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This article originally appeared in Mount Vernon magazine, published three times a year by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association.
Admission is free on Feb. 22 for George Washington’s birthday. Admission tickets will be distributed on-site upon arrival.
Joe Sliger, Mount Vernon’s vice president for operations, leads the team that keeps Washington’s historic estate running around the clock.
A busy day at Mount Vernon might bring 6,000 or more guests onto the estate. Add to this some 400 employees and volunteers of all stripes necessary to the smooth operation, study, and upkeep of the site, and you have the functional approximation of a small town. But, come nightfall, the gates empty, leaving Mount Vernon in the trusted hands of its capable, round-the-clock caretakers.
Joe Sliger sits at the top of the list of these dedicated employees on call. As Mount Vernon’s vice president for operations, he oversees a diverse team of employees whose job functions range from security to grounds work to housekeeping to carpentry. His team works tirelessly behind the scenes—and often before and after hours—to ensure that the estate runs smoothly, despite the wear-and-tear that comes with keeping a historic property open 365 days a year.
It’s no small task, but it’s a natural fit for Joe, who knows Mount Vernon more intimately than virtually anyone else. He arrived at the estate in 1981, taking a job in the paint shop right out of high school. After apprenticing there for four years—while he participated in significant projects like the 1982 restoration of the New Room—he expanded his skills, learning carpentry and technical trades.
By the early 1990s, Joe had become a key member of the operations and maintenance team. For more than two decades, he played a central role in Mount Vernon’s physical transformation—beginning with the construction of the Conservation Center and Volunteer Complex in 1998 and culminating in the grand opening of the Washington Library in 2013. Countless projects bear his imprint.
Chris Waters and Wendall Williams touch up the paint on a fence post while Sliger looks on. (Photo by Daniel McGarrity)
While these new facilities have earned top billing, Joe recognizes that maintaining this landmark property is one of his team’s top priorities. When severe storms pummel the mid-Atlantic, Joe’s team springs into action, placing sandbags to prevent flood damage and quickly clearing branches and debris from the grounds. After a snowstorm, it’s up to them to clear the walkways and parking lots so that the estate can be traversed safely.
Guest and staff safety is another top priority for Joe and his team. He is one of the 14 Mount Vernon staff members trained as first responders who field more than 200 emergency calls each year. He is also chief of the estate’s 12-member fire brigade—a feature that sets Mount Vernon apart from other historic sites.
Joe takes pride in the remarkable growth and exceptional challenges that have taken place during his tenure, but he is quick to point out one of Mount Vernon’s greatest attributes—and one that George Washington would surely be proud of—its independence.
“We’re really self-sufficient,” he explains. “We have our own water supply, our own sewer systems, even our own fire department. We’re our own city.”
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of Mount Vernon magazine. Subscribe to the magazine by becoming a member today.Learn More