Mount Vernon today is well visited and well-studied. There are archaeology digs to find out more information on the site and a constant effort to keep it in shape and true to the time when George Washington lived there. The view from the house is even preserved. Really. Visitors can now look across the Potomac River and see just what George Washington would have seen. But that wasn’t always the case. There was a time when Mount Vernon was crumbling and Ann Pamela Cunningham, followed by other strong women, were struggling to save it.
It’s 1853 and Ann Pamela Cunningham’s mother is traveling down the Potomac River. She takes notice of the house and remarks to her daughter how Mount Vernon is dilapidated and falling into ruin.
Yep that’s ship masts holding up the front of the house. Mount Vernon is made of wood and wood, unfortunately, doesn’t hold up well over time. I know it looks like stone, but it is actually painted with sand to appear that way. It’s genius really. Anyway, back to the story.
Ann decided she was going to put everything she has into trying to save the home. It takes her 7 years, but she forms the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association and comes into possession of the home in 1860; just in time for the Civil War.
Mount Vernon is not in a good area to be out of harm’s way during the war. Sarah C. Tracey, part of the MVLA, scrambles to get orders from both sides to protect the house from looting or destruction. She obtains the documents needed to keep troops off of the grounds, but this doesn’t mean she didn’t run into trouble from time to time.
Sarah at one point had to smuggle the funds to pay for Mount Vernon in her produce basket. She got it to a safe deposit box and away from looters. She also complained in person to President Lincoln that the troops were keeping her from going to get groceries. Can you imagine going up to President Lincoln in the middle of the war about your grocery troubles?! Sarah was really quite the woman.
Mount Vernon was kept safe and after the war, the MVLA continued to preserve the estate. In fact, they still own and preserve the house today.
Knowing all the effort that was put into saving the home of America’s founding father, it’s really amazing how much was saved. They were the first successful national preservation effort in the United States and inspired other groups across the country. A lot of historic sites might not be here today if it had not been for these women.
Tips on Visiting Mount Vernon
- Make sure to pay the extra money for the extended tour. I felt so sorry for the huge line of people standing in the sweltering heat and sun waiting to walk through. We sat under the shade and took a private tour which included the nice cool basement!
- Get the last tour of the day. We got to see the grounds without a ton of people everywhere.
- Get there early! We missed out on so much by making it there at 11. It’s really an all day thing. You’ll want to walk the grounds, view the museum, and take a break from the heat by viewing videos in their auditorium. We missed out on the videos. had to run through the museum, and missed out on seeing the pioneer farm.
- Pack a Lunch. The food in the food court is not good and pricey. You are able to leave and come back in with your pass.
- They close up fast. When they say they close at 5 they mean it. Our tour ended at 5 and we were being quickly hustled out. No quick stops for a last minute photo.
Visit Mount Vernon’s Website for more info
Things to Do Nearby
- Obviously, Washington DC is worth a visit
- Frank Llyod Wright’s Pope-Leighey house
- Woodlawn– An historic home that was once a part of Mount Vernon
- Explore Alexandra– Historic city that gets over looked next to Washington DC. There are some structures that have survived since George Washington’s time.
Dubrow & Goodman, Restoring Women’s History through Historic Preservation
Lee, Jean B., Experience Mount Vernon: Eyewitness Accounts, 1784-1865
Garrett, Wendell, George Washington’s Mount Vernon