Wow what a great couple days! After signing our contract, Saturday we headed up to Washington D.C. to see Mount Vernon. We had a couple of goals in visiting the home of George Washington. First we had heard that the gardens were grand. We hoped to gather some ideas for layouts and plants that will help us plan our gardens at Belle Grove. Second, being a Virginia Plantation home that was built in 1735, we could also get some ideas for the furniture and designs of the interior of a colonial home. We also wanted to visit so we could recommend it as a place to go while our guests are visiting our plantation.
I had been to Mount Vernon twice before, but this was Brett’s first visit. It has been years since I had gone and a few things had changed since my last visit. One thing I remembered was how tricky it can be finding it. All I can say is I don’t know what I did before GPS! Thankfully when we arrived, we were able to find a parking space pretty close to the entry.
When we walked into the Orientation Center, we were first greeted by life size statues of General Washington, Martha and their grandchildren, Eleanor Parke Custis (Nelly)at age 6 and George Washington Parke Custis (called “Wash” or “Tub”) at age 4. The first thing we did was measure Brett against General Washington’s 6’2” frame. One thing we did notice was how much shorter Martha was. She was only 5’5”.
From there we headed to the front entry gate. This has to be the best place to first view Mount Vernon. As we walked in and started around towards the Upper Garden, we found a sign that talked about the grassy area in the circle at the front of the house. This area is called the “Bowling Green”. By definition, a bowling green is a finely-laid, closely-mown and rolled stretch of lawn for playing the game of lawn bowls. Now I don’t know if they played lawn bowls, but I love the name they use for it. We have a similar area in front of Belle Grove. All this time, I have been just calling it the grassy area in the circle. Now I think we are going to follow suit and call it our bowling green. Who knows, maybe we can learn how to play lawn bowling and have some fun at the plantation!
As we rounded the circle, we came upon some very large trees. Each of these trees were marked with the time that they were planted. I couldn’t believe it! Some of these trees were planted during the same time period when Belle Grove was built! What wonderful pieces of living history to see and touch! If only these trees could talk, what story they would have!
The Upper Garden was our first stop. This garden had a dual purpose. It was both beautiful and productive. It features three large planting areas with wide paths. The beds are edged with short boxwoods. Just inside this edging was a ten foot wide border of fruit trees, shrubs, roses, annual and perennial flowers. The center section was where vegetables were grown and would supplement the production of the Lower Garden. The most formal section of the Upper Garden is a set of boxwood parterres, which incorporate the French fleur-de-lis as a major design element.
From here we made our way across the bowling green to the right side of the house. Here we walked to the river view of the manor home. Mount Vernon sits on a high bluff that overlooks the Potomac River and across the river to Maryland. The porch extends the full length of the manor house and offers a large area to sit and enjoy the cool breezes that come up from the river.
We then made our way back to the side of the house where we viewed several of the dependencies. One of the first ones Brett wanted to see was the Smokehouse. He commented that it was just a little bigger than the one at Belle Grove. We also peeked into the Wash House and Coach House. What a beautiful carriage General Washington had! The one that was shown wasn’t owned by Washington, but was an example of what he had.
From here, we started down a steep hill towards the Tomb of the Washington. Also by this point, we had started getting a little hot. The day was very hot (around upper 80s to lower 90s) and quite humid. As we walked down, I started thinking about what a walk back up this was going to be. When we arrived at the tomb, there really weren’t too many people there. It was very quiet and peaceful. The two sarcophagus were simple white marble and the lid of General Washington’s decorated with an eagle and shield. General Washington had been buried earlier in another tomb until this tomb could be built according to his will.
After the long hike back up the hill from the tomb, we headed over to the Lower Garden. The Lower Garden or Kitchen garden is where many varieties of vegetables, fruits and herbs were grown. The high brick walls were used to create a warm environment that extended the planting season and would have kept the wildlife out of the garden. The garden was placed on a slope so it had to be terraced to create two flat planting areas and would have a southern exposure.
After walking the Lower Garden, we were pretty hot and headed back over to the start of the manor house line. We were about 30 minutes before our tour time, but were allowed to go ahead and enter the line for the manor. As we made our way up, we came upon a sign that talked about the exterior walls of Mount Vernon.
