A Historical Weekend In Mount Vernon, Virginia - My Family Travels

There’s a safe place to step back in time and experience American history, and that’s at Mount Vernon. The Mt. Vernon estate is George and Martha Washington’s home and farm in Virginia. Take the kids now to learn about the Washingtons’ 18th-century lifestyle, the job of America’s first president and what democracy meant in that era.

Mount Vernon, on the banks of the Potomac River, boasts beautiful landscaping at any time of year.
Mount Vernon, on the banks of the Potomac River, boasts beautiful landscaping at any time of year. Photo by Rob Schenk for MVLA.

On the banks of the Potomac River just 15 miles south of our nation’s capital, George Washington’s Mount Vernon sits amidst 500 acres of rolling fields and beautifully manicured lawns.

With strict public health protocols in place, visit safely for a glimpse of how our first president, his family and the slaves who supported his enterprises lived. Not every exhibit is in operation, so book the audio guide and allow time to listen to costumed interpreters nearby the historic area and at the tomb. There are frequently scheduled in-person events at the estate while even more are broadcast online.

Black History at the Home of the Man who believed “All Men are Created Equal”

Mount Vernon restored sitting room, photo by Gavin Ashworth.
Imagine how the President and his family received guests at Mount Vernon’s restored sitting room. Photo by Gavin Ashworth.

Join historic interpreters at the estate’s Slave Quarters to talk about the lives and achievements of its former slaves, a difficult topic that the estate has come to terms with. Daily throughout February, which is Black History Month, there are many special programs on the grounds and at the slave memorial.

During the Washingtons’ lifetime, the slave quarters stretched across the five farms on property to house 317 enslaved peoples. When George Washington died, his will asked that all slaves be freed. However, slaves who belonged to his wife or her family’s estate were kept in bondage and passed on to their heirs. Book ahead for the special 60-minute Enslaved People of Mount Vernon Tour held weekends in winter, at least once per day; no charge.

Presidents Day at Mount Vernon

Of course, many families associate the February Presidents Day school break with Washington. The holiday was actually established to commemorate Washington’s birth date of Feb. 22 in 1879. When the celebration date moved to the third Monday of February in 1968, many states decided that since it fell between Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays, the holiday should be renamed Presidents Day.

In the past, his birthday has been celebrated at Mount Vernon with what was, according to records, his favorite breakfast: “hoecakes swimming in butter and honey,” followed by a parade. One day of this weekend is usually free to the public. On this day, see a traditional wreath-laying ceremony at Washington’s Tomb, followed by patriotic music and military performances on Bowling Green.

Year Round Events at Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon's back lawn is often the site of special festivals and events.
Mount Vernon’s back lawn is often the site of special festivals and events. Photo c. MVLA.

Among the many festivals held there year-round, it is the annual Colonial Market & Fair, usually held the weekend after Labor Day each September, that turns that small glimpse into a complete view.

Dozens of artisans, performers, and historians (all in period dress) entertain and educate visitors to bring the historic site to life. Traditional colonial recipes are dusted off, too, providing tasty treats for the whole family.

Skilled craftsmen working in tin, ceramics, glass, and wax are at work all weekend, answering questions, conducting demonstrations and selling some wares. Watch as uniformed militia march and speak with them in their camp. Of course, thr ground floor of President Washington’s home itself is open for tours as usual.

Whenever you go, try to visit the reconstructed distillery producing small batch spirits and the working gristmill which are located less than 3 miles from the estate’s main entrance.

Best Times to Visit the Washington’s Home

Newly refurbished breakfast room at Mount Vernon. Photo by MVLA.
The newly refurbished breakfast room at Mount Vernon. Photo by MVLA.

Spring is a special time to visit because the grounds are in bloom. Summer, especially weeekends, is the busiest time of year. Visitors can easily spend an entire day at the riverside estate, 25 galleries and theaters, more than 700 artifacts, and interactive displays that introduce visitors to the real George Washington. The most famous dentures in the world (made of hippopotamus ivory) are on permanent display, along with three life-size models of Washington created from a forensic investigation.

Even in the dead of winter, Mt. Vernon is a worthwhile site. Holiday season, Christmas and winter weekends bring opportunities to admire colonial decor, chat with soldiers at an 18th-century winter encampment, study the activity inside an active blacksmith shop, peruse the crafts at the estate’s gift shop and snack from the on-site food truck.

In addition to the daily Mansion tours, allow extra time to explore the 45 acres that are open for touring. Explore the Pioneer Farmer’s 16-sided treading barn and stroll a quarter-mile through oak, holly and laurel woods, past Washington’s cobble quarry and a Native American site.

Trip Planning Details for Mt. Vernon

The Morrison-Clark Historic Inn has a 1 bedroom duplex suite in a colonial-era carriage house.
The Morrison-Clark Historic Inn has a 1 bedroom duplex suite in the back, located in an old brick carriage house.

Admission to Mount Vernon includes special programs and events; children under 5 are always welcome free of charge. During the pandemic era, this site operates at limited capacity with enforced mask wearing and social distancing regulations. Tours are limited, with more access to the grounds and less of the mansion interior open.

If you, like most families visiting Mt. Vernon, choose to stay overnight, consider nearby Washington DC, where there are so many other presidential things to see and do with the family. And a big bonus: take a Potomac Riverboat Company cruise excursion weekends to Mount Vernon from DC or Alexandria — including time for sightseeing.

There are two historic hotels we like in the District. The Morrison-Clark Historic Hotel is a charming landmark near Chinatown. Many rooms have pull-out sofas to accommodate families; suites are available. The Lombardy Hotel is just a few blocks from the White House and also has suites, plus full kitchens.

For more choices, contact your travel agent or the Washington, DC C & VB. Remember that many chain hotels and budget motels offer lesser-priced accommodations in neighboring Maryland and Virginia. Mount Vernon, a private, non-profit museum supported by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union, posts its tours, Black History Month or other events online at www.mountvernon.org.

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