Mount Vernon's South Lane - Mount Vernon
Mount Vernon
Colonial Sense visited
the home of our first President, Mount Vernon on October 5, 2011. Our first part at the tour was taken in the interior of George Washington's Mansion. As a three year old in 1735, George lived on the property with his father, Augustine Washington, and family. Augustine acquired the property from his sister in 1726. The Mansion at Mount Vernon did not exist as we know it today, although a home existed on the site. By 1740, the property was given to George's older half-brother, Lawrence Washington. Prior to his death in 1752, Lawrence razed the original house and built a new one and one-half story home wider and longer likely on the site of the original foundation. The initials "LW" were found on a small rectangular stone in the partition wall of the Mansion basement. The stone would have been originally as a foundation corner of Lawrence's newly constructed home. It would have been moved into the wall by George Washington during the reconstruction of the basement in the 1770's.

Mount Vernon's South Lane - Stroll along Bowling Green towards Mount Vernon
Stroll along Bowling Green towards Mount Vernon
George acquired the property in 1754 and enlarged the house several times, once in 1757, and then again when his new bride, Martha moved into the Mansion in 1759. Exterior closest were added to the south and north gables, the structure was raised to two and one-half stories, and rusticated boards were added to the east and west facades. Rustication is a method where the long pine boards on the exterior are varnished and painted, and fine sand is thrown on the wet paint to imitate the look of stone. The interior of the Mansion was also redecorated during this expansion.

In 1773, George Washington made plans for additions to each end of the "Great house" and ordered materials from England. In July of the following summer he wrote to a friend:
"John has just delivered to me your favor of yesterday, which I shall be obliged to answer in a more concise manner, than I could wish, as I am very much engaged in raising one of the additions to my house, which I think (perhaps it is fancy) goes on better whilst I am present, than in my absence from the workmen."

By the fall of 1773, the building operations were underway shown is a letter written by a joiner that Washington employed:

"I am apprehensive that in the Bill of Scantling that I sent you it was orderd so as to have the Sleepers of Both the additions to Ly Length ways with the house if so the will not be Right by that means the floor will be aCross and the Gelling plank the Length of the addition will not answer the intended purpose of haveing no heading Joints in the Lower floors, the S[l]eepers Need not be More then 16 feet Long to Join on a Summer in the Middle that must be Layd Length ways of House, the Sleepers Must be the same Breadth & thickness as them Mention in the Bill & the Two Summers 10 by 14 and 22 foot Long

"I am Sir Yr Most Hum' Servt"
Washington had larger plans in mind, for he wanted to replace existing outbuildings with larger structures, develop bowling green, create service lanes, and enlarge the formal gardens.

Before the interior of the first Mansion was completed in May 1775, Washington left for the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia to become the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. In his absence, his manager and distant kinsman, Lund Washington, continued his extensive construction plans. One of the new additions was completed within two years. The connection colonnades and wing building were completed. Lund kept Washington apprised of the progress in forty-seven letters of correspondence which is part of the Association's manuscript collection.

We were disappointed in our visit to the interior of the Mansion. No photography is allowed. There were too many people left in the Mansion at one time. We also felt hurried through the rooms, especially in the library where part of our party didn't hear the speech given by the docent. In fact, they were made to leave to the exterior without hearing the explanation of the docent by the gentleman standing outside of the Mansion This part of the tour could be improved greatly if few people were left in each room and given a little more time.

Mount Vernon's South Lane - Stroll along South Lane
Stroll along South Lane
Instead we spent our time on the South Lane looking at the storehouse, kitchen, clerk's quarters, smokehouse, paint cellar, wash house, and the stables. We also spent time at the Tomb, The George Washington Museum, and The Archaeology and Restoration Museum. It is impossible to take time and see each part of Mount Vernon in just one day. You should give yourself a two day minimum to enjoy what Mount Vernon has to offer.

We want to focus on the South Lane and bring other parts of Mount Vernon to you at a later additions. The working we use for each area is taken from the actual placard onsite. The South Lane consists of a combined clerk's quarters and storehouse across from the kitchen. The clerk's quarters was used by Washington's secretary. After Washington's presidency, his business agent, Albin Rawlings, ran enterprises from the clerk's quarters. The cellar was used for paint storage used in the rustication process.

The smokehouse is so small in size that is seems unlikely that the pork, bacon, and ham stored here fed over six hundred quests in a years time. Lund Washington wrote to Washington in January 1776 of 132 hogs being slaughtered:
"When I put it up I expected Mrs. Washington would live at home, if you did not, and was I to judge the future from the past consumption, there would have been a use for it,- for I believe Mrs. Washington's charitable disposition increases in the same proportion with her meat house."
The work at the washhouse was done by two slave women who kept the clothes and linens washed and ironed. In order to not confuse which clothing belonged to which person, initials were embroidered on the articles of clothing to avoid any mix-up.

Mount Vernon's South Lane - Storehouse at Mount Vernon
Storehouse at Mount Vernon
"When Reuben finishes the work he is now engaged in, have his trowel taken from him and put into the Store."

George Washington to manager Anthony Whiting, June 2, 1794

Within sight of the Mansion, the storehouse was under the watchful eye of George Washington and his manager. From here, valuable supplies were dispersed: blankets, clothes and tools to slaves; nails and copper to the carpenters; leather and thread to the shoemaker; powder and shot to the huntsmen. The items stored here - more than 500 were listed in the inventory taken at Washington's death - were kept under lock and key. They were registered in a ledger, as was each distribution, so Washington could track the use of his goods.

