The weekends on the road are all about maximizing the opportunity to see as much as possible. Since this would be our only weekend around Washington D.C., we chose several sites we all wanted to see, starting with Mount Vernon, the home of our first president, George Washington. This would be the third of the first four presidents’ homes we’ve visited in less than a week, and each one was drastically distinct. James Madison’s estate was more of a sprawling ranch, Thomas Jefferson’s was a wooded estate high on a hill, and George Washington’s was an incredible combination of the two, with over 3,500 acres of beautiful rolling hills and numerous forests rising several stories above the Potomac. It is the creme de la creme of the three estates, and truly a site to behold.
We started our tour of the property by walking up to the front lawn to enter the main level of the Washington home, where the tour guide shared with us that Washington used a process called Rustication to made beveled wood planks look like stone blocks. After painting the wood planks twice, they would throw sand onto the wet paint and let it dry to complete the process.
Every time I stand in the front of one of these properties, I try to imagine what it would have been like back in the mid-1700s, to see a horse-drawn carriage approaching the house from the west side of the property. Washington was a serial arborists, planting trees throughout the property. Most of the trees in the front lawn were planted by Washington himself over 250 years ago, which was incredible to see these mammoth old trees.
We toured the main level of the home, which contains a majority of genuine articles in the home, including this harpsichord which Washington bought for his step-granddaughter. Washington seemed to be a bit of a collector of fine goods and had several paintings commissioned, which remain throughout the home, including portraits of him and Martha Washington.
After the tour of the home, we began walking the property to see the many small buildings that were used for smoking meat, storing coaches & salt & wheat, as well as slave quarters, blacksmith shop and kitchen (which was usually outside of the home or on the side of the home in that era). In the barn/horse stalls, we noticed a coach made by the same maker as the ones Washington used for travel, which he did often during his time as President. He was an avid horse-rider and carriage rider, both around his farms and on his journeys to Philadelphia to preside over the Continental Congress.
We then headed down to the tombs on property, first the original tomb, which Washington was entered upon his death. However, in his last will & testament, Washington asked for a new tomb to be built just south of the vegetable garden, which was completed in 1831 and his casket was relocated to the new tomb.
Beyond Washington’s tomb was a trail that led to a monument honoring the hundreds of slaves Washington owned, some through inheritance and some through marriage, but it was obvious Washington was uncomfortable as a slave owner. Although he did not free his slaves during his lifetime, he did free the slaves he owned in his last will & testament (one Martha passed away), including a fund for the slaves upon their freedom so they would be able to live once freed. Martha also was uncomfortable with owning slaves as well, and she freed their slaved before her death one year after her husband has passed.
The highlight of our time on the property was a small room we stumbled upon right before we left. Naomi stuck her head into a small room that was like a little chapel. In it, there was this woman dressed in 18th Century clothing, sitting in the front telling stories. It didn’t take long for us to realize this was a live re-enactment of Martha Washington. She was speaking with a common English accent & telling stories as if she was really Mrs. Washington. Her knowledge of the historical account of the family and the times was incredible, and since Hannah & Naomi are into acting, they sat on the front row and listened intently for 25 minutes. Mrs. Washington even took questions and answered them from the historical perspective, and it was so much fun to listen. It truly was one of the best aspects of the visit to Mount Vernon, and one most people miss as it’s not advertised very well.
We ended up touring the property for five hours before returning to the RV where Tiger had been chilling in the cool air conditioning. He does really well when we want to get away, especially to places where dogs are not allowed, but every time we return, he goes crazy and acts like he hasn’t seen us in weeks. We all rested for an hour or so, then had dinner and watched National Treasure 2 in preparation for our day at the National Mall on Sunday. It was an exhausting day, and we had to get up at 5am the next morning, so we called it a night by 9:30pm and we were all asleep by 10pm.
Additional photos of our time at Mount Vernon