Stopping by Mount Vernon Plantation

For a time my family lived in Northern Virginia just 5 minutes from Mount Vernon Plantation.  I graduated from Mt. Vernon High School!  My friends and I would often use the far reaches of the plantation’s parking lot as a launching point for Saturday rides on the George Washington Parkway bike path which hugs the shoreline of the Potomac River.  But I only visited Mt. Vernon once in all that time, and all I really remembered was the tomb, and the weird smell of boxwood shrubs!  Still, with Number 1 Son going off to George Mason University this fall, I felt that I had neglected my duty as a sixth-generation Virginian, and a mother, by not taking him (and by default GraceNotes) to see the home of the first Virginian to serve as President!  On a recent trip to Northern Virginia for college orientation, we planned a side trip to Mount Vernon.

The tour begins in the Ford Orientation Center where tickets are purchased, maps are picked up, and a movie, “We fight to be free” is shown throughout the day.  The kids had a picture taken with the General and Mrs. Washington, and GraceNotes looked and looked and looked at Mount Vernon in Miniature, a perfect scale model of the home structure.  This link takes you to a PDF that tells the backstory of Mount Vernon in Miniature. 

The Mount Vernon in Miniature, complete in every detail, exactly 1/12 scale.

After seeing all there is to see in the Orientation Center, there is a short walk that takes you to the  Bowling Green Gate from which you can see the plantation against the backdrop of the sky and one enormous pecan tree!  The Mount Vernon Ladies Society requests that guests not take photos inside the house.  So I offer you  this link for a virtual tour.   The in-person tour is informative, if a little rushed.   I am notoriously slow in museums, I like to read everything, and linger over furnishings, carvings, details.   So, it felt a little bit like the Cliff Notes version to me.   The other Garners did not feel this way.  In fact, Mr. Garner noted that he is still affected by having stood in the room where General Washington and the Comte de Rochambeau planned the siege of Yorktown!  During his only visit home to Mount Vernon during the 8 years of fighting, George Washington, his staff and that of his French allies spread out in the unfinished dining room, and planned through interpreters, the battle which ended the Revolutionary War.   After soaking up the history, a quick step outside onto the veranda provides 80 panoramic miles of unobstructed view of the Potomac River – the same view that the General enjoyed – although the boats would have sported sails and carried supplies rather than rumbling motors and hot, sweaty tourists.

The actual house, while beautiful, and a testament to the General’s skill with self-taught trigonometry and architectural design, is only a part of what Mount Vernon actually represents.  Accustomed to thinking of George Washington as a General and a President, a walk through the Upper and Lower Gardens, and Fruit Garden and Nursery areas provides a glimpse of how George Washington thought of himself – as a farmer.  Inheriting farmland seriously depleted by tobacco farming, he studied farming techniques and pioneered innovations such as rotating crops to restore the soil dividing his acreage so that only two sections were in production while five others were resting, either being grazed, or growing greens that were tilled back into the soil.  He harvested dung quite deliberately, with outhouses and stables alike fitted with trays to catch solid waste.  He subscribed to newspapers all over the world to accurately price his goods, or hold them, until a better price could be had.  To see the layout of the current estate and grounds, which are only a small portion of the land farmed during the 1700’s – here is a link to an interactive estate map.

After strolling through the gardens and grounds, and gleaning a great deal of information from friendly and interesting docents, the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center offered air conditioning, gift shops and a well-designed, and engaging retelling of key events around the world during the life of George Washington.   Twenty-three galleries and videos cover every aspect of the man, the leader, the politician, and the farmer!  GraceNotes and I had prepared for the trip with a biography of George Washington, so it was pleasant to find some of the material was familiar, but we learned some new things too!  And the teeth are there!  But don’t get too close, and don’t take a picture, or a loud and persistent security alarm goes off.  (Hey!  We were not the ones responsible!) We finally sat down to a late, but delicious lunch at the Mount Vernon Inn.  To my delight Number 1 Son and GraceNotes stretched their palates with Duck and Sausage Cassoulet and Colonial Turkey Pye, rather than defaulting to the usual cheeseburgers and french fries…

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The entire Mount Vernon experience is funded solely through the Mount Vernon Ladies Society, a non-profit organization, so gift shop and ticket proceeds support the care and maintenance of the property.   We picked up a nicely done coloring book,  and Rules of Civility for the 21st Century.  (George Washington, at the age of 14  copied down 110 rules regarding polite and proper conduct, the content of which stayed with him throughout his life of public service.  One could only wish…)  For those who can’t visit Mount Vernon in person, the The Mount Vernon Plantation website offers a tremendous variety of resources for American History study.  Here is a link to free lesson plans and coloring pages. 

Have you enjoyed any historic field trips this summer?

Thanks for reading!  This post was included in the Field Trip Friday Link Up at

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