You may already know that Mount Vernon was the home of George Washington, often referred to as the Father of Our Country. But did you know that if you get to Mount Vernon early you can ask to raise the flag that flies over the estate? That a faux finish makes the pine paneling in the home’s central passage appear to be expensive mahogany? That George, while Martha’s true love, was not her first husband? Or that since 1860 visitors have made the estate America’s most visited historic home?
Stop first at the Ford Orientation Center (Ford’s support for Mount Vernon dates back to the donation of the estate’s first fire engine, in 1923) and the Donald W. Reynolds Museum & Education Center, part of a recently completed $110 million underground education center and museum at the estate. At the orientation center, you’ll be greeted by life-sized bronze sculptures of George, Martha, and Martha’s two grandchildren, view an 18-minute film, “We Fight to Be Free,” an action-adventure movie on Washington’s life, and see a 1-12th scale replica of the mansion, valued at more than $500,000. Here’s a mind-boggler—some of the replica’s details were hand-painted with a single mouse whisker!Once you’re oriented, head into the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center, where you’ll walk through Washington’s life from his early years as a surveyor in western Virginia, his time as a soldier and leader, his domestic affairs, and finally his death of complications from a peritonsillar abscess, or quinsy, at age 67. This interactive, multi-sensory center offers incredible experiences for adults and children, including a theater in which the seats rumble a as the cannons fire at Valley Forge and snow falls as Washington and his troops cross the Delaware. You can also try out your surveying skills using tools Washington himself might have employed, and see a CSI-style forensic re-creation of Washington’s face during various periods of his life.
In between learn about Washington’s service in the French and Indian War, and later, his leadership during the Revolution, his marriage to Martha Dandridge Custis, his visionary entrepreneurship, his position on slavery, and even his dental woes. (And no, his teeth weren’t made of wood.) Afterward, head to the mansion for a tour. The expert docents will make sure you don’t miss a thing.
When you’re through, you’ll want to take a few minutes to visit the 16-sided barn, where an extensive variety of heritage breeds—including Ossabaw Island Hogs (which date back to the 17th century Spanish explorers), rare Hogg Island sheep (only 200 are left in existence), and many more heritage breed animals can be seen. There’s lots more to do, including a visit to the incredible gardens, the kitchen, the slave quarters, and George and Martha’s graves, where a wreath-laying ceremony takes place daily.Make sure to review all the options before you start the tour, so you’ll know what to see and when. If you’re hungry (and who wouldn’t be after that walk through history) Mount Vernon offers a plethora of options at its food court, and at the Mount Vernon Inn, where a slightly more refined experience awaits.