We spent today at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home near Alexandria,Virginia. George inherited the estate after the death of his older half-brother, Lawrence, in 1752 and lived there until his death in 1799. I had never been to Mount Vernon before, so I was very excited to see it and to learn more about George’s adult life, especially since I have been digging at the place where he spent his childhood for a month now.
Our tour began at the archaeology lab, where we discussed the excavations that have taken place there over the years and got to see where the artifacts they have recovered are cleaned, repaired, photographed, and stored. The excavation I was most interested in was of a large trash pile, or “midden” that they uncovered on the South Lawn in 1990. Over 75,000 artifacts were recovered from this site, and many were in fairly good and even repairable condition. We got to see some of these artifacts, such as repaired bottles, jugs, ceramics, and even a wine bottle seal that had on it the name of its owner, John Posey, who was George’s friend and neighbor. I loved being able to see the artifacts clean and reassembled, and it was a thrill to see that many of them were the same types of ceramics that we have been finding at Ferry Farm.
After our tour of the lab we were taken to the excavation site that they are currently working on, which is located across from the coach house. It is a very small site, with only two units in progress at the moment. They are searching for a fence line that would have existed during George’s time, which they hope to recreate after establishing its location. I learned that much of Mount Vernon was restored in this manner, using the archaeological record as a guideline to ensure accuracy, which fascinated me because it is similar to the process that is currently taking place at Ferry Farm. Once we saw the dig site and spoke to the archaeologists there, we all got to walk the grounds for while and see some of the outbuildings before going on our scheduled tour of the house. The buildings were all impressively restored and held a great deal of information that helped visitors truly understand and appreciate the history of the place. We also got to see the garden, which was much larger than the one we have at Ferry Farm, but featured many of the same plants.
Our tour of the house began at noon, and was much different than any tour I had been on before. Instead of being lead around by a single guide, we were sent through in groups and met a new guide in each room that told us a bit about the specific area in which we were standing. We started in the formal dining room, which was very large and featured some elaborate decoration that was meant to emulate the personality and interests of George Washington. The lovely green walls were offset by beautiful white plaster molding around the windows and doors, which was done by the same man who was responsible for the plaster work at Kenmore. On each corner of the ceiling there were also plaster moldings of farm tools and crops, which represented George’s love of farming. Pictures that were hung around the room and a stunning scene carved into the marble around the fireplace helped to emphasize this point as well. Next, we went out the back door and then reentered through the central hall, where we were able to see into the parlors, a guest bedroom, and the family dining room. We were also able to see the key to the Bastille, which George proudly displayed on the wall in this hallway. We then made our way up the stairs and through the hallway, where we could see the upstairs bedrooms and the master bedroom that George and Martha shared. There was also a third floor, but it is closed to the public during peak tourist season. On our way out we saw the study, and then stepped outside to see the beautiful view over the Potomac River.
After the house tour we all ate lunch and then checked out the education center, which was my favorite part of the whole trip. It featured artifacts, interactive history exhibits, forensic reconstructions of George Washington at various ages, and even a set of his dentures! There was also a hands-on exhibit, which was only for children ages 3-8. When I first read that I was disappointed because I love being able to touch things in museums, but then it occurred to me that I touch the Washington’s belongings nearly every day at Ferry Farm. That made me feel very good about myself and even more proud of what I do.
We passed through the museum and then stopped at George and Martha’s tombs before heading out and concluding our day at Mount Vernon. I really enjoyed the trip and I feel like I learned a lot about George and his family. I also learned a lot about archaeology and reconstruction on historical sites, and it made me very excited to see what Ferry Farm will look like in the future! I think that it is important when working on an historical site to know about the people who lived there, as it is their stories you are trying to tell. I feel privileged to be able to contribute to the story of such a significant figure!
(The Washington’s House at Mount Vernon)