Once you arrive at the Main Gate get your tickets, there is a separate ticket to tour the Mansion. I would recommend going as early in the day as possible since tickets to tour inside the Mansion go fast. If you just want to walk the grounds there is plenty to see but, to see in the actual house is pretty amazing.
The tour takes you through the New Room out to the porch back into the Central Passage. This key is the actual key to the Bastille prison in Paris, which was given to George from Marquis de Lafayette. The key still hangs exactly where George put it. You then walk up the stairs to see all the bedchambers. The highlight up here is George Washington’s bedchamber. This bedroom is where George passed away on Dec. 14, 1799. Martha stopped using this room after this and moved up to the third floor (not on the tour).
After seeing the second floor, you head back down to the main floor to see the study. This one room has a lot to see in it. In the picture above you can see George’s fan chair. He would move the fan by pressing on the pedals by his feet. Also, in the study sits the chair George Washington used while he was president. He was very fond of new inventions and this particular seat swiveled. There are so many interesting things to see on this tour. The only drawback is if there are a lot of people visiting the mansion they do tend to keep you moving, and you can’t linger very long.
Once you get out of the main house, you have more time to spend in the kitchen and outer buildings. The main meal, dinner, was served at 3 pm with a lighter meal, supper, being later around 9 pm. You can imagine how busy this place was to keep everyone who lived here fed.
One thing you will notice right away is all the gardens around Mount Vernon. There are five separate gardens designed by George Washington. The first garden you see is the landscape garden that you walk through to get to the Mansion. The lower garden was used for the kitchen. The upper garden was originally for fruits and nuts switched to be more decorative. There was a botanical garden and further down the plantation was the fruit garden and nursery.
The outer buildings have a lot of history in them to explore.
The Clerk’s quarters were sparse but, efficient for that position. Every building that was essential to the running of the Mansion was located near it, including the Storehouse, Smokehouse, and Salt House.
The Blacksmith Shop was another hub of activity around Mount Vernon from doing mundane tasks to inventing farm equipment. They had a person working in the shop while we were visiting.
The Coach House and Stable were always busy. Both George and Martha were avid horse riders. The Stable even dates back to Washington’s time. One area that children will enjoy is the farm animals. There are a bunch of sheep by the stable that you can pet when they come close to the fence.
Once you have visited, all the out buildings head south to the Forest Trail. This scenic path gives you a feeling of how wild this was during Washington’s lifetime. As you walk the paths, you might even hear some music. I eventually found the speakers hidden very well in the trees. This entire plantation does an excellent job of creating the realistic feel of how it might have been back then.
As you walk the path, you will see signs directing you to Washington’s Tomb. This tomb was built exactly to Washington’s instructions left in his will. Martha and all of his relatives now lay to rest here. This area is a very somber. Very Silent there is usually a line to view the opening of the Tomb.
Walking a bit further in the forest brings you to the Slave Burial Ground and Memorial. There are no tombstones for the slaves buried here but, the estimate is that there are up to 75 graves around the memorial. Around the Slave Memorial are the words Love, Hope and Faith.
A good portion of Mount Vernon’s income came from fishing. The Potomac River provided a great source of food and income to Washington. If you get tired after the walk down to the wharf there is a shuttle pick up spot that will get you back up to Museum.
Right next to the wharf is the Pioneer Farm. There are usually demonstrations for people to see how slaves worked the farms. Walking up to the barn, there is a display to show George’s ideas on fencing and all the options he tried. All over the farm you will see signs explaining all the ideas George tried out to maximize his farming output.
Washington designed this 16-sided barn to help with the process of turning wheat to grain. Horses would walk around in circles tramping on the wheat to get the grain to fall through the gaps to the first floor.
The slave cabin shows how the field hand slaves lived. A whole family would live here. The husband might work up by the Mansion and the wife worked in the field. The hearth was all the family had for heat, light, and cooking area.
I know from what I read about George Washington he struggled with the concept of slavery but, with the size of the Mount Vernon plantation it is no wonder he relied on slavery to make Mount Vernon prosper and survive.
I am more than amazed of how much George Washington was a leader in innovation throughout his entire plantation. His ideas for farming and gardening were ingenious. What a great mind he was!
Of course, no visit is complete without hitting the Shops at Mount Vernon for your souvenirs to take home with you. I know that I spent tons of time looking through every display they had in each section of the shops and went home with quite a few mementos.
All in all a wonderful & peaceful afternoon stepping into the past and experiencing what it would have been like to live in George Washington’s world.