By Lori Verderame
To discover the real George Washington, you must visit historic Mount Vernon. Just 16 miles south of Washington, DC, the stately home of our country’s first President is a site to behold. President and Mrs. Washington made Mount Vernon home from 1759, the year of their marriage until Washington’s passing in 1799. The 21 room mansion was purchased by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association in 1858 and government tax dollars are not used to support the 500 acre estate or related programs. As one can imagines, Mount Vernon is an historical treasure trove and features fabulous collectibles. For instance, George Washington custom ordered the weathervane the decorates Mount Vernon’s cupola from a Philadelphia craftsman in 1787. The weathervane was modeled in the form of a peace dove and is made of copper and cast lead and covered in gold leaf. It is one of the most recognizable symbols of the estate.
Today, Mount Vernon is maintained as it was back in the 1790s. The home demonstrates the fashion sense of George and Martha Washington with original furnishings dating to the 18th Century, objects belonging to the Washington and Custis families, and vibrantly colored walls. The estate is the site for the central Colonial era mansion home and other structures.
Like other entrepreneurs of his day, Washington was a farmer/businessman as well as a patriot. He ran a distillery and gristmill near the property. Mount Vernon, like many 18th Century estates, was self sufficient when it came to foodstuffs and other necessities. For instance, the farm provided vegetables and fruits, meats were cured in the smokehouse, and fish came to the Washingtons’ dinner table from the nearby Potomac River. Flour was produced in the gristmill and liquor and beer were made from the President’s distillery on the estate’s grounds.
There are four darling octagonal structures on the garden grounds which were known in the 1790s as “garden houses” and sometimes referred to as “schoolhouses”. Situated in the upper and lower gardens, these small buildings were used for the cultivation of plants and as sites of study for the Washington’s grandchildren, Nelly and Washy Custis. Washington’s brick tomb and burial vault are located on the property and they house the bodies of both President and Mrs. Washington. Wreath laying ceremonies take place daily at Mount Vernon to pay respects. Flower gardens, greenhouses, boxwoods, and vegetables are maintained there, too.
The Mount Vernon museum and education center features personal objects and pieces that speak to American history such as Washington’s dentures, his Brown Bess musket used by many colonial era soldiers, gifts from the Marquis de Lafayette, and a lifelike portrait bust of Washington by the master sculptor, Houdon. Collectible objects adorned Mount Vernon such as the famous 18th Century blue/white Canton ware china. This china (pictured above) would have been used as the Washington family’s everyday china and the porcelain was collected in large numbers. The Washingtons had hundreds of serving pieces of Cantonware. The porcelain features hand painted river, landscape, and genre scenes. Eventually, the blue white china was bequeathed from Martha Washington to her granddaughter, Nelly Custis.
For visitors, Mount Vernon features beautiful landscapes along the mighty Potomac River. Twenty five new galleries chronicling the life and times of George Washington are also the focus of the highly historic and educational site in the heart of Virginia’s countryside. For more information, visit www.mountvernon.org.
Ph.D. antiques appraiser, author, and award-winning TV personality, Dr. Lori presents antique appraisal events nationwide. Dr. Lori is the expert appraiser on Discovery channel and has been featured on The Tonight Show, The Daily Show, and with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. Visit www.DrLoriV.com, www.Facebook.com/DoctorLori, Lori Verderame on Google+ or call (888) 431-1010.