Washington spent most of his adult life searching for a fertilizer that would invigorate his lackluster soil at Mount Vernon.

The repository for dung at Mount Vernon (MVLA)Nothing seemed to work as well as a mixture of manure and plant material that he allowed to brew together in a simple structure strategically located next to his stables.

When constructed around 1787, Washington's stercorary, more commonly known as his dung repository, was in all likelihood the first building in America devoted to composting.

Learn more about the dung repository 

Zealous gardeners across America today are incredibly devoted to their compost piles, and often prefer this rich and fragrant fertilizer to the chemical-based solutions sold in most stores.

In Washington's day, when all the choices were natural ones, the value of compost was still being questioned and evaluated. Like a scientist in a laboratory, George Washington experimented with a wide range of formulas. In an effort to include every form of natural waste, the design for the stercorary includes perches for birds inside the building so that their waste will be added to the mixture below.

Reconstruction of the Dung Repository

Although the repository structure Washington designed and built was a simple one, the process of recreating the building was a tedious, four-year project.

Archaeologists uncovered the original cobblestone floor and identified the location of the foundation walls. Washington's original drawings for the building, if he bothered to make them, have not survived. However, it is likely that he adopted the basic form outlined in a popular Philadelphia design book of the period.

Craftsmen created the foundation of the dung repository from handmade bricks (MVLA)Mount Vernon craftsmen used handmade brick similar to Washington's in size and color to rebuild the foundation, and old-growth oak and locust logs were hand-sawn with period style tools to create the wood frame. The shingles, just like Washington's were cut from two centuries-old cypress.

The last ingredients added were donations to the project from Mount Vernon's farm animals, along with grass clippings collected from the estate's lawns.

Finishing Touches

In 2023, the repository's roof and the gable ends were painted to match the other outbuildings. ⁣Mount Vernon staff first applied a red, linseed oil-based primer, consistent with 18th-century evidence that we have observed on other buildings, and then applied red paint on the roof and cream-colored paint on the gable ends. ⁣

A view of the north side of the Dung Repository roof while being cleaned prior to painting.⁣ (MVLA)Team member Manuel Murcia applies a coat of paint to the west gable end of the Dung Repository with a period-appropriate round paintbrush.⁣ (MVLA)Because the dung repository is a reconstruction of the original and there are no 18th-century images of it, we do not have specific evidence for its finishes. However, the uniform treatment of the other outbuildings (including the blacksmith shop as depicted in Edward Savage’s 1792 painting of the Mansion) points toward the likelihood that the dung repository would have been given the advantages that paint affords in durability and appearance.

The Animals of Mount Vernon

Animals of all kinds played an important role in George Washington's life and the economy of Mount Vernon. Learn more about some of the more important animals that were found on the estate.

meet the animals
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