Two years after serving as the first president of the United States, George Washington dies at age 67 on December 14. By the terms of Washington’s will, the first president grants his wife Martha “the use, profit and benefit of my whole Estate, real and personal, for the term of her natural life.”
Martha Dandridge Custis Washington dies at age 70 at Mount Vernon.
Mount Vernon ownership, including the Mansion and approximately four thousand acres of surrounding land, transfers to Washington’s nephew, Supreme Court Justice Bushrod Washington. Unfortunately, Bushrod did not share his uncle's passion or skill for farming, and the estate began to fall into disrepair. Sightseers also contributed to the physical decline of the Mansion and the surrounding grounds.
Bushrod Washington dies, having made modifications to the Mansion (including a porch on the south façade and balustrade to the piazza roof) and erecting a host of structures on the landscape (including porters’ lodges at the west gate entrance and a gazebo on the east lawn). His nephew, John Augustine Washington II, inherits Mount Vernon.
In accordance with Washington’s will, a new family burial vault is completed, and Washington’s body, along with the remains of Martha Washington and other family members, is transferred to the New Tomb.
John Augustine Washington II dies, passing ownership of Mount Vernon to his wife Jane Charlotte Blackburn Washington.
John Augustine Washington III begins leasing Mount Vernon from his mother Jane Charlotte Blackburn Washington.
John Augustine Washington III formally takes ownership of Mount Vernon. Though John Augustine was a motivated farmer, Mount Vernon's total acreage shrank to roughly 1,200 acres from a height of 8,000 acres during George Washington's lifetime, and the remaining farmland is not enough to adequately sustain the Washingtons. John Augustine eventually reversed Bushrod's decision to ban steamboats and entered into a contract with a company that provided regular trips from Washington, D.C., three days a week.
Ann Pamela Cunningham of South Carolina founds the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association (MVLA) with the intention to purchase Mount Vernon from John Augustine Washington III in order to preserve George Washington’s residence and to prevent its sale to land speculators. The MVLA becomes the nation’s first historic preservation organization, as well as one of the first national women’s organizations.
John Augustine Washington III finds he is financially unable to maintain Mount Vernon given the demands of upkeeping the tourist destination. The now-iconic piazza is recorded to be supported by makeshift wooden posts. After soliciting the U.S. government and the Commonwealth of Virginia for support, Washington agrees to sell the Mansion and 200 acres of surrounding land to the MVLA for $200,000.
On George Washington’s 128th birthday, February 22, the MVLA takes possession of the Mount Vernon estate. The effort represents the first campaign to preserve a former president's home, as well as the first to preserve an entire site (outbuildings, landscapes, and vistas) and not just the home.
John Augustine Washington III leaves behind a handful of original objects, including Jean Antoine Houdon’s famous lifelike sculpture of George Washington.
Ann Pamela Cunningham and her secretary, Sarah Tracy, take up residence and are joined by Upton Herbert, who is hired as superintendent and charged with executing the most critically needed repairs.
Mount Vernon remained preserved during the conflict, thanks in part to Union and Confederate forces agreeing to restrict fighting at the estate and laying down their arms when touring the property.
The Vice Regent for New Jersey from 1868 until 1891, Nancy Wade Halsted challenged the Ladies to furnish each room in the Mansion. Eighteenth-century pieces were to be used wherever possible, with more recent Greek Revival and Victorian furnishings filling the gaps. Many decades would pass before the Association could furnish all rooms with original Washington pieces or very similar examples.
The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association becomes the first preservation society to use paint reveals in order to identify original paint colors in the Mansion.
Twelve founding Ladies of the Association, representing their home states, pose on the piazza with the famous Houdon bust of George Washington. Miss Cunningham, first Regent of the Ladies' Association, is seated to the right of the bust. The other ladies pictured are Vice Regents in the Association's governing council, a structure still in place today.
Ann Pamela Cunningham to the 1874 MVLA Council announcing her retirement as Regent
Ladies, the home of Washington is in your charge; see to it that you keep it the home of Washington. The Mansion and the grounds around it should be religiously guarded from change—should be kept as Washington left them. Let no irreverent hand change it; no vandal hands desecrate it with the fingers of progress. Those who go to the home in which he lived wish to see in what he lived and died.”
Colonel Harrison Howell Dodge begins his lengthy tenure (1885 – 1937) as Mount Vernon’s third resident superintendent and ushers in an era of extensive preservation efforts.
