October 30, 2011

A President Used to Live Here...

We often take for granted that history was written by the acts of ordinary (and in some cases extraordinary) people who changed the world. In fact we idolize the winners of history and often forget their human side. We create immortal statues and memorize the stories of their heroic acts. But, we forget the part that they were people with families and worries, just like everyone. And this is the part of their lives that fascinates me.

From grade school I remember reading various stories about George Washington, the first president to lead our young nation. There was George Washington and the cherry tree. There was George Washington crossing the Delaware River. There was George Washington being sworn in as the first president of the United States of America. Then there are the many statues of this man immortalized in stone or bronze. But, who was George Washington as a person? One of the places you might get a glimpse of this is at his home. And lucky for us,
this has been immortalized too.

One cloudy Sunday we decided to visit the home of President George Washington and his wife Martha. Just over half an hour drive south from where the nation’s capital is today, Mount Vernon is situated on a large estate along the Potomac River.

After parking our car we walked through the visitors center and left the world of tarmac and modern life behind. Soon we were walking through the estate on dirt paths, along side gardens and pastures, towards the home of our nation’s first president. The approach to the house is impressive even by today’s standards. There is a large grassy lawn tall trees on each side. The house is white with red roof tiles and a small cupola topped with a dove of peace weathervane.

As we watched up the left front drive towards the house the wind started to pick up and black clouds were soon overhead. It started to rain just as we got to the house. Once outside of the rain, a guide led us through the house starting in the servant's hall. Next we moved to the main house through the dining room, parlor, and downstairs bedrooms. The house is large by eighteenth century standards, and was quite elaborately decorated as well. However, it was interesting to remember that the house had very few amenities and no running water. (My husband Jonathan was a bit shocked to see that for personal hygiene the former president and his wife only had a small porcelain wash basin in their bedrooms.)

We left the house through the kitchen and went to my favorite part of Mount Vernon - porch and yard facing the Potomac River. It is a beautiful and dramatic view. I can imagine the President and Mrs. Washington sitting on that porch relaxing and enjoying the view with their family.
Looking out at the Potomac River from the porch.

I normally prefer travel adventures both near and far that center around exploring every day life today - more specifically cafes, food, wine, and chocolate. However, every once and a while it is good to step back in time and visit a place that reminds us how the world used to be.


Anonymous said...

It was nice to meet you and Jonathan last week! I've never been to Mount Vernon, though I heard you can sometimes get a very potent corn whiskey on certain holidays.

Rambling Tart said...

I love visiting historical places like this, Jessica. :-) I've never been to Mount Vernon, but I too am so intrigued with the mundane details of famous (or infamous!) people. I would've loved the porch best of all too. :-)

Jessica said...

@ vinicultured - Nice to meet you too! I did not know they had local beverages on holidays at Mount Vernon...

@ Rambling Tart - I love historical places too! I would love to sit on that porch with a warm cup of tea in the morning or glass of wine in the evening... What a view!