One of the most recognizable features of Mount Vernon is the iconic red roof of the Mansion. For more than 150 years, visitors from around the world have identified the home of Washington by this bold and eye-catching roof.

Make a Donation

Since the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association took ownership of the estate in 1860, one of the challenges has been efficiently and cost effectively maintaining this iconic piece of American history. After decades of research and testing of a variety of materials and paints, a solution has been found!

With your help, the Mansion roof will be repaired, scraped of the existing paint, and a new, more effective paint will be applied adding critical protection to this most precious historic landmark.

Help Save the Mansion's Roof

An 18th Century Roof

Steven Stuckey, Architectural Conservator at Mount Vernon, observes the damage to the cupola on the roof of the mansion

The importance of a sound roof is hardly a modern concept—18th-century Americans knew it too. In 1784, George Washington himself complained of being "plagued with leaks at a Cupula, etc.", and three years later admonished his nephew about that same cupola: "Let particular care be used to putty, or put copper on all the joints to prevent the leaking, & rotting of the wood as it will be difficult, & expensive to repair it hereafter." A leaky roof has been a headache through the ages, and makes the Mount Vernon architectural preservation staff feel particularly close to the General. Like him, we are fighting the endless war to prevent leaks and rotting of the shingles, and 2015 opens another undertaking.

In Washington’s lifetime, wood was the overwhelming choice for Virginia roofs, and he purchased hundreds of thousands of shingles for Mount Vernon—most of them split from cypress trees cut in the Dismal Swamp of southeastern Virginia. Cypress is naturally rot resistant, and an old growth cypress roof was expected to provide cover for 50 years or more.

Besides having the savvy to choose one of the best woods for his shingles, Washington also knew the importance of shingle care. Sun and rain give roofs a beating, and the period practice of painting roofs with tar or oil-based paints was an attempt to extend the life of shingles by sealing them and replacing their natural oils. The red color used on Mount Vernon's roof today was matched to the paint preserved on an original shingle found in the mansion attic, apparently dropped during shingle replacement in the 1800s. This red color was used on the Mansion by 1793 when artist Edward Savage executed his two views of Mount Vernon.

Save Our Roof

Replicating Washington’s Shingles

Here at Mount Vernon, we continue traditional roofing practices. Over the years, wood choices might have varied due to availability, and paint types may have changed with new innovations, but painted wood roofs have been in place on the buildings at Washington's estate for almost 300 years. But, all roofs eventually come to the end of their useful lives and need replacement. Over the last three decades, our preservation experts have used these instances as opportunities to return more and more to the materials and techniques known to Washington. In 1996, the Mansion roof was replaced with shingles, hand-split from old-growth cypress logs that sank into the swamps of Florida more than a century ago. They are nearly identical to what Washington would have ordered himself.

Donate Today

It’s All About The Paint

Having gone to great lengths to use the same type and quality wood as Washington, we are now giving the same thoughtful attention to the paint that helps extend the life of the roof. In the 18th century, roofs were frequently treated with paints that used fish oil to bind together the pigments, but today no fish-oil paints are commercially available. Consequently, Mount Vernon began using modern paints to achieve its trademark red roofs. Unfortunately, the paint chosen was not robust enough to withstand the harsh effects of weather and sun, and the paint began peeling and fading within a few years of application, requiring frequent stripping and repainting.

Today, rapid advances in technology and paints mean that we have new options. After experimenting with several formulas, we have settled on a commercially-available, oil-based paint that is extremely close to the traditional 18th-century fish oil formulation. Unlike the current paint, this will not sit on the surface of the shingle, but rather be absorbed much like a stain, and therefore, should never peel or require stripping. When the color begins to fade, a new application will be made directly over the prior one. This will result in significant cost savings, as we will no longer need to strip the shingles to apply a new coat as the old one begins to fade.

Help Us Repaint

Keep George Washington's Mansion Dry

Your gift today will help ensure the Mansion has a leak-free roof of the highest quality, keeping the Mansion and its contents safe and dry for many years to come.

Keep Us Dry

With your generous support, The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, will continue to preserve and protect the home of George Washington, maintaining the highest standards of conservation and care, while continually striving to restore his beloved home to its appearance in 1799.

More Information

Please contact the Development Department at 703.799.8647 or email supporthisvision@mountvernon.org

Email Us
Donate Membership Calendar Apps Videos News & Press Restaurant

Open 365 Days A Year

3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway
Mount Vernon, Virginia 22121