Mary Jeffery Galt reacts to the loss of Powhatan’s Chimney—a surviving chimney stack purported to belong to a house built by John Smith at the site of Werowomoco—by founding the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA, now Preservation Virginia).
Phoebe Apperson Hearst served as Vice Regent for California from 1889 to 1918. Mrs. Hearst was an especially generous contributor to the Mount Vernon cause, funding construction of a stone wall along the river shore to protect against erosion, and supporting the installation of Thomas Edison's electrical system.
Elizabeth A. Rathbone, Vice Regent from Michigan, raises funds in her home state for the reconstruction of Washington’s coach house. The building, which stood at the end of the south lane by April 1776, disappeared from the landscape between 1855 and 1858. Excavation uncovers the original foundations, which are repaired; oral tradition passed down by “old servants” allows Colonel Dodge to reproduce it “practically.”
This effort, along with the 1860 reconstruction of the spring house, represents the first instance of a preservation society reconstructing missing 18th-century buildings based on surviving evidence.
Harriet Clayton Comegys of Delaware served as Regent from 1909 until 1927. During her tenure, the gardens and grounds were given greater attention than ever before, marking the first concerted attempt to recapture their appearance during George Washington's lifetime.
The National Park Service is established; historic and natural sites of significance are acquired by the federal government for public visitation and use. Sites connected with George Washington are among early preservation initiatives, and the first national historic park, Washington’s wartime headquarters in Morristown, New Jersey, is designated in March 1933.
Recognizing that candles and kerosene lamps pose a fire hazard to George Washington’s wooden Mansion, the MVLA considers the proposal of inventor Thomas Edison to install electricity in the Mansion. Concerns for the long-term preservation of the historic building outweigh those of authenticity, and the MVLA approves Edison’s plan.
Henry Ford visits Mount Vernon and is alarmed to discover that George Washington’s wood-frame buildings are not adequately protected from fire. Ford donates the MVLA’s first fire engine—a built-to-order American-Lafrance Combination Chemical and Hose Car. Ford also encourages the MVLA to establish a fire department, and the MVLA subsequently provides housing and equipment for an onsite employee fire team. The Ford Motor Company continues to provide vehicles for Mount Vernon's motor fleet and has sponsored many educational programs, facilities, and traveling exhibits.
After President Calvin Coolidge establishes the George Washington Bicentennial Commission in 1924, construction begins on the Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, the first scenic parkway to be built and maintained by the U.S. government. Later renamed the George Washington Memorial Parkway, the highway is completed in time for the bicentennial of Washington’s birth in 1932.
The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association places a commemorative marker noting the site of the 200-year-old slave cemetery at Mount Vernon. We believe this marker to be the earliest of its kind on a historic plantation. Despite this oﬃcial recognition, the burial ground lies unattended in dense underbrush for years.
Morley Jeffers Williams, an engineer and landscape architect, is hired by the MVLA. Over the next 9 years, he oversees the removal from the Mansion of a post-Washington-era porch on the south side (1932), the removal of a balustrade atop the piazza (1936), and undertakes the first systematic archaeological excavations at Mount Vernon.
Congress passes the Historic Sites Act “to preserve for public use historic sites, buildings, and objects of national significance for the inspiration and benefit of the people of the United States.” The act is the first assignment of historic preservation as a government responsibility and makes permanent the HABS.
The MVLA reconstructs George Washington’s greenhouse and slave quarters complex, which burned in 1835. The structure incorporates 18th-century materials from a number of demolished structures in the region, most notably bricks salvaged from the original White House.
In 1962, one interior bunkroom is refurnished and opened to the public, one of the nation's first interpretations of an enslaved dwelling space.
Frances Payne Bolton, Vice Regent for Ohio, purchases nearly 500 acres of Maryland shoreline across the Potomac River from Mount Vernon in order to prevent commercial development within George Washington’s view. Along with concerned stakeholders, Bolton’s acquisition galvanizes support for land conservation to preserve the viewshed, leading to the formation of Piscataway Park and continued preservation of Mount Vernon’s eastern vista. The achievement represents the first national park to be established to preserve a historic vista, as well as a precedent-setting example of private-public partnership for land conservation.
Mount Vernon visitation reaches an all-time high of 1.3 million.
