Mansion Revitalization Project
Mount Vernon has embarked on a landmark preservation project to ensure the Mansion's structural integrity for generations to come.
Admission is free on Feb. 22 for George Washington’s birthday. Admission tickets will be distributed on-site upon arrival.
What does it take to safely remove and store the objects that furnish a room in the Mansion?
With deliberate, gloved hands, a member of Mount Vernon’s Fine and Decorative Arts Collections team lowers a mahogany knife case into an acid-free storage box in Mount Vernon’s New Room. He carefully surrounds the case with packing material—bubble wrap and acid-free tissue paper—which will ensure that the object moves as little as possible during transportation. He slowly lifts the box, looking for even the slightest sign of movement from the knife case within.
Satisfied with his work, he repeats the process with an identical knife case—which once held cutlery used by the Washington family to feed the constant stream of family, friends, and strangers to Mount Vernon.
When a visitor to Mount Vernon walks through the rooms of Washington’s Mansion, they experience more than the home of America’s first president; they also experience the result of over 160 years of research and restoration efforts to present the home as Washington knew it in 1799, the year of his death. When the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association (MVLA) formally took possession of Washington’s home in 1860, they started with a nearly empty house—the Washington family had sold or distributed most of George and Martha Washington’s furnishings.
But over the decades, many of Washington’s original objects have returned to Mount Vernon, and, with the help of documentary evidence, the MVLA has spent decade upon decade furnishing the Mansion as accurately as possible.
Sometimes the opposite is required—packing it all up.
Take a virtual tour of the Mansion's New Room to see the objects that required removal before Mansion Revitalization work.
In early 2024, Mount Vernon began Phase 1 of the Mansion Revitalization Project, which requires preservation carpenters to work extensively in the New Room as they repair elements of the Mansion’s framing. In order to best protect the array of objects in the New Room, many of which are Washington originals, Mount Vernon’s Collections team needed to remove them to a stable environment.
“In Collections, we always work to avoid what are known as the ‘agents of deterioration,’” explains Collections Manager Brady Stroyke. “These are things that pose a risk to objects: fire, water, physical forces, light, incorrect temperature, and incorrect humidity, among others. An undertaking like the Mansion Revitalization Project runs the risk of introducing many of those agents of deterioration. To best protect these objects for the future, it’s better to keep them in a safe, stable environment.”
Physical forces, fire, water, human interference, pests, pollutants, incorrect light, incorrect temperature, incorrect humidity, and neglect
Working in their socks (to protect the floors), the Collections management team began early each morning, before the day’s first guests arrived at Mount Vernon. Beginning with the New Room’s smaller objects—such as the knife cases, bisque figures, chairs, and small prints—the team of seven handled and packed each object based on its specific needs.
Packed objects were carefully loaded and secured inside the Collections transportation van to be delivered to Mount Vernon’s onsite storage facilities.
Standard paper and cardboard boxes made from wood pulp usually contain acid which, over time, can deteriorate and degrade the items it comes into contact with. These acidic materials are also more likely to attract pests—one of the 10 agents of deterioration.
By using acid-free boxes and packing materials, the Collections management team can minimize the risk posed by pests, as well as the transfer of acids from the storage materials to the items being preserved.
In order to pack the room’s larger items, as well as those that require custom crates and foam molds, Mount Vernon enlisted the services of longtime partner ELY, Inc.—experts in crating and collections relocation. Having contributed to the New Room’s installation in 2014, the specialists at ELY are well-versed in the specific needs of each object.
The de-installation process took place over the course of a week and a half. The team skillfully worked around inclement weather; when a heavy rainstorm moved across the area, schedules were adjusted to ensure that objects were loaded into transportation vans when conditions were completely dry.
An exciting outcome of the de-installation is that it provided an opportunity for four of the New Room’s paintings, all owned by Washington, to undergo conservation. This process involves the careful examination, preservation, and restoration of paintings to maintain their aesthetic and structural integrity. Mount Vernon enlisted the services of two professional painting conservators to ensure the long-term stability of these Washington artifacts.
Another important aspect of this process was the protection of the Vaughan mantelpiece, which was sent to Washington as a gift from Samuel Vaughan, an English admirer. When the New Room’s de-installation was complete, ELY carefully constructed a protective box to enclose the mantelpiece, thereby preserving the room’s magnificent centerpiece.
See the custom-built box that will protect the Vaughan Mantelpiece during the Mansion Revitalization Project.
It is anticipated that the New Room, fully re-installed, will reopen to tours in August 2024.