By Jill Lynch
On the final day of National Library Week, Saturday, April 18, 2015 twenty-three librarians and their family members gathered outside the visitor center at Mount Vernon for a special 2.5 hour VIP tour. Our tour guide was Ted Mance, a Navy Veteran, who spent 10 years working at Mount Vernon as a guide. He has recently retired, but still provides tours a few times a month for VIP visitors. After Sharon Lenius gathered us all up we headed out of the visitor center into the heart of Mount Vernon. Our first brief stop was to listen to a patriot playing “When the Saints Going Marching in” on the flute. He stopped playing long enough to salute our group and started playing a new song.
After a short walk we stood in the middle of an old path with views of the original gate entrance to the west, and the mansion to the east. It was here that Ted gave us some history about the property. The property has been in the Washington family since 1674. In 1735, Washington’s father built a house on the property but it later burned down. In 1761, George Washington took ownership of the property. He lived here for 45 years. As our group started walking up to the mansion we learned that the house appears to be made out of stone, but actually is made out of wood. Washington mixed gravel from the river with the paint to achieve this appearance.
The line to get inside the mansion was enormous, as it usually is, however we were VIPs today and with Ted’s direction, we walked up to the back entrance of the house and got right in. The first room we saw was the main parlor, where all the parties took place. It’s in this room that several of us get a quick reminder not to take any photos inside the mansion (well, darn). We next make are way into the foyer, where we saw four more rooms which included a sitting room and the dining room. Working our way upstairs, we got a special treat – access to the 3rd floor!
There are several rooms on the 3rd floor, three bedrooms and two storage areas. After the death of a husband, it was customary for the widow to move into a different bedroom during the mourning period. Mrs. Washington chose to live in one of the bedrooms on the 3rd floor and continued to live up there for 2.5 years. We headed back down to the 2nd floor and as we past the main bedroom, we learned that George died at the age of 67 of a throat infection. We exited the mansion through George’s study, where it was pointed out that the chair in this room was the same chair he used as president.
The kitchen is a separate building and is located just outside the mansion. There are several reasons that the kitchen is not attached to the house – fires, heat and insects. After touring the kitchen we headed into the lower garden where vegetables are still being grown. These vegetables used to be donated by Mount Vernon to local homeless shelters, but due to legal issues that had to stop. Now they are used in the food at the Mount Vernon Inn, and also given away to the volunteers and guides.
The Greenhouse and slave quarters are located at the upper gardens. Ted told us an interesting story about the greenhouse and slave quarters that involved a fire that burned them down. In the 1950s, the White House was rebuilt and the bricks from the foundation were sent to Mount Vernon to be used in the rebuilding of the greenhouse and slave quarters.
During the remainder of the tour, we walked along the grounds while Ted pointed things out to us – the blacksmith, the old vault, and the sheep. When we got to the tomb of George Washington, four of us were selected to lay a wreath. The four selected were Jill Lynch, Lyle Minter, Cecilia Thorn, and Sharon Lenius. We were chosen based on service in the military or serving the military library community the longest. After placing the wreath inside the tomb, Wendy Hill read, “George Washington’s Prayer for His Country.” Each participant received a Certificate of Participation.
We wrapped things up and headed to the food court and gift shop.