Saturday, March 18, 2017

Felicity Visits Mount Vernon

Paying a visit to George and Martha!

So, a lot's been going on in the world of American Girl. As I'm sure most of you know, our girl Felicity is back out of the archives and sporting a super pretty new meet outfit! This is exciting to me not only as a Felicity fan, but also because my own Felicity has been in need of a wig transplant for quite some time. A few weeks ago, I bit the bullet, got a new Felicity, and swapped her wig for my Felicity's beat up one, just in time for a field trip to Monticello. I was really excited to take pictures of my old friend all refreshed and sporting her awesome new dress on a gorgeous day at a gorgeous presidential mansion, but then I realized I'm actually one field trip behind when it comes to colonial homes.

(Also, in case you were wondering, BeFelicity was given a new wig of her own. Maybe she'll eventually make appearances around these parts.)

Back in September, I headed out to Mount Vernon with my friends Elizabeth and Jenna with Felicity in tow as usual. We got to eat at a historically inspired restaurant, explore the house and grounds, and meet an old friend of Felicity's. Any guesses on who it might be?



Mount Vernon is definitely one of the more impressive presidential homes I’ve visited, and it owes that ranking to The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, who have been the caretakers of the site since 1858. It’s important to note that it was around this time that Americans first became interested in preserving their history, and many historic homes like Mount Vernon and Monticello were actually somewhat at risk of being torn down or heavily renovated before this trend kicked off.

The Mount Vernon Ladies Association has not always had a perfect reputation among the historical community. Historically, discussions of slavery at Mount Vernon were nonexistent at best and problematic at worst. In recent times, that has changed very much for the better. The museum on property and historic site have spent a lot of time finding ways to acknowledge and educate visitors about the African American experience at Mount Vernon in ways that don’t attempt to gloss over the realities of enslavement. Many archaeological digs have been conducted on the site in recent years looking for more information about the enslaved community, and the museum has recently opened an exhibit specifically focusing on slavery at Mount Vernon. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to go on this trip, but a few of my friends have been and raved about it. I’d really like to go back and see it.

Unlike most other presidential homes, Mount Vernon is not only a beautiful historic home on a large property with other preserved or reconstructed buildings. There’s a huge campus of shops, exhibits, and restaurants. There’s even a distillery down the road! It’s very much a place where you can spend a whole day on site and still not see everything, particularly during the busy season.

Our first stop was the Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant. It’s a really cute restaurant that’s heavily influenced by colonial decorative styles, and I feel like my mom would happily move in to the building based on that fact alone. She’s a big fan of that aesthetic. Blame it on the Bicentennial and childhood trips to Williamsburg.


I had checked out the menu online before we went and was really excited to see that they had a lot of historically inspired offerings like peanut soup, hoecakes, and “colonial turkey pye” on the lunch menu. Unfortunately, since I was still new to the area, I completely forgot that Sundays are basically brunch from sun up to sun down in these parts. Maybe I just don’t eat out enough on Sundays up north, but this has felt like a very unique situation to me and it’s tripped me up more than once.


Still, we had a lot of really tasty things to choose from. Food was a little pricy for grad students on a budget, but it was nice quality and definitely worth the price for the experience if nothing else. I got the colonial hoecake with crab and ham, my friend Jenna got scrambled eggs and bacon, and Elizabeth got the chicken cordon bleu sandwich. We split an order of the skillet cornbread with vanilla honey butter, which was easily my favorite part of the meal.


I mean seriously, just look at that. I want some right now.


Oh! The restaurant also has recipes online for some dishes the Washingtons might have enjoyed! They’re not all historically accurate, but they have a really wide selection of recipes to choose from, and you know I’m all about finding new ideas for the blog… assuming I ever have time to cook or bake ever again.

Past the restaurant and the impressively large gift shops is the visitor’s center. You need to reserve tickets for a house tour and it does cost money, which I know frustrates some DC tourists because they’re used to free admission at the Smithsonian, National Archives, etc. I don’t ever mind paying admission at museums because I know how much money goes into actually taking care of one, and they’re really a vital part of our cultural history.

House tours are sold on a first come, first serve basis, but you can save money by prepurchasing them online. We went at a time when the season was kind of winding down, so there wasn’t too much going on at the estate, but during the spring and summer they’re often hosts to big events and fun programming, so definitely check out the calendar before scheduling your trip. Besides house tours, there are also special interest tours on topics like slavery, the sequel to National Treasure, and food history, complete with a private tasting of some treats. Guess which one I really want to do next time I go back?

We had some time to kill before going on our house tour, so we took a while to explore the huge visitor’s center.


The best part was a scale model of the main house. I didn’t know it at the time, but the rooms are all arranged to be almost if not exact replicas of the real thing, which is great because you can’t take pictures inside the home for the sake of the artifacts.


The visitor’s center has a 25 minute film about Washington’s life, but in the interest of time, we had to skip over that. Maybe next time.