Congress passes the National Historic Preservation Act in response to the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 and the Urban Renewal Program of the early 1960s, both of which brought about unprecedented loss of historic resources in America’s cities, culminating in the demolition of New York’s Pennsylvania Station in 1963.
Mount Vernon becomes one of the first historic houses to undertake a comprehensive campaign of microscopic paint analysis. Matthew Mosca takes nearly 2,500 paint samples throughout the Mansion to determine the 18th-century paint finishes of the rooms. Over a two-year period, the Mansion was completely repainted according to the findings
Howard University architecture students design a memorial to the enslaved individuals buried at Mount Vernon’s slave cemetery. A cooperative effort between Black Women United for Action and the MVLA, the memorial raises greater awareness of the impact of plantation slavery at the home of the first president, resulting in ongoing efforts to educate the public about Washington’s conflicted relationship with slave ownership.
The MVLA asks the Virginia Department of Historic Landmarks to conduct a one-year archaeological survey of the 424-acre estate. The rediscovery of the House for Families, an early Washington-period slave quarter, and blacksmith shop prompts the MVLA to consider a cultural resource program similar to those run at other plantation sites and Colonial Williamsburg.
At the time, the excavation of the House for Families resulted in the largest assemblage of material evidence of an enslaved community in the Chesapeake region.
Mrs. Clinton M. Bockstoce, Vice Regent for Connecticut, donates funds to establish a permanent archaeology program at Mount Vernon. This action provides permanent operating funds for a research division at Mount Vernon, which had been absent since 1939. The department is expanded in 1994 to include full-time staff dedicated to architectural conservation, as well as research.
Queen Elizabeth II and Mabel Livingstone Bishop, Mount Vernon's Regent, preside at the re-dedication of the wharf at Mount Vernon. Restoration of the wharf, built by the Ladies' Association in 1860 near the site of one of George Washington's original landings, was supported by donations from citizens of Oregon, the Regent's home state.
The four-acre Washington Farm is opened at Mount Vernon, inviting guests of all ages to learn more about Washington's progressive agricultural practices. The Farm represents the more than 3,000 acres Washington cultivated during the second half of the 18th century.
The Mansion roof is replaced with shingles hand-split from old-growth cypress logs that had sunk more than a century ago in the swamps of Florida. Washington purchased hundreds of thousands of cypress shingles for Mount Vernon during his lifetime. The red color used on Mount Vernon's roofs today was matched to the paint preserved on an original shingle found in the Mansion attic, apparently dropped during shingle replacement in the 1800s.
George Washington designed an innovative 16-sided barn to streamline the time-consuming processing of wheat. In 1870 the treading barn was near collapse. Mount Vernon's carpenters completed a replica and opened it to visitors in 1996, after five years of intensive research and construction. Major support was provided by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Today, the barn is the centerpiece of Mount Vernon's four-acre Washington Farm.
Based on historical documents and two years of archaeological excavation, Washington’s “Repository for Dung” is reconstructed, incorporating remnants of the original brick foundation walls and the virtually intact cobblestone floor. Originally erected in 1787, the structure was designed to compost animal droppings and other organic waste for use as fertilizer in the nearby gardens and orchards. It is thought to be the first structure in the nation specifically designed for composting.
Having acquired the reconstruction of Washington’s Gristmill from the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1997, Mount Vernon completes a five-year restoration to return the gristmill to operational status.
A reconstruction of George Washington’s Distillery, rebuilt as close as possible to its original specifications, is completed after 9 years of historical and archaeological research. These efforts were supported by the members of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. Originally created in 1797, the Distillery produced nearly 11,000 gallons just two years later, making it one of the largest whiskey distilleries in America. Although the Distillery building burned in 1814, archaeological excavations uncovered its stone foundation, the location for the five stills and boiler, numerous underground drains, and evidence for the wall that separated the storeroom and office.
Mount Vernon opens a replica slave cabin at the Washington Farm site, based on an early 20th-century photograph. This replica structure shows the conditions under which much of Mount Vernon's enslaved laborers lived.
A reconstruction of the Blacksmith Shop, built on its original site, is completed. An excavation by Mount Vernon’s archaeologists, along with period paintings and other primary sources, provided valuable clues about the structure’s design. The Blacksmith Shop was essential to the running of the plantation and vital to Washington’s business endeavors. Records indicate that as early as 1755 a blacksmith shop was located along the north lane, about 200 feet from the Mansion.
