The Marvel of Washington’s Mount Vernon
Today is Presidents’ Day, celebrating both Presidents Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, and so, we turn our sights to the first American president’s home, Mount Vernon, only a few miles outside of Washington, DC, on the Potomac River. This Virginia Plantation is a marvel of historic preservation, for the mansion and the grounds had fallen into disrepair only 50 years after George Washington’s death in 1799.
The story goes something like this:
Ann Pamela Cunningham of South Carolina heard a story told by her mother. A ship on which she was a passenger sounded its bell as it sailed past Mount Vernon, in homage to the nation’s First President. Miss Cunningham’s mother made her way to the deck to see this august site and was shocked and horrified by a delapidated and overgrown manor house. The ladies felt that something was quite wrong if the men of our country could not see to its proper preservation, and Miss Cunningham put together the first national preservation society in 1853, formed entirely of ladies.
The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association asked the American people for $200,000 to purchase the mansion and 200 surrounding acres from a great-grandnephew of George Washington. By 1858, they were able to purchase the property and embark on its restoration, opening the mansion to the public in 1860, despite the fact that the country would soon be embroiled in the Civil War.
Today, the Ladies’ Association still owns and runs the property in trusteeship, with one lady from each of approximately 30 different states represented. They raise funds for the private intiative project which receives no governmental assistance and includes extensive outbuildings in addition to the mansion, along with barns, livestock, farming plots and gardens, restaurants and gift shops, museum and educational center, Washington’s tomb, and the new, multi-million dollar, state-of-the-art scholars’ library to open to historians next fall.
Most everything in the historical sector is just as it would have appeared in 1799. The ladies have made Mount Vernon come alive and I think General Washington would be very proud. No wonder it’s a site that most schoolchildren and heads of state eventually visit.
Keep in mind that every Presidents’ Day is free day at Mount Vernon when no admission is charged, and leashed dogs are always welcome on the grounds outdoors. What a great day for an educational outing.
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