Do you like historic home tours? I do. I always find it interesting to see how famous/rich people lived in the past, how they treated their hired hands/slaves, and what opportunities and struggles they dealt with in their daily lives. One of my favorite homes of this nature is George Washington’s plantation, Mount Vernon, Virginia.
I had the opportunity to visit MV just a few weeks ago. We caught an absolutely stunning Fall day – check out the pictures, that sky is unretouched. It was warm, and the sunlight had that sweet October angle to it that allows for interesting shadows and vistas. It was beautiful.
One great thing about MV is its setting. It sits high up the bank of the Potomac River, and has 180 degree sightlines up and down the river. And it looks like it did back in the day because the Maryland side of the River has no visible development. It’s picturesque, quiet, elegant and lovely. No wonder GW wanted to spend a lot of time there as opposed to, say, Trenton.
I’ve been to MV many times, but not since we moved from DC (I know, I know, who moves north of the Mason-Dixon Line?!? An idiot, that’s who). Let me tell you, over the past decades they have done a ton to restore the plantation to its former grandeur, and the house itself has never looked better. The rooms are painted to the original colors, including one a very vibrant shade of green, and the furniture and accessories are mainly authentic. A very nice job indeed.
There is also a new museum with a number of interesting artifacts and great information about GW and the other inhabitants of the plantation; a restored grist mill in operating condition – a trip highlight; a restored distillery producing bourbon that is sold at remarkably expensive prices; and many other improvements to outbuildings, barns and the like. It is grand, and you can spend many hours there.
Washington was an interesting guy. Did you know that he is the only non-partisan president ever elected in the US? Or that he was unanimously elected by the Electoral College? He was also one of the wealthiest persons in the US. Historians regularly rank him in the top 3 of the all-time best American presidents. He was instrumental in setting the tenor for all US politicians to follow, both in demeanor and in policy, and was pragmatic about the size and involvement of the federal government in really important ways, such as defense, currency and debt management. Certainly, he was the right man at the right time, and in many, many ways, a great man. Oh, and he has probably the most famous false teeth in US history - see the last picture for those famous ivories.
Many people have said that while all the Founding Fathers were needed to launch this country, there was only one person that was absolutely essential to America’s success: GW. Upon hearing that Washington was going to retire at the end of the Revolutionary War, King George III said that if he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world. Well, he did it, and he was a great man. Washington did set a model of humble behavior that resonated with the populace, and that sets him apart from most everyone else who has ever had power thrust upon them.
But GW was complicated, and not without fault. When you go to Mount Vernon, there is a lot of discussion about him being a slaveholder. Like many of the Founding Fathers, his wealth and estate shares this original sin of our great Republic. And while at death Washington’s will granted manumission of the slaves he directly owned, it’s a complicated story that applied to only about half of the slaves that lived on the plantation (the others were owned by the Custis family), and resulted in many slave families being split up. So he did them dirty during his lifetime, then accidentally screwed many of them again through his death wish beneficence. Anyway, the story of the slaves, who were the vast majority of the people who actually lived on the plantation, is told in the museum, and it is compelling and heartbreaking.
I took some photos, and even got a little artsy with the grist mill black and white. That was an amateur photographer mistake, of course, but I thought it came out kind of cool. Let me know what you think. Oh, and the grist mill still operates, and was cool – the waterwheel spun, and the corn was ground to meal. And check out those dentures! Yup, they are metal, and have teeth from animals and other humans embedded in them. No wonder the dude never smiled in pictures - ouch!
I hope you get the chance to visit Mount Vernon, too, and make sure you give yourself at least half a day. Oh, and drink a tall glass of patience before you get there. The plantation is crowded, and you have to pick and choose your moments to gain solace and perspective. But there are some things in life that are worth the crowd hassle, and Mount Vernon is one of them. It gives a keen insight into the complicated life of a general, landowner, president, and statesman.
My name is Bill, and I live in the greater Philadelphia area. I love music, and I have a lot of opinions. This site is primarily focused on music, but sometimes I get off track. I hope you enjoy.