Driving to Mount Vernon from the South, we drove scenic route SR-235 called Mount Vernon Memorial Highway which connects route US-1 and the Washington's estate. The 3.2 mi long road goes up through the forests passing by Washington's Mill Historical State Park on the left, Fort Belvoir military reservation on the right.
There is the commemorative plaque, on my picture, put off the beaten path, at the end of the Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, outside the Washington's estate. It contains the following writing:
1732 - 1932
The Mount Vernon Memorial Highway was authorized by Congress May 23, 1928 as an activity of the United States Commission for the celebration of the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of George Washington.
The highway was designed and constructed under the direction of the United States Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Public Roads.
Construction started September 12, 1929. Open to traffic January 16, 1932. This highway was formally dedicated to the service of the people November 15, 1932.
When we entered the Mount Vernon Estate we were welcomed by ducks walking and relaxing or searching food on a lawn, off the beaten path. Shortly, I got to know that the area I started to visit is mainly green space of farmlands and forests. American species of ducks were bred in Mount Vernon for its meat, eggs and feathers. Duck feathers are both soft and excellent at trapping heat; thus, they were used in upscale bedding, especially pillows, blankets, and mattresses.
As I remember from school, a duck is a common name for both wild and domestic waterfowl of the family which also includes... geese and swans. Confusing? Yes, it is - people never call the last two birds ducks. Strictly speaking, duck refers to the female and drake to the male but most folks use the word duck for both.
George and Martha Washington along with twenty other family members were originally interred in the old vault, simple brick structure with wooden entrance door hidden off the beaten path in the estate's forest. In accordance with his will, Washington directed the building of a new tomb:
"The family vault at Mount Vernon requiring repairs and being improperly situated besides, I desire that a new one of Brick, and upon a larger Scale, may be built at the foot what is commonly called the Vineyard Inclosure..."
The Washingtons were moved to the New Tomb in 1831.
When we already visited the Washington's Estate and the outbuildings we decided to walk down to the Potomac River.
We chose the shortest trail called Steep Incline (continue straight from the South Lane) which was not that steep at the beginning, as you see on the picture. It's a rather wide unpaved trail, shadowed by species of large broadleafed trees which are unknown for me, which I have never seen before. Surprisingly the leasves were still green although it was already the middle of October.
When we walked Steep Incline trail towards Potomac River we passed by the Fruit Garden and Nursery on the right. There are some colorful flowers and bushes even in the middle of October there - just one red on my picture.
The Fruit Garden and Nursery was the largest in the estate. Here Washington experimented first with grapes, then with various new plants and seeds before using them elsewhere on the estate. If you are interested there are Garden and Landscape tours daily April through October (11.00 am, 1.00 pm and 3.00 pm).
Finally after maybe 20 min. walk down, with short stop by the Old Vault of the Washingtons, we reached the big water. If I didn't know that it's the Potomac River I would think that it's a lake. The river was 1.1 mile (1.8 km) wide at this place. The water didn't look nice and clean, it was cold, grey and murky. On the horizon I saw the flat, mostly covered by forest, opposite bank, which belonged to the state of Maryland.
I found it interesting and at first moment strange that interstate border line (Virginia - Maryland) doesn't go in the middle of the river but along its western, Virginian bank. Well, it's wiser and more practical to have the whole river in one state for many reasons (financial for example).
There is small wharf on a bank of the Potomac River in the Washington's estate.
The main portion of the wharf at the river-landing was constructed by Washington, but within a few years additions have been made. At this place vessels were laden with great quantities of tobacco, and also with flour ground in the Mount Vernon mill. Each barrel beared the widely-known brand, "George Washington, Mount Vernon".
Currently the wharf is the river-landing for cruices on a board of Potomac Spirit (6 1/2 hour roundtrip form Washington DC - details here) and The Miss Christin (roundtrip boat transportation to Mount Vernon from the Old Town Alexandria waterfront; details here).
