giving the mansion a lovely seasonal feel. The decorations are all period and give you an impression of what the property would have looked like when the Washington’s were in residence. The plantation does support some livestock, and even brought in a camel for a seasonal addition. I have yet to figure out what the Washington to camel connection was, but hey, it’s Christmas. The kids were enthralled with the sheep and aforementioned camel.
Be sure to plan your visit in advance as there are many activities and the schedule varies from day to day. You don’t want to miss anything. Securing tickets in advance prior to arriving can also save you a few dollars in addition to helping you plan your time. The museum is amazing and has down right creepily lifelike depictions of George Washington from various points of his life. Don’t skip them, the movies are well done and the exhibits are not so short as to feel scant but not so long as to overwhelm younger visitors. They are very well done.
There is a small food court in the visitor’s center – I’m guessing George and Martha didn’t occasionally order out from the Papa John’s, but we did, and it was pretty good. The food (or anything in Washington or near it) wasn’t cheap, but it was good and filling. We saw a couple of items on the menu that we wanted and the staff made those items fresh since there were none in their serving cue. It was actually quite a convenient little food court serving basic American or American-ized versions of most typical fast foody types of foods. It is super easy to get to Mount Vernon via public transportation (I did that the first time I visited for only a few dollars) there is a bus/train transfer to a bus, so make sure to have someone at your hotel help you if you are visiting. Buses were clean, comfortable and ran consistently. There is a very large parking area for those who are driving.
Since the kids were so engaged, we spent way more time here than we thought we would, putting our arrival into Washington DC proper almost at dusk. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like driving in Washington period – but this goes double for after dark. It was worth it to have had such a beautiful day in the sun with my precious little ones in such a lovely, kid friendly setting. Somehow it still held the feel of a family home even though it is now a museum. I rank this as one of our national “must see” heritage sites for just that reason.
What are your tips and tricks for visiting Mount Vernon?
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