A picture is worth a thousand words, as the old saying goes, and visual sources provide further evidence. These include period pattern books for architecture and furnishings, as well as drawings, prints, and paintings that enhance our understanding of period building and furnishing practices or simply help us envision how a building or landscape appeared to an 18th-century visitor. The few surviving early views of Mount Vernon provide benchmarks of changes to the exterior and the landscape design. Photographic images of Mount Vernon from the 19th century and later also enable us to identify when physical changes were made to the Mansion.
Evaluating the physical evidence, or material culture, begins with the Mansion and other original buildings, identifying and dating different architectural features, such as woodwork, plaster, masonry, flooring, framing and even wallpaper fragments. Archaeological findings are reviewed and compared with documentary evidence for furnishings and materials used at Mount Vernon, and surviving decorative arts objects with Washington histories, from chairs to fabrics to table wares, are analyzed to understand who, when, where, and how they were used.