George Washington’s Mount Vernon
Yes, George Washington was the country’s first president. But his identities also included strategic commander, devoted husband, passionate farmer and even whiskey distiller. History buffs learn all about this multifaceted man at his Mount Vernon estate (page 20), just 16 miles south of D.C. near Alexandria, Virginia. The National Historic Landmark, built between 1758 and 1778, sits on a dramatic hilltop perch above the Potomac River. After Washington died (in a bedroom here at age 67), the property fell into disrepair until the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, America’s first national historic preservation organization, bought it in 1858. The pioneering nonprofit restored the house and grounds and still runs the 500- acre site today. With so much to see and do here, a visit can easily fill the day. If you have less than two hours, consider these highlights. Start at the Ford Orientation Center to pick up maps and timed mansion tickets—if you didn’t get them in advance online. Then head to the Education Center, which tracks Washington’s life through displays that include actual-size figures of him at different ages (based on forensic analysis): a surveyor at 19 (above), a commander at 45 and the first president at 57. Don’t miss the 4-D Revolutionary War film (with falling “snow”) or Washington’s dentures (made with human, cow and horse teeth), a poignant reminder of the lifelong pain he endured. On the way to the mansion, stroll through the Upper Garden to see formal beds filled with vegetables, fruit trees, flowers and boxwood. In the greenhouse shop, gardeners can buy seeds for their home plots. ( Washington was a fan of fauna, too, specifically heritage breeds, some of which still reside here, including Ossabaw Island hogs, red Devon cattle and bronze gobble turkeys.) Just outside the garden, peek into the blacksmith shop, where a master craftsman sends sparks flying as he creates iron tools with a forge that can reach 3,000 degrees. Other small outbuildings nearby housed operations for spinning wool, curing meat and washing laundry. Then tour the Palladianstyle, 11,000-square-foot mansion, whose rooms contain a mix of Washington’s actual belongings and period pieces based on a 1799 inventory. See spaces from the grand New Room (above, left) to Washington’s private study and dressing room. In his will, Washington specified that he be buried on the estate. To visit the tomb where he lies with his beloved wife, Martha, walk toward the river wharf. Continue a little further to see a memorial commemorating the hundreds of enslaved people who worked on the estate. If you have more time, consider a visit to the four-acre Pioneer Farm, with a replica of Washington’s 16-sided treading barn, or the reconstructed Distillery and Gristmill, where staff make whiskey and cornmeal, both for sale in the estate’s main gift shop.