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Mount Vernon Review
This plantation and the surrounding lands had been in the Washington family for nearly 70 years by the time the future president inherited it all in 1743. Before taking over command of the Continental Army, Washington was an accomplished farmer, managing the 8,000-acre plantation and operating five farms on the land. He oversaw the transformation of the main house from an ordinary farm dwelling into what was, for the time, a grand mansion. The inheritance of his widowed bride, Martha, is partly what made that transformation possible.
The red-roof main house is elegant though understated, with a yellow pine exterior that's been painted and coated with layers of sand to resemble white-stone blocks. The first-floor rooms are quite ornate, especially the formal large dining room, with a molded ceiling decorated with agricultural motifs. The bright colors of the walls, which match the original paint, may surprise those who associate the period with pastels. Throughout the house are smaller symbols of the owner's eminence, such as a key to the main portal of the Bastille—presented to Washington by the Marquis de Lafayette—and Washington's presidential chair. As you tour the mansion, guides are stationed throughout the house to describe the furnishings and answer questions.
The real treasure of Mount Vernon is the view from around back: the home's dramatic riverside porch overlooks an expanse of lawn that slopes down to the Potomac. In springtime the view of the river (a mile wide where it passes the plantation) is framed by dogwood blossoms. In the 19th century, steamboats rendered honors when passing the house during daylight hours.
You can stroll around the estate's 500 acres and three gardens, visiting the workshops, kitchen, carriage house, greenhouse, slave quarters, and—down the hill toward the boat landing—the tomb of George and Martha Washington. There's also a pioneer farmer site: a 4-acre hands-on exhibit with a reconstruction of George Washington's 16-side treading barn as its centerpiece.
But some of the most memorable experiences at Mount Vernon, particularly for kids, are in the orientation and education centers. Interactive displays, movies with special effects straight out of Hollywood, life-size models, and Revolutionary artifacts illustrate Washington's life and contributions.
A National Treasure tour explores behind the scenes and includes a chance to see the basement of the house; the tour sells out quickly so reserve ahead of time.
Actors in period dress who portray General Washington and his wife welcome visitors at special occasions throughout the year, including President's day, Memorial Day, and July 4. Evening candlelight tours are offered weekend evenings in late November and early December and during wine festivals held one weekend in May and in October.
George Washington's Gristmill and Distillery —both reproductions—operate on their original sites. Records kept by Washington helped archaeologists excavate the distillery in the late 1990s. During the guided tours, led by costumed interpreters, you meet an 18th-century miller and watch the water-powered wheel grind grain into cornmeal. The mill and distillery are 3 mi from Mount Vernon on Route 235 toward U.S. 1, almost to Woodlawn. Tickets can be purchased at the gristmill or at Mount Vernon.
- Address: Southern end of George Washington Pkwy., Mount Vernon, VA, 22121
- Phone: 703/780-2000
- Cost: $15, gristmill $4, combination ticket $17
- Hours: Mar., Sept., and Oct., daily 9--5; Apr.--Aug., daily 8--5; Nov.--Feb., daily 9--4
- Website: www.mountvernon.org
- Location: Mount Vernon
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