It’s funny how fast time passes. It’s been several weeks since I posted an adventure, and while our traveling days may be slowing down, it’s making way for some exciting and new changes in our lives. But until the next chapter begins, I still have tales to tell from roaming around the U.S.
I mentioned “time” at the start of this entry because it’s been more than ten years since I graduated high school. It’s scary to think about, but what took the edge off was knowing I had a good friend from days’ past living in the D.C. area recommending we see Mount Vernon, the homestead of President George Washington.
I’ll fully admit, I had no idea Mount Vernon was near D.C., but also, I didn’t know that it would be such an extraordinary site to visit. If you grab your tickets online ($18 online, $20 in person), you can pick a time to arrive and go through the house on a guided tour. Admission into the house is blocked without a tour, but the handful of guides who chat with you from room to room have tons of information about the historic home.
No pictures are allowed inside the house, but it was the information about each room that was more interesting than the rooms themselves. Built between 1758 and 1778, the house is shaped in an open half circle with the kitchen on one side and slave quarters on the other. The couple of buildings are connected to the main house by way of a covered walkway that sounded like a wooden dock beneath our feet.
We started on the far left of the house taking only a quick peek into the sitting room and family room since the guides were moving us along like cattle. We didn’t get a ton of time to take in the full surroundings and certainly not of the stories the guides were telling us. From the next room, I could just make out snipets of whatever story was being told, but the story lasted much longer than the ten seconds it took for the line to push us into the next room out of ear shot.
This was one of the times we could have benefited from an audio guide or a dedicated tour guide taking us room to room. Because of this I remember very little of what we were told about the house itself. All I do remember them talking about is how Washington passed away in the house, and that they have left his bedroom as true to that fateful day as possible.
But then, we walked out to the back of the house and were met with the most extraordinary views of the Potomac River. With a view like that, it is no wonder Washington said,
“At length my Dear Marquis I am become a private citizen on the banks of the Potomac, & under the shadow of my own Vine & my own Fig tree, free from the bustle of a camp & the busy scenes of public life…” to the Marquis de Lafayette in 1784.
But we couldn’t enjoy the view for long because the tour guides whisked us through the cattle shoot to the other side of the house, passed the kitchen and into the actual farm. We certainly got many other views of the gorgeous and historic river, but never quite the same as that extraordinary vantage point.
Once we left the house, Jeff’s ears perked up. After our tour of Monticello in Charlottesville, we both had started dreaming our own future homestead, but Monticello seemed to not hold a candle to Mount Vernon. The way the land was laid out was so picturesque and astounding that we couldn’t help but try to imagine Washington traipsing around the land and visiting areas of his plantation.
To the right of the house were the small barns and animal pens with sheep and goats. The smell of hay was intoxicating and paired with the breeze off the river, we were able to breath an incredible sigh of relief. We then decided to follow the pathway toward Washington’s tomb where he lies with Martha in a gorgeous, red-brick mausoleum. The famous Washington monument obelisk also made an appearance or two in the family cemetery.
A little bit further down the path, toward the river’s edge, sits a monument to the slaves that helped run Mount Vernon. We weaved through a class trip that had flown in from Brownsville, Texas, and as we nodded to them in silent recognition of our home state, we took in the site of the stone monument and its gorgeous solitude. But it was just passed the wooded clearing that we saw the true majesty of the land: the Potomac River, front and center.
This is where the man fished and where Queen Elizabeth II had visited on one of her many trips to the U.S. Directly behind us was the true vegetable gardening happened. We tried to imagine a perfect summer day walking down to the river’s edge to fish and then check on the sheep, vegetables, or horses milling the wheat in his octagon barn where kernels would filter below the floorboards for easier collecting.
As we walked through the grounds, past the farm, through the woods, and along a cut-out trail, we realized just how amazing it was to find such a gem in our own American backyard. We have traveled all over the world, but we have neglected to look to our own monuments and treasures like Mount Vernon.
When we finished our tour by way of a field with massive cows and an autumn orchard, we found ourselves in the museum where you can watch a video of Washington’s legacy, see extraordinary artifacts collected from his home and life, as well as his famous dentures made from cow teeth and ivory.
If after your tour, you’re a bit peckish, the Mount Vernon Restaurant is a great place to have a meal. Jeff and I met my high school friend and his wife for a perfect Sunday brunch, and as we sipped our cocktails and enjoyed our food, Jeff and I telepathically agreed to go back to the gardens and see more of the grounds like the English garden and greenhouse.
We thoroughly enjoyed the company, the catch up, and the historical walk through President Washington’s homestead. If you find yourself in Washington D.C., definitely take in the monuments and museums, but do not forget about Mount Vernon as a place to relax and breathe.