Besides the house, the other biggest claim to fame Mount Vernon has to offer is that George and Martha Washington are actually buried on the property. What you see isn’t their original resting place, as that needed to be rebuilt after a disgruntled former employee tried to steal Washington’s skull. There was also a plan in place to bury him in an incredibly elaborate mausoleum in the city of Washington, but Southern members of Congress scrapped that in favor of keeping him at Mount Vernon.


There is also a monument a little further away to the members of the enslaved community at Mount Vernon who were buried on the property. Archaeologists have been careful to mark gravesites and conduct research without disturbing their remains.


Mount Vernon was fortunate to have a large part of its original property preserved. Remember how I said John and Abigail Adams’ original family home was basically in the parking lot of a CVS now? The Washingtons got very lucky.

You can take a ferry across to the other side of the river, explore vegetable plots, and visit replica cabins where members of the enslaved community would have lived and worked. We also got to watch some interpreters make their lunch over a fire.


The house itself is very impressive. I’ve probably said this before on this blog, but it drives me crazy when people talk about going to visit places like Versailles and how American homes just can’t possibly compare. No, they can’t compare in terms of being massive palaces slathered in gold and frescos, but honestly? That’s never what I would have wanted my house to look like. I like visiting homes like Mount Vernon or the Roosevelt’s home at Hyde Park because that’s more my version of “if I ever owned a mansion”, and I don’t think it’s fair to dismiss them as tiny or boring.

Interestingly, the building looks like it’s been made out of stone, but it’s an optical illusion! It’s actually wood carved to look like stone blocks.


Like I said, no photos inside the house, which is kind of a bummer, but it really is a beautiful building. It’s also fully furnished with a lot of original artifacts, including the bed Washington died in. It’s also got one of the nicest front porches I’ve literally ever seen just for the view alone. I could definitely spent a while reading and relaxing out there if given the opportunity.

Even on a day in what’s approaching the off season, we had a very crowded tour, and the spaces you’re kept in are quite small. That’s par for the course for just about any historic house tour though, so it wasn’t too much of a hassle, and our guide was very knowledgeable.


After the tour, we poked our heads in the kitchen and stables, getting a peek at Washington’s fancy riding carriages.


The gardens were also still extremely pretty, even though it was September. I’m really not used to seeing flowers in full bloom as late as October. My building was able to keep pansies alive outside until December! It’s pretty and all, but very confusing to a New Englander.


The gift shops were a huge problem for someone like me who loves historically inspired knickknacks, food and house hold goods. They had at least three of them, along with a few other shops, and I’ll admit I might have spent a little bit more money than I intended when I first headed out that morning.

Felicity ran into some familiar faces in the kid’s section of one shop, along with an assortment of handmade American Girl outfits.


Mount Vernon actually offers a recurring special program for young AG fans. Our American Girl is an event featuring Nelly Custis, the Washington’s granddaughter. It includes refreshments with Martha Washington and Nelly Custis and a “special colonial craft”. I have to admit, I’m very tempted to check it out myself, but since I don’t have any younger AG fans local to me, I think I’d feel a little weird going by myself. If anyone does check it out, let me know how it is! Sounds like a really fun time.

Want to know why there’s such a culture of American Girl appreciation at Mount Vernon?

Thank Martha Washington!


Mount Vernon doesn’t have a huge crew of costumed interpreters the same way Old Sturbridge Village or Williamsburg do, but they do have actors portraying George and Martha Washington who frequently do programming on site. We got to have an audience with Martha, who was very excited to see her old friend Felicity. She broke the fourth wall a little bit to let us know that she was friendly with Pleasant Rowland, who had come to Mount Vernon to do research for Felicity. She told me Mrs. Rowland would be very pleased to know that I still had my Felicity, which to be honest was kind of like being told Walt Disney liked my drawing, if you know what I mean.

She also gave us some great relationship advice that came straight from George, which boiled down to how important it is to be friends with your spouse above everything else. I’ve always felt very strongly about that when it comes to romantic relationships, so it was definitely cool to hear that someone like George Washington felt the same way.

And that was our trip! I had a blast, and I'd definitely love to go back again. There’s so much to see and do that I’m totally bummed out it’s not closer to DC proper. I’d love to be able to visit more frequently. Guess I’ll just have to drag my parents there next time they visit!

That’s all for now! Next time, we’ll give our review of our trip to Monticello and you’ll get a first look at Felicity’s new hairstyle. Hopefully it won’t take another month to get that one published!

Or six months! Can’t believe I let that much time pass!

4 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed your post--great history, and Felicity looked like she had a wonderful time! What a special, memorable comment about Pleasant Rowland. I think Felicity is truly one of the most beautiful dolls they ever made. Sweet and spunky and brave. You inspired me to visit Mount Vernon. Gotta try the peanut soup, too. (What did you get at the gift shop? Always a dangerous place for me, too!)

    --Alice

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  2. Pack up the Flex...let's go to Mt.Vernon! I haven't been since I was 3, so I don't remember a bunch. Next time we visit, I'd love to go. Glad you had a chance to see it with your friends.

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  3. Mt. Vernon is always one of my favorite places to visit when in the area. I agree that there is so much to see, especially now that they have redone quite a few things. And yes, the front porch!

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  4. I have been trying to go for over a year! Lucky you! Great post :)

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