Day Trip from Washington D.C. - Exploring Mount Vernon
If you are visiting Washington, D.C., and looking for a day trip out of the capital, consider spending an afternoon at Mount Vernon. Mount Vernon on the banks of the Potomac River is where you can find George Washington’s home, his farm, and where he is buried. However, it is not one of the many National Parks in Virginia. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960 and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Using public transportation is an adventure in itself. You have to take the Metro to the end of the line then transfer to a bus. The key here is to get on Bus 101 ($1.80 exact change), and it will take you directly to the plantation. It takes about a half-hour. It might seem quite exhaustive to figure out how to get to Mount Vernon, but it is so worth the effort once you walk through the gates.
Touring Inside the Mansion
Once you arrive at the Main Gate, purchase your tickets, or you can purchase them online. There is an additional timed ticket to tour inside the mansion. I would recommend going as early in the day as possible since tickets to tour the mansion sell out quickly. If you want to walk the grounds, there is plenty to see, but to go inside the mansion is the icing on the cake.
The tour takes you through the main floor and upstairs to see the bed chambers. The highlight up here is George Washington’s bed-chamber. This bedroom is where George passed away on Dec. 14, 1799. Martha stopped using this room after this and moved up to the third floor, not on the tour.
After seeing the second floor, you head back down to the main floor to see the study. This one room has a lot to see in it. In the picture above, you can see George’s fan chair. He would move the fan by pressing on the pedals by his feet. Also, in the study sits the chair George Washington used while he was president. He was very fond of new inventions, and this particular seat swiveled. There are so many exciting things to see on this tour. The only drawback is that if many people visit the mansion, they tend to keep you moving, and you can’t linger very long.
Once you get out of the main house, you walk through the kitchen and outer buildings. The main meal, dinner, was served at 3 p.m. with a lighter meal, supper, being later around 9 p.m. You can imagine how busy this place was to keep everyone who lived here fed.
The Outer Buildings
The outer buildings have a lot of history in them to explore. The Clerk’s quarters were sparse but efficient for that position. Every building that was essential to the running of the mansion was located near it, including the Storehouse, Smokehouse, and Salt House. The Blacksmith Shop was another hub of activity around Mount Vernon, from doing mundane tasks to inventing farm equipment.
The Gardens at Mount Vernon
One thing you will notice right away is all the gardens around Mount Vernon. George Washington designed five separate gardens. The first garden you see is the landscape garden that you walk through to get to the mansion. The lower garden was used for the kitchen. The upper garden was initially for fruits and nuts; however, it was switched to be more decorative. There was a botanical garden, and further down the plantation was the fruit garden and nursery.
The Coach House and Stable were always busy. Both George and Martha were avid horse riders. The Stable even dates back to Washington’s time. One area that children will enjoy is the farm animals. There are many sheep by the stable that you can pet when they come close to the fence.
Once you have visited all the outbuildings, head south to the Forest Trail, this scenic path gives you a feeling of how wild this was during Washington’s lifetime. As you walk the pathways, you might even hear some music. I eventually found the speakers hidden very well in the trees. This entire plantation does an excellent job creating a realistic feel of how it might have been back then.
As you walk the path, you will see signs directing you to Washington’s Tomb. This tomb was built precisely to Washington’s instructions left in his will. Martha and all of his relatives now lay to rest here. This area is very somber. Very Silent, there is usually a line to view the opening of the tomb.
Slave Burial Ground and Memorial
Walking a bit further in the forest brings you to the Slave Burial Ground and Memorial. There are no tombstones for the slaves buried here, but the estimate is that there are up to 75 graves around the memorial. Around the Slave, Memorial are the words Love, Hope, and Faith.
Farming and Fishing at Mount Vernon
A good portion of Mount Vernon’s income came from fishing. The Potomac River provided a great source of food and income to Washington. If you get tired after the walk down to the wharf, a shuttle pick-up spot will get you back up to Museum.
Right next to the wharf is the Pioneer Farm. There are usually demonstrations for people to see how slaves worked the farms. Walking up to the barn, there is a display to show George’s ideas on fencing and all the options he tried. You will see signs explaining all the concepts George tried out to maximize his farming output all over the farm. Make sure to check out the 16-sided barn that was designed to turn wheat to grain. Horses would walk around in circles tramping on the grain to get the grain to fall through the gaps to the first floor.
This is a great place to step back in the past and experience what it would have been like to live and work at George Washington’s home in Mount Vernon. When you are visiting the capital, take a day to explore outside the city. There are so many cool places to see outside Washington D.C. that you really must visit!