George Washington bought hundreds of pounds of salt every year. It was an expensive commodity that had to be imported to Virginia all the way from England, Portugal or the Caribbean Islands. Most of this salt was needed to preserve food at Mount Vernon. In an age before refrigeration, salting fresh meat, fish and vegetables was one way to keep these foods from spoiling. Washington also distributed salt to his hired workers and slaves, fed it to his livestock, and even used it to brine wheat seed to prevent it from rotting before planting.
Washington stored more than just salt in his Salt House, however. When the fishing season along the Potomac ended in June, his expensive seines – or weighted fishing nets – were carefully packed away in crates until needed the following spring. And, according to the estate inventory taken after his death, the old bellows from the blacksmith shop, bar iron, and iron plow parts had also been placed here. Every available space in Mount Vernon’s outbuildings was put to good use, and few pieces of equipment were simply thrown away.