Mount Vernon's South Lane - The Kitchen at Mount Vernon
The Kitchen at Mount Vernon
Mount Vernon's South Lane - Interior of the Larder at Mount Vernon
Interior of the Larder at Mount Vernon
"...a glass of wine and a bit of mutton are always ready, and such as will be content to partake of them are welcome, those who expect more will be disappointed..."

George Washington to George William Fairfax, June 26, 1786

As was common on Southern plantations, the kitchen was built as a separate building from the Mansion. This distanced the Washington family and their many guests from the kitchen's unpleasant smoke, heat, noise, and smell. The kitchen was a very busy space, and enslaved cooks Nathan and Lucy, as well as numerous scullions, worked seven days a week preparing meals for the Mansion's tables. In 1799, Mrs Forbes, the white hired housekeeper, lived in the rooms above the kitchen, where she could keep a close watch over the running of the household.

Mount Vernon's South Lane - Clerk's Quarters at Mount Vernon
Clerk's Quarters at Mount Vernon
Clerk's Quarters
"To copy and record letters and other Papers, to keep Books...and an account of articles received from and delivered to the Farms...would constitute your principle employment."

George Washington to Albin Rawlins, February 12, 1798

After his retirement from the presidency, George Washington hired Albin Rawlins to perform clerical duties and act as his business agent, especially when travel was required. Rawlins, a bachelor, found this room and the loft above to be sufficient living space. The quarters were convenient to the Mansion study, from which Washington could quickly summon his clerk, and the Mansion cellar where the white servants' dining room was located.

Mount Vernon's South Lane - Smokehouse at Mount Vernon
Smokehouse at Mount Vernon
A large supply of meat was necessary to feed the Washington family, their many guests, and the large number of slaves and servants at Mount Vernon. Small animals such as fowls and fish could be eaten before they spoiled, but larger animals, including hogs and cows, had to be preserve to last through the winter months. After slaves salted or pickled the meat, they hung it on their rails inside the smokehouse above a smoldering fires set into the pit in the center of the building. For long-term storage after smoking, the meats remained hanging or were packed in barrels filled with ashes.

Mount Vernon's South Lane - Paint Cellar at Mount Vernon
Paint Cellar at Mount Vernon
Paint Cellar
"Let the Oil and paint be put into some secure Cellar..."

George Washington to manager William Pearce, December 4, 1796

Maintaining the Mansion and outbuilding with fresh coats of paint was a continual, labor- intensive process. Tom Davis was one slave often called upon George Washington to maintain the red roofs and white siding of Mount Vernon's many buildings. Paint was an expensive commodity in 18th-century America and was imported in powder from which was then hand-mixed with linseed oil just before use. When not in use, the oils leftover mixed paints were stored here for safekeeping.

Mount Vernon's South Lane - Exterior view of Wash House at Mount Vernon
Exterior view of Wash House at Mount Vernon
Mount Vernon's South Lane - Interior View of Wash House at Mount Vernon
Interior View of Wash House at Mount Vernon
Wash House
Vina and Dolsey were two of the slave women who worked as many as six days a week washing laundry that belonged to the Washingtons, their guests, and some farm managers. They boiled water in a hot-water stove and plunged the laundry into the steaming water. The women then hand-scrubbed the fabric with soap made with lye and animal fat, rinsed the laundry, and dried it in the laundry yard. The washerwomen used irons heated in a fire or a large wooden mangle to press the laundry. It was a hot, dangerous, and difficult job; the slaves had to carry twenty-five to thirty buckets of water for each load of laundry.

Mount Vernon's South Lane - Lord Fairfax's Riding Chair
Lord Fairfax's Riding Chair
Mount Vernon's South Lane - Powel Coach
Powel Coach
Washington's Vehicles
George Washington had several horse-driven vehicles. Slaves, including Joe, a driver, and Jack, a wagoner, took care of the Mount Vernon vehicles. Travel during the 18th century was difficult. Poorly maintained roads meant that even short journeys were hazardous and that vehicles wore out quickly. Coach houses accommodated the variety of vehicles which Washington used for travel, including a small coach similar to the one you see here. Both this example and Washington's coach were made by well-known Philadelphia carriage makers David and Francis Clark.

Mount Vernon's South Lane - Stables at Mount Vernon
Stables at Mount Vernon
"The General himself...breaks all his own horses; and he is a very excellent and bold horseman, leaping the highest fences and going extremely quick."

Marquis De Chastellux, in his journal, Nov. 26, 1790

An avid rider and fox hunter, George Washington paid careful attention to the housing and care of his horses. Martha Washington shared this concern; she believed in riding as a form of exercise for women. The stable was the center of Mount Vernon's domestic transportation system. Six slaves worked in the stable area including Peter, who oversaw feeding and grooming the horses, cleaning harnesses and saddles, and collecting manure for later use as a fertilizer.

Mount Vernon's South Lane - Dung Repository at Mount Vernon
Dung Repository at Mount Vernon
Dung Repository
The "repository for dung" was designed to compost animal manure and a variety of organic materials to "cure" into fertilizer for use in the nearby gardens and orchard. The building illustrates George Washington's dedication to finding ways to improve the fertility of his soils and to convert Mount Vernon into a model of progressive farming. The original 31 X 12- foot, open walled structure was built in 1787 and was reconstructed in 2001. Archaeologists revealed remnants of the brick foundation walls, along with the virtually intact cobble stone floor, and they have been incorporated into the reconstructed building.
Source: Text & photos by Bryan Wright

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