Sailing along the Potomac River to George Washington’s beloved Georgian plantation, Mount Vernon, on Spirit Cruises’ “Spirit of Mount Vernon”, does make “getting there half the fun”. The ship provides a narrated riverfront tour of the magnificent views of Washington proper as well as of historic forts and the “Old Town” of Alexandria, Virginia, during the one-and-a-half-hour sail to Washington’s home.
Washington inherited Mount Vernon, built in 1735 by his father, Augustine, in 1754 and spent the next 45 years of his life expanding the “Mansion” and pioneering innovative farming practices such as crop rotation and the use of fertilizers on 3000 of his 8000 acres of land. He planned exquisite botanical gardens, an orchard, a nursery, and also raised rare breeds of livestock.
Today’s remaining 400 acres of the property have been brilliantly turned into a living museum. The Douglas W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center on site offers an extraordinary history of the major events of Washington’s life in 23 gallery and theatre spaces illustrated by “a rich and comprehensive collection of (authentic) objects in a state-of-the-art facility”.
The Mansion reflects Washington’s status as a “Virginia gentleman” and guided tours reveal three floors of the Washington’s furnishings and period pieces, including the bedroom and bed in which the first President of the United States died in 1799. Washington’s remains and those of his wife and family are entombed in a brick tomb on the property in front of which wreath laying ceremonies take place daily.
The magnificent gardens and grounds contain more than a dozen original structures, many of them outbuildings that surround the Mansion and demonstrate how life was lived on an 18th century plantation in Virginia. Among the reconstructed buildings are the plantation’s slave quarters, a working blacksmith shop, Washington’s ingenious 16-sided treading barn and a slave cabin.
A slave memorial marks the cemetery for slaves and free blacks who worked for the Washington family in the 18th and the first half of the 19th centuries. In his will, George Washington freed all his own slaves but was not legally allowed to free the dower slaves who belonged to his wife.
Tours of the vast estate are perfectly organized. There are shuttle buses to transport visitors from venue to venue although it is a great pleasure to wander about through forest trails and many glorious gardens to one’s destinations.
3200 M. Vernon Memorial Highway, Alexandria, Virginia 22121
Tel: (703) 780-0011 www.mountvernon.org
Hours: Monday – Thursday: 11:00AM – 8:30PM Friday & Saturday: 11:00AM – 9:00PM Sunday: 11:00AM – 7:00PM
Admission: Adults (12 years and older): $17. Seniors: $16.
Spirit Cruises: www.spiritcruises.com/washingtondc