The mansion is made of wood, but was treated to look like stone. Long pine boards were grooved and beveled to create the appearance of masonry. Then the boards were varnished and painted. Before they dried a fine sand was thrown on the wet paint. This rustication technique was used on the mansion in 1757-1769, just a few years after Mount Vernon became his home.
As we made our way through the line, we were given a chance to see the Servant’s Hall just to the left of the mansion. From there, we walked along the covered arched walkways towards the house. It is from this walkway you can see the outside of the palladian window of the formal entertainment room.
When I last visited Mount Vernon, several years ago, the tour was done in groups and was only in the main level of the mansion. Today, the tour was more of the line that you walk through from the entertainment room, to the river view porch, back into the main hall where you see two bedrooms, a small parlor and dining room. Then its upstairs to three bedrooms, on with a portrait of Marquis De Lafayette. Lafayette visited Mount Vernon on his visits to America. From here, we made our way through another bedroom, which at first I thought might be the Washington’s room since it was the only bedroom that we had been allowed to enter and walk through. But just on the other side was another bedroom, which had been part of an extension General Washington had added to Mount Vernon. Then it was back downstairs and into the private study of General Washington. After about 20 minutes, the tour was over.
Brett and I have been to several of the Founding Father’s homes. Of the three that we have seen, Monticello, Montpelier and Mount Vernon, only Mount Vernon had left me feeling like there was so much more information and history that was not mentioned during the tour. The mansion had tour guides staged at different points along the walking tour. They all seemed to have about three or four statements that they made over and over. When I wanted to stop and ask a question, the tour guide seemed a little baffled by my question (the question was in the entertainment room and I asked if the plaster accents were colonial or were they added sometime later in the Victorian period?) I was told they were colonial and he walked away before I could really get any more questions out. Also because there was a long line of people behind me, I didn’t feel like I could stop and ask too many questions, even though I really wanted to. I did find out that the mansion is 9200 square feet. Belle Grove is just 1200 shy at 8000 square feet.
After the tour, we were hot and a bit drained, so we headed back over to the Museum and Education Center. Here we could have gotten more information I am sure than what we got inside the mansion. But at this point we were to tired to make it through. It will have to wait until another day.
All in all it was a really good visit. The gardens gave us more ideas and we now have a name of our grassy area. When we have guest come to Belle Grove, when we recommend Mount Vernon, we will offer the following advise:
- Plan an early and all day event. With the traffic you can run into on Highway 95, your travel time from Belle Grove to Mount Vernon could be from one to two hours depending on the traffic.
- Plan your visit ahead of time. Know what you want to see and where you want walk.
- Wear comfortable tennis shoe. The hills are not kind to flip flops.
- Try to plan your trip in cool weather. The heat and humid were very hard on us and Mount Vernon doesn’t offer many places to get out of the heat.
We decided to stay the night in Fredericksburg at the Schooler House Inn. We arrived just long enough to drop our belongings off and head over to an Italian Restaurant Brett wanted to try. This restaurant called “Ristorante Renato” is located on William Street in Fredericksburg. It is a cozy semi formal restaurant in an older building. We arrived in blue jeans and the other guests were casual or blue jeans as well.The decor was just a little dated and the waitstaff were all in tux shirts and bow ties, but the food was really good.
We started out with an Antipasti Misto for two with prosciutto, salami, mushrooms, mozzarella, olives, anchovies, shrimp, and marinated vegetables. Then we had a house salad followed by our entrees. Brett ordered his favorite Italian dish, basic spaghetti with meat balls and mushrooms added. I ordered Agnolotti (or Ravioli). The raviolis were white pillows filled with baked spinach in a cream cheese sauce. When I got my dish at first I was a little disappointed that it was only four small raviolis, but after eating them, I see why. They are so filling! And the taste was out of this world! I have never had a ravioli that simply dissolved in your mouth! I would eat that every night if you asked me! At the end of the entree we decided no dessert for us tonight. Both dishes filled us and satisfied our taste buds.
As we made our way back to Schooler House Bed and Breakfast, we made a quick trip to the river to see the paddle boat that is docked downtown. It is small river boat the offers a meal and trip down the Rappahannock River. We are going to have to schedule a trip on this soon! I don’t know how far down river it goes, but it would be so cool to furnish a dock for it to come to Belle Grove!