The Upper Garden is reopened to guests after considerable archaeological and historical investigation.
The Department of Historic Preservation and Collections is established, uniting all preservation efforts at Mount Vernon, including the archaeology, architecture, fine and decorative arts, horticulture, and livestock collections and programs.
Mount Vernon develops a cutting-edge prototype for a Historic Building Information Management (HBIM) system, a digital tool to understand how George Washington’s iconic Mansion was created and has evolved over time through renovations, additions, and repairs.
In 2015, this project won Mount Vernon a Special Achievement in GIS (SAG) Award.
The Mansion’s New Room is meticulously restored, reviving the original grandeur of the space that George Washington spent years designing.
More than 200 years after the general wrote of his dream for a library, the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association completes the George Washington Presidential Library at Mount Vernon. The 45,000-square-foot facility safeguards original books and manuscripts according to the highest standards.
Mount Vernon archaeologists begin the excavation of the plantation’s slave cemetery, located in close proximity to George Washington’s tomb. They leave the remains of the enslaved undisturbed and use ground-penetrating radar as well as topsoil excavations to identify the location, size, and outline of the cemetery’s grave shafts. By 2022, archaeologists identify 86 graves of the enslaved men, women, and children who lived and worked on the property prior to 1860.
Mount Vernon establishes a database compiling all references to enslaved people at Mount Vernon and other Washington properties. More than 900 individuals have been identified, with more than 500 at Mount Vernon.
The in-house exhibit Lives Bound Together: Slavery at George Washington’s Mount Vernon opens, exploring the personal stories of the people enslaved at Mount Vernon while providing insight into George Washington’s evolving opposition to slavery.
After more than two years of intense forensic investigations, documentary and material culture research, conservation, and restoration, one of Mount Vernon’s major bedchambers, the Chintz Room, is reopened for viewing. Located on the second floor in the southwest corner, the Chintz Room was one of the finest of the six primary bedchambers at Mount Vernon.
The Blue Room, a second-floor bedchamber worthy of distinguished guests in Washington’s time, is restored after extensive research by Mount Vernon's Historic Preservation & Collections team.
After a multi-year restoration project, George and Martha Washington's Front Parlor is reopened to the public. Once a site of formal entertainment, the Front Parlor was rejuvenated with the assistance of architectural forensic analysis and significant documentary discoveries.
Historic Preservation & Collections staff complete a partial restoration of the Yellow Room, relying on updated paint analysis, a careful study of the Washingtons’ papers, surviving original objects, and recent material culture scholarship to more accurately represent the appearance and social importance of the room in 1799.
Mount Vernon’s Preservation and Curatorial teams complete a multiyear research and restoration project of the Central Passage, utilizing the latest documentary evidence, paint analysis, and the expertise to present its appearance in 1799. As a result of this work, visitors today experience a brighter, airier space, enlivened by numerous architectural and artistic references to Roman antiquity.
Mount Vernon opens Mount Vernon: The Story of an American Icon. The exhibit follows the evolution of Mount Vernon’s landscape from Native settlements 10,000 years ago, to George Washington’s dramatic overhaul of the house and grounds in the late 18th century, to Ann Pamela Cunningham’s innovative campaign to purchase the property in the 19th century and the MVLA’s efforts to restore Mount Vernon to its 18th-century appearance.
Mount Vernon unveils the results of a multi-year project to restore the Lafayette Room to its 1799 appearance. As the largest room on the second floor outside of the Washingtons’ own bedchamber, the Lafayette Room was one of the more desirable guest spaces for 18th-century visitors to Mount Vernon.
Mount Vernon completes the Mansion Exterior Restoration project. Beginning in 2019, this project involved removing 40 years’ worth of paint and sand from the exterior of the Mansion, making repairs to the siding and decorative elements of the east wall and piazza, removing and conserving shutters and window sashes, and applying fresh coats of sand and paint. During the course of this project, Mount Vernon became the first organization to use steam for paint removal on an entire building.
Mount Vernon launches the Mansion Revitalization Project, a landmark, multi-faceted preservation project to safeguard the Mansion’s original building fabric and ensure its structural integrity for generations to come. This includes Designing and installing a new heating/ventilation/air conditioning system (HVAC) for the Mansion, improving drainage in and around the Mansion's cellar, and repairing sections of the Mansion’s framing and masonry. This multi-stage project is anticipated to require at least three years to complete.