Washington’s Mt. Vernon enters new era

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Life-sized bronze sculptures of George and Martha Washington and Mrs. Washington's two grandchildren, Nelly and Washy, welcome visitors to the Ford Orientation Center at Washington's Estates & Gardens in Mount Vernon.

I picked up a copy of Where magazine while staying at the Westin Hotel in Falls Church, Va. and there was George Washington on the cover, bigger than life. George Washington, classically seated on his white stallion, Blueskin, is making more news than ever thanks to a successful $100 million campaign that has installed two new educational facilities at George Washington’s Estate & Gardens, which now reaches out to visitors on many levels.

This massive project, which debuted on Oct. 27 last year, has added so much to Mount Vernon that it now takes a full five hours to absorb all the technology and exhibitions recently installed here.

Making it a visual journey are 11 videos produced and donated by the History Channel, ranging from 45 seconds to six minutes and covering topics such as Washington and slavery, and Washington’s final presidential address.

Visitors traditionally began their tour at the Ford Orientation Center where an 18-minute movie entitled “We Fight to be Free,” produced by Greystone Films, introduces Washington in such a way that viewers understand the challenges he grappled with while strategizing the Revolutionary War.

James C. Rees, executive director of Mount Vernon, said that, in recent years, “Visitors coming to Mount Vernon have had only the basic knowledge about George Washington. To preserve his legacy, we are building new facilities to show visitors specifically why George Washington, the most dynamic leader of his time, was chosen again and again by the founding fathers to lead this country.”

Touring the actual mansion is just a fraction of Mount Vernon’s new image. New are “A Leader’s Smile Gallery,” “The People’s President” and the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Learning Center, where unexpected exhibits such as Washington’s voluminous correspondence are archived for viewing.

Before visiting the mansion, visitors should see the authentic one-twelfth replica of Mount Vernon valued at more than $500,000. This required 4,500 hours of labor and more than five years to complete. It gives visitor’s a stunning preview of what to expect at this 22-room house, right down to miniature blue and white Canton china hand painted with a mouse whisker!

Since 1860, more than 80 million visitors have toured George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens, making it the most popular historic home in America. It is owned and operated by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, a group founded in 1853. Sixteen miles from the nation’s capitol, it is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a food court, gift shops and a lovely colonial style restaurant serving a terrific peanut soup.

The essential introductory tour is a visit to the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center with 23 galleries and theaters portraying Washington’s world with interactive displays and a collection of more than 700 objects. George and Martha’s courtship and 40-year marriage is tastefully documented at the Melody Sawyer Richardson Theatre in a History Channel film narrated by Tony Award-winning actress Glenn Close. The theater is decorated like a parlor with portraits, a fireplace and rows of Windsor chairs.

Take a look at the “First in War Gallery,” where sits a 45-year old model of Valley Forge, with Washington astride his white horse. If you hear a sick soldier with a hacking cough, no need to leave; it’s emanating from the model, bunked in a reconstructed cabin that has been cooled to a wintertime temperature, just as it might have felt during the roughest months of the Revolutionary War. How is that for authenticity?

Mount Vernon is more than a museum. It is a sweeping view of American history with details that will fascinate visitors of all ages.

Information:

Admission fees are $13 adults, $12 seniors, $6 children, children under 6 are free.

www.mountvernon.org

703.780.2000

Pamela Price is the coauthor of “Fun With the Family in Southern CA, Globe Pequot Press