Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon from the Potomac River

George and Martha Washington's tomb
Location, location, location. Whoever chose to situate Mount Vernon atop the hill overlooking the Potomac River sure knew what they were doing. The house is clearly visible from the river, but it’s not until you actually visit that you get the full effect. We anchored across the river and dinghied over to the wharf and met the very congenial wharfmaster, Bill. We intended to spend maybe an hour or two, and ended up spending most of the day. There’s a lot to see: the house and outhouses, the gardens and orchards, the farm plot and animals, not to mention the informative visitor center and the museum. It turns out that George Washington was also much more than just the leader of the Continental Army and our first president (as if that wasn’t enough). He was a farmer at heart who devised an innovative schedule of crop rotation and soil amendment to maintain and improve soil quality.  More than half of his 8,000 acres was native woodland, which he also managed with an eye toward conservation.  He developed a sixteen-sided barn with two stories – grains were strewn on the floor of the outer ring of the upper story, and horses were trotted over them. The freed grain heads fell through the narrow spaces between the boards onto the wooden floor of the first story. This enabled the process to be conducted indoors, and the grain to be kept clean on the floor instead of in the dirt. I thought that was pretty ingenious. He was an amateur architect, designing two additions to the main house. Several heritage breeds of animals are kept and bred at Mount Vernon, including Hog Island sheep, Milking Devon cattle, Shire horses, and Ossabaw Island hogs. George and Martha are both entombed here. What I found particularly fascinating was that George Washington was originally a British soldier (because all colonists were British citizens) who rose quickly in the ranks due to his skill as a commander, but quit the army because he was denied a senior promotion. Consequently, a number of years later he was available to lead the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. If the Brits hadn’t been so disdainful of the colonists, and promoted Washington, would we still be British? Mount Vernon is well worth the trip by land or by sea (I know, I know, that’s Paul Revere’s line, but it is Revolutionary War related).
Beautiful heritage-breed cattle

This is where horses would trot around in the 16-sided barn, knocking the heads off the grains
Fruit trees expaliered across the garden wall
A 3-seat necessary (outhouse)

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