Saturday, May 9, 2009

George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate

Mount Vernon
3200 Mt. Vernon Memorial Highway
Mount Vernon, Va.

If the old saying, "home is where the heart is" is true, then George Washington's Mount Vernon estate in Virginia is certainly where his heart could be found.

Originally built in 1757 (upon the foundations of an earlier farmhouse) Mount Vernon is beautifully situated on a bluff overlooking the Potomac River. It was given the name Mount Vernon by Washington's older half-brother Lawrence in honor of British Admiral Edward Vernon.

The mansion and the surrounding outbuildings were extensively renovated throughout Washington's life. Through inheritance, purchase and his marriage to the widower Martha Custis, George Washington eventually became the proprietor of five farms comprising some 8,000 acres of land. Washington spent much of his life overseeing all aspects of the management of his property, determining what crops to grow, hiring artisans and managers, landscaping and later in life, deciding to have a grist mill and distillery built.

Called away to serve his country in the American Revolution (1775-1783) and as the nations first President (1789-1797) Washington gratefully returned to Mount Vernon and spent his last years there. He died on December 14, 1799 after a brief illness and is buried in the family tomb on the estate alongside his wife Martha.

After his death Mount Vernon was not as ably managed and over time the mansion itself fell into disrepair and much of the property was sold off or given to family members. By the 1850's Mount Vernon was desperately in need of new ownership. The property was offered for sale to both the Federal government and the State of Virginia, both of whom declined.

Ann Pamela Cunningham of South Carolina subsequently founded the Mount Vernon Ladies Association in 1853 and in 1858 the Association purchased Mount Vernon, along with 200 acres, from George Washington's heirs. Mount Vernon was given much needed repairs and was first opened to the public in 1860. Since that time George Washington's Mount Vernon has been owned and operated by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association as a non-profit organization operating under the public trust.

Mount Vernon is open to the public 365 days of the year and in addition to tours of the mansion and the grounds, there are shops, a food court, restaurant, a visitors center and museum. Parking is free.

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