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Over the years, Washington enlarged his house. First he raised the roof to create a third floor. Later he would add a wing to both ends, build a piazza overlooking the Potomac River, and crown his vision with a pediment and cupola. By the time of his death in 1799, he had expanded the plantation from 2,000 to 8,000 acres consisting of five farms, with more than 3,000 acres under cultivation.
Shortly after taking up wheat as his main cash crop, Washington built a large gristmill outfitted with two pairs of millstones. One pair of stones ground corn into meal for use at Mount Vernon and the other ground wheat into superfine flour for export to foreign ports. Washington also began making whiskey on the advice of his farm manager, James Anderson, a trained distiller from Scotland. He soon built one of the largest distilleries in America. At its peak, Washington’s distillery produced over 11,000 gallons of rye whiskey, becoming one of his most successful enterprises.
Even as President, Washington’s thoughts often turned to Mount Vernon. For example – while in office, he designed a 16-sided barn to thresh wheat in a more efficient and sanitary way. As horses circled the second floor, they treaded on the wheat that had been spread there, breaking the grain from the chaff. The wheat would fall through gaps in the floorboards to the first floor, where it was winnowed. After winnowing, the grain was taken to the gristmill and ground into flour. From the President’s House in Philadelphia, Washington followed the barn’s construction every step of the way. He even correctly calculated the number of bricks needed for the first floor – which turned out to be exactly 30,820!