There is little more daunting to the adult traveller, than arriving at a location to find a convoy of bright yellow school buses arrived earlier. The mass of students pouring out of those school buses is likely give anyone reason to pause, and pause we did, while getting some breakfast and mustering our courage.
Mount Vernon, home of George and Martha Washington, was well worth the effort and surviving the masses. I am assured that other people have visited and had the place to themselves, so don’t be dismayed, this could be you. Either way, it won’t make a difference, you’ll love it.
The tour through the mansion was a step back in time and an insight into the mind of a man who was both practical an intellectual. Apparently, George Washington considered himself first and foremost, a farmer. To this end, he organised seven year crop rotations for his fields which ensured a fallow year for each pasture. He composted with very specific ingredients in order to ensure rich soil for his fields as well as his vegetable gardens and he designed a building especially for threshing, a job previously done outdoors and therefore subject to inclement weather. The building was original and unique in construction, a perfect monument to the fact that necessity really is the mother of invention.
In a similar vein, when George decided he wanted to extend his house (which was originally very small), he found the price of the original house stone, rather prohibitive. Rather than breaking the bank or not extending, George used a method of painting broad boards, then adding sand to the wet paint mixture, such that the boards look, even now, just like stone work.
For these reasons, George Washington the farmer, interested me much more than George Washington father of a nation, military strategist and inspiring leader. When combined though, it’s easy to see that there was a time, when nations truly were lead by their best and their brightest. These were not types to need party politics or platforms. They wrote their own speeches, took advice but formed their own opinions and ultimately made their own decisions about where to lead their country. George Washington took up the job of President as though it was a duty and a responsibility not an opportunity for personal gain. As an individual, he stood for something big enough to inspire masses and bring a nation into its own. Not bad for a farm boy, really.
Big tips for your visit:
- Don’t eat at the cafe. While it is clean, it’s also loud, expensive and the food isn’t great. If the weather is fine take a picnic and eat in one of the beautiful gardens or down on the shore of the Potomac. If it’s dismal, take soup and eat in the car, staff will stamp your hand so you can get back in.
- Set aside an entire day. The farm/house tour is informative and the landscape divine, so take your time.
- Take time to see the museum which is located on a subterranean level beneath one of the gardens. It contains a perfect combination of political detail and mementos from household life.
- Consider the boat cruise from DC to the dock at Mt Vernon, approaching by water will give the whole place a different perspective.
- No matter the weather, walk the gardens. The farm is a wonder but the gardens are works of art.
- Don’t be dismayed by the school buses. Those teachers are full of interesting information, I consider them free tour guides!