Washington always thought of himself first as a farmer and the Pioneer Farm provides guests with the best way to see how the 8,000-acre plantation was run.

Included in Admission

Access to the Pioneer Farm is included in your estate admission price.

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1. 16-Sided Threshing Barn

This unique two-story barn was invented by George Washington as a way to improve processing wheat by automating the removal of the edible grain from the husks and straw.

The operation begins by placing the harvested wheat on the upper floor of the barn in a ring.  A team of horses would then trot around the upper section in a circle.  What makes the barn unique is Washington's meticulous attention to detail on the spacing of the floorboards which allows the grain, but not the husks or straw, to travel down to the floor below where it can be collected.

The structure on the Pioneering Farmer site is a fully working reconstruction, the original building was located three miles away at Dogue Run farm, part of George Washington's 8,000 acres.

Discover the 16-Sided Barn

2. Slave Cabin

Mount Vernon's five farms depended greatly on the labor of an enslaved workforce.  At its height, Mount Vernon's enslaved population numbered 317 people.  

The re-creation slave cabin provides a sharp contrast in living conditions from the Washington household.

A guest of Washington. Julian Niemcewicz once noted in 1798:

We entered one of the huts of the Blacks, for one can not call them by the name of houses. They are more miserable than the most miserable of the cottages of our peasants.

In the area today you can see examples of how enslaved people supplemented their rations and income by raising their own chickens and keeping gardens.

Housing Enslaved People

3. Corn Cribs

Tobacco drying in the corn crib.

Tobacco drying in the corn crib.

On either side of the 16-sided barn sit two sets of corn cribs.  The corn cribs were used for drying a variety of crops including tobacco, flax, beans, peas, corn and others.  

These provided covered space to keep crops protected from the elements, but also added security from theft.  The open slats provide the necessary airflow to prevent major spoilage.  

Today guests can often see examples of our current harvests drying in the cribs.

4. Demonstration Farm Beds

Preparing to plow the demonstration field

Preparing to plow the demonstration field

Washington grew over 104 different varieties of crops throughout his five farms.  Today Mount Vernon tends several demonstration plots that seasonally highlight the diversity in Washington's agricultural systems.  You can find everything from tobacco, wheat, hemp, flax, potatoes, and vegetables being grown at the site today.

An avid reader, Washington learned quickly to move away from Virginia's cash crop, tobacco, which was known to destroy the soil and transitioned to a more sophisticated system of crop rotation with wheat being the main agricultural product.

This switch from wheat was not only helped protect the soil but also allowed Washington to reduce his independence from Britain and sell grain in the domestic market.

Farming Demonstrations

5. Fishing Boats

Making the 18th century batteau

Making the 18th century batteau

The Potomac River today is not often seen as a source for commercial fishing, however, in Washington's time, it was the most lucrative operation in his entire farming system most years.

Washington operated two fisheries on the Potomac River, harvesting over one million fish a year, mostly shad which fed both the Washingtons and the enslaved community and was used for export.  Fish were harvested by enslaved people using large nets, placed in a circular pattern by boats and then dragged to shore.

At the Pioneer Farm site today you can see two examples of boats used at Mount Vernon, an 18th-century batteau and a punt, which were often used by enslaved workers.

Fishing at Mount Vernon

Historic Trades Demonstrations

6. Live Demonstrations

Demonstration tent at the Pioneer Farm

Demonstration tent at the Pioneer Farm

In addition to farming, there were many activities that workers would perform seasonally at Mount Vernon.  Everything from cooking and spinning fiber to preparing fishnets and more.

Today guests can stop by the demonstration shelter at the Pioneer Farm as well as the yard at the slave cabin to see regular seasonal historic trades demonstrations. 

Seasonal Themes

  • April - Fisheries
  • May - Sheep shearing
  • June - Cattle and dairy production
  • July/August - Wheat production
  • September/October - Cooking demonstrations

Check our calendar to see what demonstrations are being offered currently.

view calendar

7. Sheep!

At the height of Washington's ownership of Mount Vernon, he had over 640 sheep on the plantation.  Today guests visiting the Pioneer Farm can spend time with our sheep and rams in the demonstration paddock.

Not to miss in May are our shearing demonstrations, when our sheep receive their haircut.  The fibers collected are then washed, dyed,and spun into skeins of yarn live in front of guests.

Fiber Demonstration Schedule

8. Potomac River View

For Washington, the Potomac River was not only a profitable source of income but also the main transportation and trade artery for his farm operations.  

Additionally, until the mass adoption of the automobile in the early 20th century, most tourists visiting Mount Vernon would arrive by boat.  Today guests can take a seasonal sightseeing cruise or travel to Mount Vernon by boat.

And while you are down at the farm, be sure to visit the interpretation panels along the wharf that describe the history of Washington's fishing operation and early Potomac river trade.

9. Hell Hole Swamp

George Washington's plat of Hell Hole from George Washington Papers, Series 1, Exercise Books, Diaries, and Surveys 1745-99, Subseries 1A, Exercise Books 1745-1747: School Copy Book, Volume 1, 1745, Library of Congress.

George Washington's plat of Hell Hole from George Washington Papers, Series 1, Exercise Books, Diaries, and Surveys 1745-99, Subseries 1A, Exercise Books 1745-1747: School Copy Book, Volume 1, 1745, Library of Congress.

The Pioneer Farm site is a demonstration site that encompasses activities that would have taken place across Washington's five farms and 8,000 acres.

However, if it was not for the seawall this area would be completely flooded most of the time by the rising Potomac River.  Washington original surveyed the property in the 1740s and labeled it Hell Hole Swamp.

 

 

10. Seasonal Events

Every day is a great day to visit the Pioneer Farm, however, there are several times each year where Mount Vernon host some very special events:

  • Fall Harvest Family Days - October - includes demonstrations, performances, and activities for kids of all ages.
  • Colonial Days - March - provides a classroom-focused day of activities for visiting students and teachers.

Washington the Farmer

Washington's first passion was farming.

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