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Animals at Mount Vernon
Modern visitors to Mount Vernon can see many of the same animals who lived here in the 18th century.
Learn more about George Washington's great farming innovation, the 16-sided treading barn.
The barn was a two-story structure, 52 feet in diameter. The 16 exterior walls were each about 10 feet 3 inches long.
The other structures in the Dogue Run Farm complex included two stables which could house more than two dozen horses, mules, and oxen as well as two corn cribs for drying a variety of crops including flax, beans, peas, etc., which would have fed the enslaved population, the Washington family, and some livestock.
In a letter to William Pearce in May of 1795, Washington included the amount of bricks he estimated would be needed to build the foundation and first floor walls. He went on to say that he thought 40,000 bricks would not be too many to fire, considering possible loss and breakage during the firing process.
The bricks would have been fired in a kiln on the estate; the clay that was dug for the barn's foundation was used to make the bricks.
The brick foundation made for a sturdier structure, and masonry was preferred over wood because the lower level was built into the earth; wood would have rotted rather quickly in that situation.
The upper level was wood frame. The siding and most of the framing and flooring of the barn were built of southern yellow pine. The treading floor was white oak. The barn roof was covered in three-foot cypress shingles.
Washington also hoped to secure the grain against thieves and called for barred windows on the lower level and strong locks on the doors. There was no access between floors from inside the barn. Pilferage was of great concern to George Washington, as wheat was his cash crop.
George Washington studied and implemented improved farming methods throughout his life. In fact, he thought of himself first as a farmer.
While his initial interest in farming was driven by his own needs to earn a living and improve Mount Vernon, in later years Washington realized his leadership and experimentation could assist all American farmers.
The five-year reconstruction project of George Washington's 16-sided barn was completed and opened to the public on September 27, 1996.
In the late summer through the fall, Mount Vernon's historic trades experts and horses demonstrate wheat treading in the 16-sided barn.