Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Mount Vernon: Unique Residence of United States’ First President in Washington D.C.

January 21, 2014
By Saeed Qureshi
Dallas, Texas

Mount Vernon is the name of the Home and estate of George Washington, the first president of the United States. Its unique architecture portrays Palladian style. Its original name was” little hunting creek plantation” but was changed to Mount Vernon by George Washington’s half-brother Lawrence Washington. This Magnificent panoramic architectural marvel and its enchanting surroundings are located in the state of Virginia along river Potomac.
The rear side of the mansion faces a captivating picturesque view with mighty Potomac River flowing with its awesome majesty.  George Washington himself defined his estate as “No estate in United State is more pleasantly situated than this”.

Mount Vernon is located at a distance of about 15 miles from the downtown of Washington D.C. or more precisely in the rural vicinity of the federal capital. Mount Vernon is situated at a higher plateau and therefore serves as an ideal vantage point for overlooking the surrounding ancillary structures such as store house, coach house, wash house, stables, fruit gardens and nursery.
Further down one can walk through to see the old and the new tombs of George Washington and his wife Martha Dandridge Custis Washington. Further trekking down one comes across the forest trail, pioneer farm, 16 sided barn and slave memorial.

President George Washington lived in this unique residence for 45 years which means from the year 1754 when he acquired it, to 1799 when he died here. His grave and that of his wife who died two years later are located in a well maintained tomb a few hundred yards away in the garden area.

The history of Mount Vernon reveals that this estate passed through several owners before it finally came into the exclusive ownership of George Washington. After the death of his older half-brother Lawrence in 1752, George Washington took up residence at the house built by his father Augustine Washington in 1735.

The original house built by Augustine was much smaller in size: with two floors: each floor having two rooms. The house underwent certain changes in its dimensions in subsequent times carried out by the previous owners. But the real and landmark remodeling was brought about in phases over a long period time by George Washington himself after acquiring its ownership.
Mount Vernon is thus a kind of self-contained city where one would find an array of huts, houses, warehouse, blacksmith shop, spinning house, kitchen house, smoke house, wash house, salt house, slave quarters, and so on.

This estate, gardens, farms and plantation land measured 8000 acres in the 18th century. After its massive decay and deterioration, the “Mount Vernon Ladies Association” purchased 200 acres in 1853 from the Washington family. Ever since this nonprofit organization is maintaining and operating this most prominent American heritage, wonderful estate and captivating landscape to keep the legacy and heritage of Washington and his family alive for American people. The Association is financed solely by donations and revenue from admissions and tickets to run this huge undertaking. Happily now the maintained area has increased to 500 acres.

George Washington was a cut and dried farmer. So after taking up the residence, he zealously and indefatigably engaged himself into a studied mission to renovate and expand this huge estate in diverse manners. This labor of love lasted till his death in 1799 which means a time span of 47 years. In the hindsight, one can imagine how serious President Washington was devoted and involved in this gigantic undertaking. All these years he kept transforming and reshaping this remarkable place according to his vision and cherished designs and models.

George Washington was fond of finer choices. Being gifted with immense innovative talent, profuse excellence and deep urge, he initiated a process of renovations, recreations, expansion, rehabilitation in accordance with his taste and temperament and indeed idealism. From a vast farmland and a few old style huts and structures, George Washington converted it into an abiding fun place and a charming touristic attraction and as one of the most visited historical attractions for the coming generations.  

In this vast, salubrious and green landscape, one can find the eye catching 21 rooms main residence, a vast and spacious green circular lawn in front, the upper gardens, the lower gardens, the fruit gardens and nursery, the slave memorial, the pioneer farm, 16 sided barn and the forest trail. All this multi-faceted spectacle looks like a fairyland as if the angels and fairies were flying in the air invisibly. The fantastic distillery and gristmill, purely the amazing invention of G.W. himself are located 2.7 miles far from the main complex.

Mount Vernon’s main residential building is a unique structure with three stories. It is in rectangular shape with front and back verandas. In a relatively primitive environment some 150 years ago this house must have been a Marvel although then it was not as spacious as it looks now.
Yet it is still a marvel of construction and would remain so for the posterity for its beauty, elegance, scenic beauty and dazzling vastness and immaculately preserved household things, furnishings, beds, furniture, rugs, chest, tables, wall hangings and other artifacts. The bulk of these precious relics and invaluable articles are kept in the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center located within the periphery of the estate.

Undoubtedly Mount Vernon is a spectacular national heritage, a lofty monument and a living witness to the history of United States in making. The visitors however, should not think that the existing constellation of buildings including President George Washington’s personal residence somehow bears close resemblance to the original structures. Most of these have either been massively overhauled, renovated or rebuilt. But to a great degree, the dimensions remain the same as these existed when George Washington died. About a dozen structures are in original form.

This article would remain incomplete without a brief mention of the gigantic river Potomac. As already mentioned the Mount Vernon mansion and estate is built atop on the bank of River Potomac. The Potomac River watershed covers the District of Columbia and parts of four states. In a way it looks like a dividing line between three states namely Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C.
It is a life line for the inhabitants in all these states through which it runs its course. Potomac River is the fourth largest river along the Atlantic coast of the United States and the 21st largest in the United States. It covers a distance of 405 miles from its origin Fairfax Stone to the final destination the Chesapeake Bay, located along the mid-Atlantic coast of the United States. An average 486 million US gallons (1,840,000 m3) of water per day is withdrawn daily from Potomac River in the Washington area for water supply.

We should generously appreciate and applaud the “Mount Vernon Ladies Association” providing abundant information facilities to enlighten and bring into sharp and detailed focus, the life of the first president of the United States and his family. One would be certainly adequately knowledgeable and well-informed after watching and attending the programs presented and the artifacts exhibited at Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center, Robert H. & Clarice Smith Auditorium and Ford Orientation Center. There are such facilities as gift and book shops, Food court, the Mount Vernon Inn and National Library provided in a covered and decently kept covered Mall.

A detailed colorful brochure published by the management for the information and guidance of the visitors is available at the tickets’ counter and other places.  However, there is a glaring lacuna in this folder. For instance, incredibly, there are no exclusive pictures of the front and rear portions of the Mount Vernon residence. 

One wonders how this essential feature could be missed by the organizers, who otherwise are managing this national monument with enormous zeal, laudable professionalism and exemplary dedication. Also is missing the contact phone number of “Mount Vernon Ladies Association”.

Moreover while this whole estate is an amazing feast for the eyes, it would have been desirable if there was a mural or a signboard giving a crisp chronology of the various steps and important phases to enlighten the tourists as to how this estate was developed with the passage of time? Such a signboard or a plaque should have been erected outside the shops or main entrance or at the start of the circular “Bowling Garden”. A brief and one glance list of events and dates would be more handy and beneficial.

After visiting this amazing site one undergoes a tinge of sad feelings also. Undoubtedly, although the buildings, the gardens, the cities, the citadels and countries created by human beings survive and last on earth, yet their creators and the owners have to pass away. This irreversible phenomenon and fact reminds us that humans are mortal and have to leave behind whatever they possess and create with hard work or ingenuity or out of sheer passion. 

In case of Mount Vernon, this priceless, abiding and larger than life legacy of iconic father of the American nation, George Washington would last interminably and keep inspiring and giving hope to the successive generations like a beacon or the morning star.

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