In the mid-18th century, George Washington purchased from a family member a small story-and-a-half wood frame house overlooking the Potomac River. Over the next four decades, he substantially rebuilt the house, reflecting his own evolving status from militia member to commander-in-chief of the Continental Army to the first president of the United States of America.
Historian Laura A. Macaluso traces the development of Mount Vernon from a traditional Virginia farmhouse to a splendid Georgian mansion decorated in color schemes done in the highest contemporary style. She covers highlights of the interior, including Washington’s painting collection of American waterways, the key to the Bastille, and his personal study, which reflects his love for technology, learning, and family.
Macaluso addresses the workings of Mount Vernon both as a house and as part of an 8,000-acre plantation on which more than 300 enslaved men, women, and children lived and worked. She looks at Mount Vernon’s outbuildings and sites where that work took place, including gardens, orchard, greenhouse, and its Pioneer Farm, as well as Washington’s tomb and the cemetery for the enslaved. Surveying the environs of Mount Vernon, she discusses Washington’s gristmill and distillery and other plantation sites such as Muddy Hole and Woodlawn, which was built for Washington’s nephew and Martha Washington’s granddaughter, who married.
She also follows the estate’s history after the Washingtons’ deaths at the turn of the 19th century, Mount Vernon’s fall into disrepair, and how an organization of women came together to begin caring for what became the first historic house museum in the United States.
Macaluso is a cultural heritage specialist and author of A History Lover's Guide to Alexandria and Fairfax County.
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