Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The House that George Washington Built

At the end of last May, we took an exciting tour of Washington, D.C., New Jersey, and New York City! We had an awesome time and it all started in Fairfax County, Virginia where our nation's first President called home.

Here we are in front of Mount Vernon! George Washington built this house in the 1700's using land he inherited from his father. He built it in the Palladian style of architecture, which featured a long green lawn leading up to the front door with tree-lined paths on each side of the lawn. It was meant to reflect a more natural style.

The mansion sits atop a hill overlooking the Potomac River. Jennifer, as a little girl, would roll down the hill to the river while her parents watched from the patio.

There was quite a crowd to get inside of Mount Vernon! This property is no stranger to crowds, however. When George Washington was living here, he and his wife Martha would entertain many guests from all around the world. Virginia in the 18th century was still a wild frontier, so hotels were scarce and good hospitality even more scarce. So, Washington build many guestrooms in the house, along with a large dining room and a ballroom. Cooking was done primarily in the other houses around the property.

Also not done in the house was "business", if you know what I mean. Like all homes in those times, the house had no indoor plumbing. Instead, George Washington built four octogonal-shaped huts around the property called "necessaries" where one could attend to one's business.

George Washington was a bit of an inventor. He innovated many things at Mount Vernon. One of his innovations was in the way the exterior of the home was finished. Blocks of nice sandstone were not available in the 1700's, so to give the appearance of stone, George Washington had his painters throw sand on the exterior walls while the paint was still drying. So, the house was built entirely of wood, but looked like it was built of stone!

George Washington developed other innovative solutions to his greenhouse and vegetable garden. The greenhouse, pictured in the background above, had huge windows that faced the sun and a large fireplace inside. This let Washington grow tropical plants in his greenhouse all winter long, including citrus trees! He also lined his vegetable garden (foreground) with small boxwood trees. These helped sheild the vegetables from cold weather, so the growing season was lengthened by the micro-climate Washington created.

Another Washington innovation is the fence he used to keep his livestock on the farm. Instead of building a traditional wall, he instead excavated a part of the hill and built a retaining wall. This way you could look out over the grounds from the house and not have the view broken up by any fences.

George Washington was famous for the food his house cooked. He loved fresh fish and hoe cakes. We tasted some fish and hoe cakes at the restaurant nearby.

It's easy to see why George Washington longed to spend his days at Mount Vernon. We had a great time and learned a lot about history in the process.

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