More than one million visitors travel to George Washington’s Mount Vernon each year to walk in the footsteps of the planter, soldier and statesman who was, in the words of fellow Virginian Richard Henry Lee: “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen."
Located on a prominent bluff overlooking the Potomac River in Virginia, Mount Vernon was George Washington’s home for 45 years, from 1754 to 1799. During that time, Washington expanded the property from approximately 2,000 to 8,000 acres divided into five farms. The nucleus of his great, sprawling estate had been in the Washington family since 1674 when it was granted to John Washington, great-grandfather to George Washington.
George Washington’s father, Augustine, purchased the property, known as Hunting Creek Plantation, from his sister in 1735 and lived here with his family, including 3-year-old George, for a few years. It eventually passed to George’s elder half-brother, Lawrence, who was living here by 1743, the year Augustine died. A veteran of several military campaigns in the Caribbean, Lawrence renamed the property “Mount Vernon” in honor of British Admiral Edward Vernon. Following Lawrence’s death, George Washington leased Mount Vernon from his widow and inherited it after she died in 1761.
Over the following decades, Washington expanded the original, modest house into the elegant mansion visitors tour today. With fifteen original and reconstructed outbuildings, a working gristmill and whisky distillery, sixteen-sided threshing barn, slave quarters and extensive gardens and grounds all restored to their appearance at the time of Washington’s death in 1799 the Mount Vernon estate provides an unparalleled glimpse of the private world of George Washington and his family, servants and slaves.
Mount Vernon fell into disrepair following the death of Martha Washington in 1802. In 1858, the Mount Vernon Ladies Association of the Union, founded by South Carolinian Ann Pamela Cunningham, launched a national campaign to purchase Mount Vernon, and took possession on the 128th anniversary of George Washington’s birth, February 22, 1860. The Mount Vernon Ladies Association continues to protect, preserve, restore and interpret Mount Vernon to this day. The Association is the oldest private preservation organization in the United States.
Mount Vernon opened the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center in October 2006. Visitors enjoy engaging films and interpretive exhibits that provide a comprehensive story of Washington’s public and private life, as well as an opportunity to view changing exhibitions showcasing original Washington family objects and works of art. In partnership with the American Revolution Center, over thirty firearms, edged weapons, and other pieces of military equipment used in the Revolutionary War will be on display from 2011 through 2013 in the Tools of War exhibit. The installation highlights the difficulties George Washington overcame in creating an effective fighting force and defeating one of the world’s most powerful armies.