Thursday, April 17, 2014

Washington DC Day 1 - Mount Vernon

Despite all the snow this winter, the kids still had off from school all week for Spring Break, so we decided to take a short trip to Washington DC from Thursday through Saturday, making it back in time to have Easter at home. We had gone down for a three day weekend two years ago, and barely scratched the surface of what there was to see.
Mansion eastward across the Bowling Green

The tentative plan was to leave Thursday morning as soon as we got up and got going, and drive straight to Mount Vernon in Alexandria Virginia. There we would meet up with my sister in law and her family who were staying with relatives in Silver Spring, MD. If all went well we would tour Mount Vernon with them and then grab some dinner in the city before checking into the Marriott Metro Center near the White House. As it would turn out, they would never make it to Mount Vernon on Thursday, but we would meet them in Silver Spring for dinner with family.
Mansion (landward West face)

The trip down was uneventful, if longer than normal due to an accident on I-95 resulting in all lanes being closed for a while, which cost us almost an hour of sitting with nowhere to go.
Mansion (river side East face)

With a brief lunch stop, we arrived at Mount Vernon around 1:15pm. I was a little surprised to find that Mount Vernon was not owned by the government and therefore not run by the National Park Service. It was apparently bought by the "Mount Vernon Ladies Association" within a few decades of Washington's death in 1799, to keep it preserved and from falling into disrepair. They have owned and run it ever since.
Potomac view

I love historical sites, and it was a beautiful Spring day, perfect for wandering around outside. Later in the year the multitude of gardens would have been better to look at, but it also would be much hotter and less comfortable. It would probably be more crowded in the summer when kids are off from school, but it was fairly crowded as it was.
Greenhouse, slave quarters and Upper Garden

Things were pretty well preserved, and there was a lot to look at, with a large farm estate like this being in many ways its own small village, with a variety of tradesmen, services and all sorts of gardens and crops. The location of the house itself, on the bluffs overlooking the Potomac River, was spectacular.
Lower (kitchen) Garden

The mansion house was nice, and contained many original artifacts, such as Washington's study desk and chair, as well as his deathbed. One thing I wondered about was the structural integrity of the building itself. All the roof lines and various other supposedly straight edges were saggy and wobbly. Of course this could be just settling and other similar issues over the course of 250 years. Or it could be that the place is falling apart from the inside out.
Cedars, sheep paddock and garden walls

We took a short half hour "Slave Life at Mount Vernon" tour that was an informative overview. Especially interesting was the complicated subject of Washington freeing the slaves he owned after his death. The complicated part being that he only owned about a third of the 350+ slaves that lived on the multi-farm 8,000 acre property at the time of his death. The rest were"dower slaves" that had come to him through Martha's side of the family at the time of their marriage (the Custis side). Any slaves of Custis origin, and any children of female Custis slaves, were property of the Custis side of the family, and not even Martha necessarily. It seems that any children of slaves belonged to the owner of the mother, as that was the one part of the parentage that was without question. Freeing slaves in a such a complicated web of relationships was more difficult than it might seem.
The old family vault

Another convenient thing is that there were two virtual geocaches on the grounds of the property, so I was able to find my first geocaches since the Acadia trip in September of last year. I will have to finish logging those now so that I can log these and the others we found on Day 2 on the National Mall.
New family vault with Martha (L) and George (R)

After filing through the mansion house at our allotted time of 5pm, we were back in the car and on our way to the hotel to check in prior to heading to Silver Spring for dinner with relatives.

Day 2 will be sightseeing in the city.

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