George Washington's Mount Vernon
Mount Vernon, located in Fairfax County, Virginia, was the plantation home of George Washington, the first President of the United States. This scenic property alongside the Potomac River was first owned by Washington’s great-grandfather in 1674, who transformed the land into a successful tobacco plantation using slave labor and indentured servants. George Washington came into possession of the estate in 1754, when he was about 23 years old, but he didn’t become the property’s sole owner until 1761. The estate served as the centerpiece of Washington’s military and political life, and the site stands as a powerful symbol regarding the birth of the American nation. In 1858, the deteriorating mansion at Mount Vernon and a portion of the original land was purchased by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, with the intention of restoring the estate to its original grandeur. Now a non-profit organization, the Mount Vernon Ladies Association continues to maintain and operate the estate. Today, George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate is one of the most popular historic sites in the country. By visiting the mansion, gardens, outbuildings, memorials, and museum, visitors can enrich their understanding of the Washington family, the Revolutionary War, and the early Republic. Mount Vernon is both a National Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Backstory and Context
Early History of Mount Vernon
The history of the Mount Vernon estate began with George Washington’s great-grandfather, John Washington, who came to the Colony of Virginia and settled the Little Hunting Creek (Mount Vernon’s original name) plantation in 1674. The property, consisting of about 5,000 acres of land along the Potomac River, descended in the Washington family to George’s father, Augustine. In 1735, when George Washington was about three years old, Augustine and his family moved from “Wakefield” to the site. George Washington inherited the property after his half-brother’s death in 1752, but he was unable to take up residence at Mount Vernon because of his military service. It was only after his marriage to Martha that George began residing in the property, making massive improvements to the structure. George and his family lived there for 15 years until he was called back into public service for the Revolutionary War.
Following the War, George returned to Mount Vernon, where he continued his agricultural prospects and committed to massive landscaping improvements. However, he had to leave again in 1789 when he was elected to be the first President of the United States. During his two terms, George is estimated to have spent about 434 days in residence at Mount Vernon. He returned to his estate after the presidency, conducting repairs and gardening as well as socializing and entertaining guests.
On December 12th, 1799, Washington set out to explore his property on the cold and wet winter day. After spending all day in the fields looking and exploring, he then ate supper without changing the clothes he was wearing. He awoke the next morning with a severe sore throat, which became increasingly hoarse as the day went on. On December 14th, Washington died in his Mount Vernon home. Although he was first buried in the United States Capitol, he was later transported back to Mount Vernon to be buried in the family’s tomb in 1837.
Mount Vernon in the 19th and 20th Century
Following Washington’s death in 1799 and Marsha’s death in 1802, the property was passed to his nephew, Bushrod Washington, and then to his great-grandnephew, John Augustine Washington III. By the 1830s, proceeds from the farm were low, funds had dwindled, and the wear and tear of hundreds of visitors to Mount Vernon took its toll. John Augustine Washington III was unsuccessfully in selling the mansion until 1858, when the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association bought it for $200,000 (equivalent to about $5,539,455 in 2015).
Through the Association, Mount Vernon was fully restored. Independent of the US Government, this Association and its superintendents of the property successfully doubled the acreage, collected numerous historic artifacts and other items, and put in place a number of improvements George Washington had planned but was never able to complete.
By December 19th, 1960, Mount Vernon was designated a National Historic Landmark, and it was later listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Education Features For Visitors
Today, George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate features countless offerings to guests. In fact, since 1860 when it opened to the public, the site has been one of the nation’s most popular historical sites, entertaining and informing over 85 million people. Guests today can tour through the mansion and other original structures, including the tomb of George and Marsha Washington. Furthermore, structures such as a reconstructed distillery, the Pioneer Farm, and other buildings offer a poignant and nuanced view into George Washington’s life and business enterprises. Other educational features of the site include the Ford Orientation Center, the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center, and the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon.
"George Washington's Mount Vernon." Mount Vernon. Accessed May 2018. http://www.mountvernon.org/