Afternoon at Mount Vernon: Touring George Washington’s Home

If you are visiting Washington, D.C., and looking for a day trip out of the capital, consider spending an afternoon at Mount Vernon. Mount Vernon on the banks of the Potomac River is where you can find George Washington’s home, his farm, and where he is buried. Although it is not one of the many National Parks in Virginia, it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960 and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
View from the back porch (Potomac River)

View from the back porch (Potomac River)

 Getting There

Using public transportation is an adventure in itself. You have to take the Metro to the end of the line then transfer to a bus. The key here is to get on Bus 101 ($1.80 exact change), and it will take you directly to the plantation. It takes about a half-hour. It might seem quite exhaustive to figure out how to get to Mount Vernon, but it is so worth the effort once you walk through the gates.

Touring Inside the Mansion

Once you arrive at the Main Gate, purchase your tickets or you can purchase them online. There is an additional timed ticket to tour inside the mansion. I would recommend going as early in the day as possible since tickets to tour the mansion sell out quickly. If you want to walk the grounds, there is plenty to see, but to go inside the mansion is the icing on the cake.

Parlor at Mount Vernon

Little Parlor

Downstairs Bedchamber at Mount Vernon

Downstairs Bedchamber

The tour takes you through the New Room out to the porch and then 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 bed chambers. The highlight up here is George Washington’s bed-chamber. 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, which is not on the tour.

George Washington's Bedchamber

George Washington’s Bedchamber

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 exciting 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.

Study in George Washington's HomePresidential Chair in George's Study

 

Once you get out of the main house, you walk through the kitchen and outer buildings. The main meal, dinner, was served at 3 p.m. with a lighter meal, supper, being later around 9 p.m. You can imagine how busy this place was to keep everyone who lived here fed.Kitchen in George Washington's Home

Kitchen on the right of Mansion

George Washington's kitchen at Mount Vernon

Scullery

George Washington's kitchen at Mount Vernon

Kitchen

George Washington's storeroom at Mount Vernon

 

The Outer BuildingsClerk's Quarters at Mount Vernon

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.Spinning Room

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.Blacksmith Shop at Mount Vernon

One of the family's enslaved black servants

An actor portraying one of the family’s enslaved, black servants

 

The Gardens at Mount Vernon

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 initially 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.

Lower Garden

Lower Garden

Fruit Garden

Fruit Garden

The StablesThe Stables at Mount Vernon

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 is a bunch of sheep by the stable that you can pet when they come close to the fence.Coach/Carriage at Mount VernonThe Farm at Mount Vernon

Forest TrailForest Trail

Once you have visited, all the outbuildings 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 pathways, 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 a realistic feel of how it might have been back then. Trees in Bloom on the Forest Trail

Washington’s TombGeorge Washington's Tomb

As you walk the path, you will see signs directing you to Washington’s Tomb. This tomb was built precisely to Washington’s instructions left in his will. Martha and all of his relatives now lay to rest here. This area is very somber. Very Silent, there is usually a line to view the opening of the tomb. Within this Enclosure Rest the Remains of Gen. George Washington

Slave Burial Ground and MemorialSlave Burial Grounds

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. Slave Memorial

Farming and Fishing at Mount Vernon

Potomac River

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 concepts George tried out to maximize his farming output.

Pioneer Farm

Washington designed this 16-sided barn to help with the process of turning wheat to the grain. Horses would walk around in circles tramping on the grain to get the grain to fall through the gaps to the first floor.16-Sided BarnInside of BarnSheep at Mount Vernon

 

The slave cabin shows how the field hand slaves lived. A whole family would live here. The husband might work by the mansion, and the wife worked in the field. The hearth was all the family had for heat, light, and cooking area.Slave CabinSlave Quarters
I know from what I read about George Washington that 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.

Chicken-CoupI am more than amazed at 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 had!

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 souvenirs.
All in all, a fantastic & peaceful afternoon stepping into the past and experiencing what it would have been like to live at George Washington’s home in Mount Vernon.

Statue of George Washington

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Further Reading

If you are coming to Virginia for a visit, check out these posts for other travel inspiration:

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