April 2016 A to Z Challenge – I’m blogging about history.
M is for Mount Vernon.
Mount Vernon was the home of our first president, George Washington. It sits in Fairfax County, Virginia on the banks of the Potomac River.
The first to own the property was George’s great-grandfather, John Washington, and John’s friend Nicholas Spencer in 1674. The land was successfully acquired due to Nicholas working for Thomas Colepepper (my cousin). Colepepper was the English lord who controlled that part of Virginia for the Crown and no one bought property without his permission.
When John Washington died in 1677, his son Lawrence inherited his father’s part of the land. In 1690, Lawrence agreed to divide the 5,000 acres with the heirs of Nicholas Spencer, who had died the year before.
When Lawrence died in 1698, he left the property to his daughter Mildred. She leased the property to her brother Augustine (George’s dad) and he later bought it from her. He built a house on the site between 1726 and 1735 and called it Little Hunting Creek. The original foundation of that home is still visible in the present house’s cellar.
In 1739, Augustine’s eldest son Lawrence (George’s brother), who was twenty one years of age now, began buying up neighboring tracts of land from the Spencer family, enlarging the farm. When their father died, Lawrence inherited the property and changed the name to Mount Vernon. Lawrence died in 1752 and left some of the estate to his widow and the rest to his brother, George. Once the widow remarried and eventually died in 1761, George became the sole owner of the property.
In 1758, George began renovations on the house, raising it to two and a half stories. In the 1770s, just before the Revolution, he added even more, the final expansion rendering a twenty-one-room home with an area of 11,028 square feet! A majority of the work was completed by slaves. You can tell he wanted the home to be symmetrical, but if you look at the center door, you will see how far off it is. That probably drove George nuts every time he pulled up in front of the house.
Following George’s death in 1799, the home was passed down through several generations, but the estate progressively declined.
In 1858, the Mount Vernon Ladies Association saw the historical importance of the home and saved it from ruin. They paid the residents over $5 million in today’s money to purchase the home and they restored it. It is still owned and maintained by them and is opened every day of the year for the viewing public. The remains of George and Martha Washington are still on the property in a crypt behind the house.