Look at these simple, old, wooden benches located put along a bank of the Potomac River close to the wharf. George Washington used to ride from his mansion down there, on horseback of his famous horse and... friend called Magnolia, sit down on a bench, look at the ships on the river and think over... who knows... public affairs, his farm, wife...
Well, on clouded, a little bit rainy and dark day the place looked very picturesque but somewhat sad and secret. And there were very few ships on the Potomac. So, I took a picture and we went to see the next attractions on the estate.
This longitudinal four acre area, on my picture, was surrounded by forests from three sides and the Potomac Rivar from the fourth and it's used today to demonstrate the farming techniques that Washington developed in the 45 years he worked Mount Vernon's land.
Keep in mind that in Washington's lifetime, Mount Vernor was 16 times larger than it is today, including five farms on 8,000 acres. More than 3,000 acres were under cultivation by a work force of nearly 120 field slaves.
Washington became one of the most accomplished farmers in America. He took a scientific approach to farming and was one of the first to practice conservation of natural resource.
This simple, wooden, roofed structure, on my picture, is the reconstruction of the work place of Washington's field slaves. There is nothing more than a few wooden barrels and buckets for water or seeds and a few simple farm tools.
The field slaves worked in 8-10 peoples gangs and plowed, planted and harvested the land. The slaves lived at the farm on which they worked. Unfortunately none of original Mount Vernon slave cabins survived although over 300 slaves worked and lived there.
I met a few, maybe dozen of sheep grazing and relaxing at the George Washington: Pioneer Farmer site. I got to know that it's a very rare breed (less than 200 are in existence!) called Hog Island Sheep. The sheep had black head and white rest of the body.
The name of the breed originates from Hog Island, a 17th Century English settlement, one of Virginia's barrier islands located off its Eastern Shore. George Washington owned between 600 and 1,000 sheep. They were source of wool and meat: lamb and mutton for all who lived and worked at Mount Vernon. They also trimmed yards and fields and their manure was used as fertilizer.
There is an exposition of hand tools used at Mount Vernon located in a wooden hut at Pioneer Farmer Site, close to the Potomac River. There were many hand tools made of wood and iron used in framing, woodworking, farming like etc.
It was not the most interesting part of my Mount Vernon trip but I noticed that some tools were unique and had to be made at place. Well, some basic tools are similar today and still used but mainly in housing construction which still partly relies on hand work. In agriculture and farming a lot changed.
We walked from the Potomac River bank, inland, along Washington's Pioneer Farmer Site and at the end of fields there was this interesting, large and strange wooden structure on my picture.
It was a nearly round barn, with 16-sides, designed specifically for thrashing wheat. It was made of both bricks (foundations and first floor) and of wood planks (the second floor), built in 1792 - 1794. Although Washington was in Philadelphia serving as President at that time, he carefully supervised the construction of his new barn.
The Washington's barn doesn't operate October through May but it is open, so I could see its interior and I got to know how it worked in the past in Washington's times and that the key functional feature of the barn was hidden in roof above the ground floor.
IN WASHINGTON'S BARN
An oak threshing lane encircled the center section of the second floor of the barn. Horses run around and around within the lane, treading the grain out of the wheat. A worker was present to make sure that the horses did not stop running. Why? Because horses do not urinate or deficate while they are running. There were 1 1/2-inch gaps between the floorboards (on my picture), so the grain fell between the gaps to the first floor, where it was gathered up and stored and then taken to the gristmill to be ground into flour.
When i visited the Washington's barn, first I got to know how the wheat was threshed. Keep in main that Washington made wheat the main crop of Mount Vernon after long time of tobacco grow. Whaet was cash crop, which he sold overseas and in local markets to generate income.
Wheat was threshed by hand, by beating the wheat with a flail to break the grain out of the straw, before building the barn. It was very slow and not efficient process. Alternatively, horses were used on an open ground (wheat was "treaded out" or trampled by horses) which was more efficient but... horse excrement would become mixed in with the grain. In both ways weather could make the procedure impossible (rains) or difficult (strong winds) to do.