We headed back up Caroline Street and made one more stop for the night at the Virginia Wine Experience store. Here you can find Virginia Wines from 80 vineyards represented of the over 200 vineyards of Virginia. One of our favorites is Ingleside and I knew that they carried one of our favorite wines, “Sweet Virginia Rose”. This red is a sweeter dessert wine that is a pleasure to enjoy. With bottle in hand, we arrived at Schooler House.
We got ready for the night and settled in for a glass of our “Sweet Virginia Rose”. As Brett caught up on his college football scores, I grabbed one of the many books that Andi, the innkeeper offers guest to enjoy. I picked up a book on “Ghost of Fredericksburg and the surrounding area” . I was kind of hoping to see Belle Grove or one of the other plantation in the book. But the closest it got was a story about John Wilkes Booth. An hour or so later, Brett and I snuggled down in our warm and very comfortable bed and quickly fell asleep.
To be continued…
I’ve lived in Virginia for over 40 years and never get tired of visiting Mt. Vernon…..I just love everything about it but especially the gardens.
It was a wonderful place. Just a little to hot on Saturday. But the gardens are just beautiful!
Mount Vernon looks very impressive and the dining room… wow. Your blog really makes me want to visit Virginia.
Thank you! Mount Vernon was just beautiful. You should come see us in Virginia. I know a good B&B that will be opening soon. 😉
that home is just beautiful……………………loved this post!
Thank you! It was beautiful.
Want to visit!
So come on! We hope to be open in March or April!
You’ve convinced me that I need to get back to Mount Vernon.
Yes I have been there three times now and I still need to get back and finish seeing it!
Your pictures sure took me down memory lane! We went to Mount Vernon way back in 1996. Everyone should visit it.
I’m glad we were able to share it and it brought back good memories for you! I agree, everyone needs to go at least once in their lives.
Beautiful Stained Glass Windows at Mt. Vernon, George Wahington’s Estate Home.
It was a beautiful stain glass, but it wasn’t in the mansion. It was just a display in the Orientation Center.
Reblogged this on GHung's Blog.
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What a fantastic place! It’s too bad they don’t spend a bit more time on the history. Seems like they could have a short tour (for the folks with kids or non-history buffs) and a longer more in depth tour for those of us who want to hear it all!
I 100% agree! That would solve the issue perfectly!
S. Thomas Summers
Author of Private Hercules McGraw: Poems of the American Civil War
Again… thank you! 😉
What a fun trip! Thank you for sharing 🙂 The grounds of Mt. Vernon are absolutely gorgeous. And the picture of the smokehouse? Amazing! Are those real hams?
Am just getting the chance to slowly catch up on blog posts now. Looks like you have had a wonderful summer! And congrats on the contract!
Baconbiscuit! I have missed you! Glad to see you back! Thank you! The visit was really nice (except the heat) Nope not real hams.
Thanks! I missed you guys too! The dissertation took over my life! Looking forward to catching up 🙂
Fake ham? That is a really sad thought!
So are you done with the dissertation or are you just taking a break?
I know, fake ham is just not right. 😉
I just defended last Wednesday. Revisions due Sept 14, then graduation.
Fake ham is wrong!
Way to go! Where do you go from here?
I totally agree!
Thanks! Right now, I need a break. I almost killed myself near the end. Like 6 weeks of only 1-3 hours of sleep a night.
This fall, I will start turning my chapters into articles and conference papers so I can start applying for jobs. It’s a long process!
Wow! And I thought my journey was going to be tough! You should be so proud of yourself to make it through!
I will really breathe once all the revisions are done by next week. It has been a long slog!
I truly understand. We have been at the contract for 412 days by the time we got it signed. But knowing that it is done gives such a great satisfaction.
Everyone can refer to me as Dr. Baconbiscuit now 🙂
haha… that is just too cool!
I’m am now the most useless kind of doctor 🙂
What area of study?
I’m in the French Department.
So what do you want to do with it?
Million dollar question! Is it okay that I don’t have an answer to that yet?
Nope.. you don’t have to have answer yet. You just got done running the race. Take a breather and relax. The answer will reveal itself in time.
Thanks! I spent the weekend eating nachos and staring at the wall.
