Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Mt. Vernon Visit

We went on a trip to Mt. Vernon to see how our nation's
first president lived "back in the day". Such a gorgeous
location on the banks of the Potomac River. It's hard to
believe so much history took place in this exact spot.

No photos allowed inside the home, but it was quite
impressive, even today. What do you suppose it was like
to arrive on this circular drive in your carriage?

The graceful arched porch connects the servant's
quarters to the main house.

The view from the front of the house across the expansive grounds.
At one time, Washington owned 8,000 acres here, with 5 farms. He
was one of the wealthiest farmer/politicians of the times.

My favorite part of the home was the covered back porch. This
must have been a lovely spot to sit on a warm afternoon to
admire the peaceful view.

Perhaps they had afternoon tea on the porch.

Walking through the main area of the house, you emerge
on another connecting porch to continue on to the kitchen.

The grounds have clusters of buildings, each with it's
own unique purpose. Here's the "wash house" where the
slaves worked six days a week washing clothes with lye soap.
What a horrible job that must have been. We found it
rather disconcerting to know our first president owned over
150 slaves. Washington eventually freed his slaves, but they
toiled for over 20 years in servitude first.

First the washing...

Then the ironing.

The smokehouse held all those famous Virginia hams, as well
as bacon and other smoked meats. It was built without windows
to discourage thieves from raiding the bounty within, though
the story goes that one enterprising person pried a plank off
the side to steal their "victuals".

This impressive carriage belonged to the former mayor of Philadelphia.
It reminds me of a Cinderella story!

How about this chair carriage? There were several
of these in the carriage house.

Extensive stables and corrals housed the horses and mules.
Notice the very uncomfortable looking saddles!

We walked the paths of the hilly grounds to locate the original
tomb where George and Martha Washington were interred. Washington
left instructions in his will regarding the "inappropriate" placement
of this surprisingly modest tomb. Per his instructions, in the mid 1800's, a new
tomb was built in his specified location, and their remains were relocated.

This is where George and Martha Washington now rest. The sarcophagus
to the right is where the President lies. The original plan was for
them both to be interred (see the dark door in the center of the photo?)
but their new "homes" were too large to fit through the door. So they
now bear the inquisitive inspection of each passing tourist.

Can you see the shadowed image of the memorial wreath in the center?

This was the most somber and disturbing stop on our tour.
A short distance from Washington's tomb was a small sign
pointing towards the "slave burial grounds". A quiet clearing
in the woods, there is not one single gravestone or marker to
indicate where any of the slaves were buried. In fact, it is only
through verbal accounts, and an old map from 1860 that they have
been able to determine the approximate area where more than 150
slaves are buried. Even Washington's personal servant was buried
here, with no marker whatsoever. We found this very disturbing to
contemplate and did our best to pay our respects in silent tribute.
There are several plaques erected now, in some small attempt to
acknowledge the vast oversights of history. I thought it
interesting to note that of all the historical outbuildings represented,
there was no evidence of slave quarters. Perhaps there are those who
would rather not acknowledge this painful aspect of our history.

From here we hiked down to the river. There are boats that
will take you out on the Potomac for a 45 minute tour if you like.

Washington was quite a scientific farmer, constantly striving
to improve the soil and conserve natural resources. The round building
in the distance is the threshing barn.

Here's the threshing barn.

Washington created the 16-sided barn as a way to separate the wheat from the chaff, and gather straw. Horses walked the circular structure round and round, with the wheat sheaves being thrown under their feet. Slatted floors allowed the grain to fall through to the floor below where it was gathered into sacks. An innovative idea, but the threshing machine followed within 2 years, rendering Washington's idea to the past. Interesting to note that one of the reasons Washington did not want something mechanizes is because one of the ways slaves "voiced" their displeasure was to break their tools. Apparently Washington thought this method of threshing would sidestep that issue.

The view from the door of the threshing barn, looking back towards
the Potomac River. In Washington's day, this area was a swamp. The
threshing barn is an exact replica of the original building, which was
destroyed in the mid-1800's.

Last stop...wildlife! Rusty checks out Ram Power up
close. This wooly fellow was actually butting the wood
fence by Rusty's head!

But all was calm when we gave him a back scratch.
He seemed to like this just fine!

Tomorrow we'll be visiting the Jefferson Memorial for the
Fife and Drum Corp's Twilight Tattoo. Hoping to get some
great pix for you! See you then...