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George Washington’s Mount Vernon: Virtual Tour

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Most of us have studied and read about George Washington, our first President, while in elementary or middle school. We have heard bits and pieces about his life. But what do we know about our first President's home?

Kathleen Ford, Manager of History Interpretation, was our virtual tour guide. She has worked eight years at the mansion, earned her B.A. at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, and a master’s at James Madison University. Ford explains that she has been lucky enough to be given many opportunities to transition to full time, and eventually landed in her current role.

AARP Virginia recently sponsored the second in a series of virtual tours, entitled Virginia Treasures Series 2: George Washington's Mt. Vernon. Everyone has been impacted by the pandemic, including the museum, which inspired the creation of their virtual tours. Ford explains, “The main difference between in-person and virtual tours has been our ability to personally customize the virtual tours. We have the ability to virtually travel across the entire estate in an hour when this just wouldn’t be possible in person. The feedback to this degree of customization has been very positive.”

At the beginning of the virtual tour Ford displayed pictures starting at the mansion's front door and gave a detailed explanation of each of the rooms and the Mansion's history and renovations.

The mansion was originally the home of George Washington's great grandfather, who migrated from England to America, and George Washington's father inherited the home. His father died at an early age, and the house was willed to his brother Lawrence. After Lawrence died at an early age, the family home was willed to George Washington. President Washington was 22 when he moved into the house.

According to Washington, the grandest room was on the other side of the parlor called the New Room. This room was the last addition to the home and considered a multipurpose room and "intended to emphasize unpretentious beauty and fine craftsmanship, qualities he believed communicated the new nation's values." This room's construction started before George Washington went to fight in the Revolutionary War and wasn't finished until he returned eight years later.

From the time the home was purchased, it had gone through several renovations. Two years after moving into the house, in 1759, the home went through the first renovation. He wanted to finish the renovations before his marriage to Martha, who already had two children.

Washington owned more than 300 slaves, who managed the entire plantation and built the Mansion's north and south wings. Martha also owned slaves, which were returned to her family members after her passing.

During this tour, Ford provided many historical facts and events. Most attendees were intrigued while learning a piece of history.

Who knew that Washington ate breakfast at 7 am or that ham was a favorite dish of Martha? The slaves' quarters were not far from the main house, and the kitchen was separated from the house.

Upstairs has many bedrooms, but the yellow room seems to be the nicest. This bed was the most expensive item in the house, which was recorded during a probate inventory.

In 1799, at age 67, George Washington's illness progressed over a day and a half before he passed away. His wife, Martha, died in 1802, approximately three years after her husband.

Historians estimated that President Washington wrote over 20,000 letters, and in some years, had over 600 visitors.

Only his valet, William Lee, was freed after Washington's death, and his other slaves were later freed. Martha's slaves were sent back to other family members. As a result of their freedom and to stay close to their enslaved family members, the free slaves founded Gum Springs, a Freed Black community.

In 1858, the home was purchased by Mt Vernon Ladies Association and made into a museum. Approximately 30% of the house contents were original, and other items are 18th-century antiques. The harpsichord belonged to Nelly Parke Custis, Martha’s youngest granddaughter, who played for their guests. In 1917, Thomas Edison company wired the house with electricity.

The virtual tour was attended by more than 200 people who enjoyed an hour of historical knowledge and facts from Ford. There was never a dull moment during the virtual tour, and attendees were eager to learn a more personal history.

In the last 30 minutes of the session, Philisa Johnson, AARP Virginia Associate State Director of Community Outreach, an Bobby Horne, AARP Virginia  Volunteer, fielded questions from the attendees.

Attendees asked many questions ranging from personal information about the Washington family, to questions about the mansion. Some of these questions addressed; 1. George Washington’s wooden teeth; 2. the tombs built after Washington's death; 3. the ceiling decor in the dining room; 4. the most profitable ventures that sustained the mansion; 5. the number of guests who stayed at the mansion; 6. the bed bugs problems; 7. the story behind the signature split over the doorways in the Central Room; 8. the number of slaves that were freed after his death; 9. And was his mother destitute? All of these questions were answered by Ford. To find the answers to these questions and more, take a virtual or in-person tour or read more about George Washington's Mount Vernon, https://www.mountvernon.org/.

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