on January 2, 2011
I think back to growing up in Virginia, amazed that I cannot recall ever touring George Washington's Mount Vernon home. I am so happy that on this trip "home" I finally did what every American living in or visiting Washington, DC should go . . . made the effort to venture south of the city to the Potomac River escape that George & Martha called home.There is a lot to see here, especially with the addition of the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Educational Center. The orientation center also provides visitors with an initial overview which is very helpful in planning your time at Mount Vernon. Time spent there ends with a short 20 minute film telling a bit of the history of Washington's first meeting and later marriage to Martha Dandridge Custis, a young widow with two surviving children from her first marriage.After the orientation center visit, folks are encouraged to make their way to the historical area where the mansion and many other original buildings remain on exhibit. It is remarkable to me that there has been such great preservation of Mount Vernon and the many buildings that make up the total estate including a smokehouse, servants' hall, kitchen, stables and greenhouse just to name a few.Inside the mansion, photography is not permitted so I cannot share the beauty of many original furnishings including china, linens, paintings and furniture. I really enjoyed the tour, with the narration provided by docents in each room including the rarely opened third floor. It was easy to stand on the front porch overlooking the Potomac River and imagine the Washington's life at their place of refuge away from government and war.After touring the mansion, we did look in on each of the various buildings on the grounds, as we made our way towards the "old tomb" and the current resting place of the Washingtons, as well as several others from their family. The old tomb was mentioned in George Washington's will as being in poor condition and that it should be replaced at the time of his death. While both he and Martha were buried in the old tomb, heirs later had the new tomb built in the 19th century, moving them from the old to the new location about 100 yards up the hillside.During the summer, visitors also have the opportunity to see what farming was like during the pioneer times. They maintain an active farm and garden on the property to help tell history's story of farming in Virginia during Washington's day. We did see a "farmer' out walking his cows along a footpath, as well as several over livestock pens including sheep in a couple of locations.After the outside portion of the tour, we did take in the museum and educational center. It was here that visitors could get a close up view and photograph of a lot of the heirlooms from George & Martha Washington's life at Mount Vernon. The museum featured stories of "Bringing Them Home" . . . exhibits made possible through the general public's acquisition of Washington era artifacts that have since been returned to Mount Vernon. Some of the pieces and their stories were memorable because of how far from Virginia they were, with no apparent ties to the Custis/Washington families.In the educational center, there are several exhibits that tell Washington's life history from boyhood, to include his early profession as a surveyor, his military service and the contributions he made to the formation of our great nation.Overall, I found the time and experience at Mount Vernon to be every bit as good as what we've enjoyed in Williamsburg. Consider it more a crash course in American history, with a focus from one man's perspective . . . George Washington's.Admission to Mount Vernon and all of the buildings and museums is just $15 for adults and $7 for kids ages six to 11. Seniors receive a $1 discount, which in my opinion is pretty cheap. There is also a distillery and gristmill about three miles from Mount Vernon, which was part of Washington's estate. There is an additional admission fee for these buildings that are off-site.The Mount Vernon area provides free parking, although very limited. For our winter visit, there was plenty, but I cannot imagine that there would be enough for those visiting in the summer so consider public transportation (buses) which have a stop right in front of the entrance.For those wanting to do shopping or dining, there are options for both at the entrance along the main roadway to Mount Vernon. Many suggest dining at the Mount Vernon Inn for an experience of mealtime as it may have been during colonial times.All and all, this was an outstanding day spent exploring the life of George Washington.
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