George Washington’s first love was farming at Mount Vernon and he conducted numerous experiments and corresponded with the leading farmers of the time, both in America and abroad in his pursuit of the best agricultural practices. As early as the 1760s Washington experimented with different fertilizers, hoping to find what worked best on his fields. In 1787 he constructed a building, across from the stable, specifically for composting manure and other waste. The Repository for Dung, as it is called on the Vaughan Plan, is thought to be the first building for making fertilizer in America or Western Europe.
In 2001 the Repository for Dung was reconstructed based upon Washington’s writings which detail the buildings construction and use, historical documents that discuss fertilizer production, and archaeological excavations. The excavations, conducted from 1993-1995, discovered the cobblestone floor, foundations of the brick walls and postholes which supported the building. These details were incorporated into the reconstruction.
Today, the Dung Repository illustrates Washington’s desire to experiment with new practices that could boost crop production. While many visitors comment that it must have been an unsavory presence so close to the Mansion, the reconstruction offsets the overly-sanitized view of 18th-century life that is often presented at historic sites.
Visitors can see the reconstructed Repository for Dung at Mount Vernon (Rob Shenk)