Garden Club of Denver Travels to Historic Mount Vernon

On April 24th, 17 ladies from the Garden Club of Denver traveled to Washington, DC to visit Mount Vernon, home of George Washington. We were treated to horticulture and preservation tours of the Mansion and grounds, as well as a special tour of the George Washington Presidential Library. The weather was spectacular, the baby lambs born three months ago were stretching their legs, and the buds were blooming on the trees. A perfect time of year to visit the legacy of the most historic figure in our country’s 250 year history!
On Wednesday, our first evening, we enjoyed a delicious dinner at the Mount Vernon Inn and rested our heads in Quarters on the estate, home of the Vice Regents of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. Thursday morning, many woke early to see a beautiful sunrise over the Potomac River from the piazza of the Mansion. We enjoyed a hearty breakfast cooked by Aisha, one of Mount Vernon’s treasured longtime employees, and afterwards ventured across the estate grounds via foot and wagon with Dean Norton, Director of Horticulture & Livestock, who will celebrate his 55th year at Mount Vernon in June. We learned about all of the plantings from George Washington’s time and made our acquaintance with a towering Tulip Poplar planted in 1785 – four years before our nation’s constitution was ratified. The tree witnessed all the happenings at Mount Vernon during the last 14 years of Washington’s life. If trees could talk!
After touring the grounds, we made our way to the George Washington Presidential Library, which was built in 2013 to fulfill one of Washington’s dreams for a place to house his papers. The Washington Library is constructed of limestone and the wood from one American sycamore dating back to Washington’s time. We were treated with a visit to the most special room in the library, the Mars Rare Books Suite, for an up close and personal viewing of Mount Vernon’s unique acquisitions. These included  “the compleat surveyor: the whole art of surveying of land, by the plain table, theodolite, circumferentor, peractor, and other instruments: with divers kinds of mensuration, and matters pertinent to work of this nature: the whole treatise being comprised in VII Books,” by William Leybourn, 1679. This book dates back to Washington’s teenage years when he began his surveying career at age 17. Washington had this book borrowed from Colonel William Fairfax in his possession for 54 years and was acquired by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association in 2018.
From there, we ventured to the restored working Distillery and Gristmill just down the road from Mount Vernon. George Washington was an innovator and entrepreneur of all kinds and brewed his own whiskey and ground his own grits and flour. The products produced here today are some of the most popular sold and served in the gift shop and restaurant on the estate.
Our day continued into the evening with a moving wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb, the final resting place for George and Martha Washington and a number of family members. After an introduction to the tomb by a volunteer, Liz W. read “A Prayer by George Washington ” and Holley S. and Sarah A. laid the wreath alongside their tombs. We then proceeded to the Slave Memorial and paid our respects to both the free and enslaved people who worked so hard to keep the Mansion thriving in the 18th and 19th centuries.
That evening, we made our way to the Mansion and were treated to a private tour of the Washington Mansion by Dr. Susan Schoelwer, Executive Director of Historic Preservation & Collections and Robert H. Smith Senior Curator. Dr. Schoelwer shared the historical relevance of many objects inside the Mansion and spoke about the most intensive preservation efforts in the Mansion’s history. The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association was credited with starting the historic preservation movement in America in the 1850s, and the trailblazing Mansion Revitalization project underway now will strengthen the foundation of the Mansion, protects its contents from moisture, and allow for interpretation of the cellar – a vital part of the any 18th century home’s operations. Upon completion, the Mansion will be stronger than ever as it enters its fourth century and welcomes new generations to see the home where George Washington lived and died.  We toured the mansion top to bottom and saw the incredible work done to return the home to the way it was when George and Martha lived there, from wall colors, to furniture, to room location and furnishings. Lit up at night, it is a sight to see!
The evening would not have been complete without cocktails in the Upper Garden and a private and magical candlelight dinner in the greenhouse. Dr. Schoelwer accompanied us at this dinner and continued to regale us with her in-depth, historical knowledge of this spectacular historical estate.  We enjoyed yet another restful evening in Quarters after a full day of wonderful exploration, gracious hospitality and an education beyond imaginable!
-By Sarah A., Vice Regent for Colorado to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association
The Garden Club of Denver in front of George Washington’s Mansion, accompanied by Dean Norton. Photo courtesy of Sarah A.
The Garden Club of Denver at the George Washington Presidential Library, accompanied by Patrick Spero. Photo courtesy of Sarah A.
The Garden Club of Denver at the Tombs of George and Martha Washington. Photo courtesy of Sarah A.
Final evening dinner at the historic Greenhouse, Mount Vernon. Photo by Sarah A.