It. Was. AWESOME!
haha.. well don’t do that too much… people will talk 😉
Yes. And clothes will become too small 😉
That is so true! Look at me! I taste my food way too much! 😉
But nachos taste sooo good!
You’re so funny 😉
Must have just missed you at Mt. Vernon. We were there on Thursday. It was also a hot day, but I enjoyed the tour and the house and all of the out buildings. I think everything was very well presented and this should be a must see for everyone.
Aw.. yeah we were there on Saturday. Also a very hot and humid day. It was a beautiful visit and I just love the house. We are going to have to go back on a cooler day to see the rest.
You made the trip come alive in your photos. Thank you.
Thank you so much! You know I just love taking pictures. It helps me tell the story!
Great photos and article!!
Thank you! It was fun to experience and great to share!
There are so many beautiful homes and historical sites in Virginia I am afraid that if I lived there, I’d quit my job and become a full-time tourist!
Funny you say that because that is almost what I feel like right now. But once we get the Bed and Breakfast going, I won’t have the time to see and enjoy them like I am now.
We only toured the exterior when we visited Mt. Vernon — the grounds are so expansive, I enjoyed revisiting them again through your blog! My tip for future visitors would be to get in line to tour the house FIRST, before the grounds, if that is of interest to you — the line seemed to only grow as the day went on!
You know, we got there later in the day and by the time our time (3:40) was there, the line wasn’t long at all. But I agree, the grounds are expansive. You really need like two days to see everything. Glad you enjoyed your “visit” with us! 😉
Thanks for finally completing my tour of Mount Vernon. I went with my parents and little sister back in the sixties, but right after we took the house tour, my little sister wandered off. Our visit became a frantic search for the six year old Susan. They were actually beginning to discuss calling divers when she finally appeared. A couple had found her alone across the bridge and thought her parents surely must be on that side of the water, so they stayed with her. Because Susan was with a couple, the security didn’t think she was the missing child. Quite a day, but we certainly didn’t get the history lesson you did.
Holy Cow! That would have been a nightmare for me as I am sure it was for your family! I am glad you got to “see” the rest of it. Maybe some day you can stay at the plantation and see it for real!
Actually I’m looking forward to it – so get busy 🙂
Haha… I am, I am!
I love Fredericksburg and especially the Virginia Wine Experience! They carry my favorite wines from Peaks of Otter Winery! You need to venture out to Southwest Virginia sometime to visit it yourself!
We have been to South Boston and Berry Hill Plantation. Where is Peaks of Otter Winery?
Too funny what a small world it is — we were at Mt. Vernon last weekend too. (We were there on Saturday — not sure what day you went) and had a great time. I made a post on my blog about how the Washington’s used Feigned Rustication to make the wood exterior look like stone. We miss being in VA already.
Wow! We could have walked pass each other and didn’t know! We were there around 2 to 5pm. We went into the mansion around 3:15pm. It was a great time, just a little too hot and humid to be walking up that hill from the tomb! But you will have to come back soon so you stay with us!
Wow, that was the same time range we were there on Saturday. I think our Mansion tour was scheduled for 2:50pm and I agree with you on that big hill. I’ll keep an eye out for your B&B for the next time we visit VA.
Thank you! Maybe we were just behind you!
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I was just reading a book on the restoration of Montpelier I got when visiting Madison’s home on that same trip and saw it mention Belle Grove as the place they honeymooned — too funny what a small world it is. 🙂
Well, I need to correct this thought. The Belle Grove they honeymooned at is the Belle Grove in Middletown, Virginia. The Middletown Belle Grove was built in 1794 and was owned by James Madison’s sister Nellie Madison Hite and her husband Isaac Hite. Our Belle Grove is in Port Conway, Virginia and the current house was built in 1791. The previous house, which was owned by James Madison’s Grandmother, Rebecca Catlett Conway Moore, burned down just before the current house was built. We believe the foundation for Rebecca’s house is under the current house. It was Rebecca’s house that James Madison’s mother Nellie Conway Madison was born in and grew up in. It was also the home that his mother came back to to have her first child James Madison. When James’s sister was naming her new plantation home, she chose to name it after “Mother’s home”.
That is great info, thank you for sharing that.
No problem, it is a common mix up. It’s hard to have the same name in the same state with the same connection to the same president. 😉
Cream cheese sauce sounds super yummy.
Yes it really was! Thank you!