Mount Vernon plantation was the beloved home of George Washington, the first president of the United States, and his wife Martha Washington. It is located in Fairfax Country, Virginia, overlooking the Potomac River.
In 1674, the great-grandfather of George Washington owned land along the Potomac, where Mount Vernon is situated today. In 1735, George Washington’s father, Augustine, built a simple, one and a half story farmhouse. When George was three years old, the family moved to the house, that was then known as Little Hunting Creek Plantation.
In 1740, the eldest son of Augustine and George’s half-brother, Lawrence, inherited the estate. He renamed the plantation Mount Vernon in honor of Admiral Edward Vernon, who had been Lawrence’s commanding officer in the British Royal Navy. After Lawrence’s death in 1752, George inherited the property. Washington moved into the mansion in January 1759, when he married Martha Curtis, and lived there for 40 years, returning home whenever his public life permitted, until his death in 1799.
Washington rebuilt the house into a grandiose two and one half-story mansion, with a full cellar and 21 rooms. He expanded the plantation from 2,000 acres to 8,000. The cupola was also added, creating the building that still stands today. In the 18th century, impressive private residences like Mount Vernon were extremely rare. The property was a symbol of Washington’s status as a leading member of the Virginia elite.
Washington designed and ordered the dove of peace weather vane. He commissioned Philadelphia architect Joseph Rakestraw for the job, specifying that he should like to have a bird with an olive branch in its mouth.
The dove of peace was constructed from copper with an iron frame and lead head. But, due to the air pollution around the Washington, D. C. area, the original weather vane was removed and is displayed in the Donald W. Reynolds Museum, while in its place stands an exact replica.
The mansion is more or less symmetrical, although the windows are not symmetrically placed, and the door and the cupola do not align. It is built in the Palladian style, and by using the technique of rustication, the mansion appears to be built of stone, when it is actually constructed of wood.
Among the rooms of the mansion are Washington’s study, the West Parlor, the Front Parlor, the kitchen, two dining rooms, and bedrooms. The large dining room or the New Room was the grandest reception room that had a two-storied salon, with large Palladian window, and fine Neoclassical marble chimney piece.
Washington created beautiful ornamental landscape gardens and hired trained gardeners to maintain them. The upper garden served as a fruit and nut garden, from 1763 to 1785, when Washington redesigned it and planted flowers. However, he didn’t want to loose too much space on ornamental flowers, so he planted them in the border that surrounded the vegetable beds. Washington also built a greenhouse for exotic plants that also served as a gallery of plants. The fruit garden was below the Mount Vernon kitchen garden and included apples, cherries, pears, peaches, and apricots.
Washington died on 14 December 1799 and was buried at Mount Vernon. The estate passed to his widow, and after her death, his nephew Bushrod Washington inherited it. However, he was unable to maintain the estate because he didn’t inherit much money. From Bushrod, it went to Washington’s great-grandnephew, John Augustine Washington III, who suggested selling it to the U.S. government, but they refused to buy the property.
The estate was saved from ruin by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, which in 1858, raised about $200,000 and bought the house and 200 acres of the original estate. Mount Vernon was restored and in 1960 it was designated a National Historic Landmark. Today it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.