Day 8 – 0 nm – we stayed put (passage total: 223 nm)
We purchased our tickets on-line and headed to the wharf right at 0900 when Mount Vernon opens. We figured we'd walk around and enjoy ourselves for a few hours, see what there was to see and then head back to Cups. As it was we didn't get to see everything there was to see and they ushered us out at 1730. In a word … “amazing” comes to mind!
First, a little history. When the Washingtons died, Mount Vernon was passed on to his heirs. The Washingtons had no children. Through the generations one of Washington's nephews ended up with the property, but could not afford the upkeep of the place. In 1853, he offered to sell it to the US Government for $200,000. The timing was bad. Civil unrest was brewing and the government declined the purchase.
“If the men of America have seen fit to allow the home of its most respected hero to go to ruin, why can't the women of America band together to save it?” “In 1853, Louisa Bird Cunningham wrote these words to her daughter, Ann Pamela Cunningham, after seeing the decrepit state of George Washington's home while traveling on the Potomac River. Ann Pamela Cunningham, inspired by her mother's words, took it upon herself to challenge the nation to save Mount Vernon. She founded the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association in 1853 and by 1858 had raised $200,000 dollars to purchase the mansion and two hundred acres.” To this day, the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association runs and maintains this outstanding piece of history. It is the first national historic preservation organization in the United States and the oldest women's patriotic society.
I guess what impressed me most was the exceptional way everything at Mount Vernon has been restored and maintained with an incredible attention to the detail. It's all top shelf … from the restorations to the exhibits to the gift shop. It's apparent that improvements have been made and are continuing to be made.
One of the highlights was the mansion tour. Considerable restored original furnishings were augmented with period furniture and replicas. Paint colors, carpet, upholstery and wallpaper patterns are true to the period. Though no photography was allowed in the mansion itself, here is a picture of a picture of the “new room”, one of the last rooms added to his 21-room home. Take a virtual tour on line to get a better feel for the grandness of Washington's palatial estate.
As we departed the mansion, we couldn't help admire Nine of Cups, waiting patiently for us in the anchorage.
Trails and paths wended their way throughout the estate. We saw Washington's tomb in a serene, pastoral setting. The building of his last resting place and that of wife, Martha, and several other relatives was one of his last requests in his will and testament.
George Washington was a slave owner. In fact, when he died, there were 317 slaves working on his plantations and farms. A slave memorial has been erected next to the slave cemetery to honor those who were enslaved here.
We watched blacksmith demonstrations and viewed a spinning display. Many of the original buildings are furnished according to their use … laundry rooms, salt house, a shoemaker's shop, an ice house, etc. There were farm animals and gardens and forests to explore.
We took a free shuttle to the grist mill and distillery, about 3 miles away from the main estate. Washington was an innovative farmer and good businessman. The grist mill was used to grind corn, wheat and barley for use on the plantation, and enough was left over to export.
Washington hired a Scotsman as a farm manager who convinced him to begin distilling spirits. By 1798, it was one of the largest distilleries in America and one of Washington's most successful enterprises. We saw well-done, very informative demonstrations in both venues.
In the Educational Center, we expected some basic info and quick walk-through. The place went on and on and on in a spectacular fashion, providing insights into Washington's life and his great contributions to America's history. We watched three award-winning videos and saw several life-sized models of Washington at different ages, faithfully recreated to look so real, you could almost see him breathing. The displays included everything from Washington's false teeth (no, they weren't made of wood) to firearms to fine china used at the mansion. This was one of the most interesting and inspiring interpretive centers we've ever visited.
I particularly liked a display dispelling several myths about Washington … the wooden teeth, chopping down the cherry tree, never telling a lie, throwing a silver dollar across the Potomac (no way!).
We walked the grounds till we could barely take another step … then walked some more. We ended our day at the Pioneer Farm where Washington's innovative 16-sided threshing barn was open for viewing.
Here, there were replicas of the slave cabins that would have stood on the same site.
Boatbuilding and fishery exhibits as well as agricultural exhibits were just closing down as we walked by. Security folks were encouraging lingering visitors to head for the exits. We explained that our exit was at the wharf. “Oh, yeah, you're the guys from the boat out there.” Yup, that's us.
We returned to Cups tired, but exhilarated by an outstanding day. Life is good!