Marlene had a free day and wasn’t sure just what to do with it. Her household duties were done for the week, the laundry had been sent out and Cook was busy in the kitchen prepping for the evening meal. There were no committee meetings to attend, no calling cards to answer, no appointments inked in her calendar. She had a free day all to herself. That’s when she decided to take a little excursion and visit Mt. Vernon, George and Martha Washington’s estate. Living in Alexandria, Virginia, across the Potomac from Washington, D.C., Marlene had never taken the time to visit the homestead of the Washington family and it was only sixteen miles to the south on Mt. Vernon Pike road.
Marlene caught the trolley on Cameron Street and headed south through Alexandria’s historical section and quickly came to the entrance gate of Mt. Vernon. She noted a lunchroom and small gift shop to the side of the road and planned to stop there after her visit to the impressive manor on the Potomac. After paying an entrance fee, Marlene joined a group of ladies lead by a docent that was rather enthusiastic in escorting the group down a aged English Boxwood lined path to a courtyard circle. Explaining that the boxwood plantings were started with a slip given to President Washington by Major General Henry Lee III (Robert E. Lee’s father). The ladies were then lead around to the front of the house and piazza. Marlene was impressed with slopping, treed hillside that gave way to the expansive view of the river. The guide explained that the balustrade and the small side porch were additions built by Bushrod Washington in the early 1800s and were added due to the increase of visitors to the estate. Marlene though she could sit in one of the wicker chairs lining the piazza and watch the river all afternoon.
But she continued with the tour as they all entered the front door to the mansion. The docent ushered the visitors past the front parlors, the dining room, the banquet hall, the little parlor with a working harpsichord and steered the group up stairs to the bedrooms. What amazed Marlene from the start was the wall coloring; a vivid palette in deep golds, bright yellows, rusty reds and sharp blues. She questioned the docent about the wall color selections and was assured they were the colors President Washington picked to adorn his home. Upstairs the bedroom doors were opened and gated with a velvet rope, so only a look from the hallway was permitted. Mr. and Mrs. Washington’s bedroom was sparse and simple. Marlene learned that the bed had been special order by Mrs. Washington from a company in Pennsylvania to fit the towering frame of the President. Up on the third floor was the little bedroom Mrs. Washington took after her husband died. The bedrooms seemed small to Marlene housed within such a huge manor. But there were many of them that housed guests, relatives and family members throughout President Washington’s time living in his homestead creation.
They were then guided back outside to view the separate family kitchen that was connected to the main house through a colonnade. The path took them towards the river, passing vegetable and flower gardens, rows of understated slave quarters, a blacksmith shop and ending at the wharf and the tomb of President and Mrs. Washington. After a quiet, reflective moment the group of ladies walked a short length along the river to the Pioneer Farm. The main working farm at Mt. Vernon with fields of produce, farm animals and carriage houses. Marlene could envision the busy activities that took place here over a century before. The mules the President liked to use, the hundreds of acres of land being tilled, planted and harvested by dark hands. Seeing the river bringing sailboats of guests to see the President to discuss important matters or coming to just be entertained.
After the docent thanked the ladies for allowing him to be their guide he bid them farewell and suggested they roam the estate at will and take in the beauty of the home of President George and Mrs. Martha Washington. Marlene slowly made her way back to the grounds’ entrance, quietly living in the past. She took a seat at the Mt. Vernon Lunch Room and enjoyed a bowl of clam chowder and yeasty rolls while gazing out the window at the line of sightseers entering the gates of the memorial the Mt. Vernon Ladies Association preserved. Marlene drifted over to the small gift shop and fingered printed towels with the President’s likeness and looked upon small sugar spoons with an emblem of the estate house at the end of its handle. She glanced through the many books offered about the President, Mt. Vernon and history books on the Revolutionary War and the making of the United States. But what caught Marlene’s eye was a blue glass water vessel, a replica of the ones used during the Washington’s time at Mt. Vernon. It had a squarish shape, with a fluted top for pouring with indentions of each side of the container that made it easy to pick up without slipping out of your hands. Marlene was pleased with her purchase and very pleased that she had paid a visit to Mt. Vernon to fill her free day.