Monday, May 15, 2006

Item of the Day: More Weld's Travels (1800)

[After George Washington became a national icon and the first president,travelers and well-wishers felt at ease dropping into his Mount Vernon home whenever they pleased. Upon arrival, visitors were fed and offered accommodations for one or more nights, in part owing to the difficulty it took to find the place as well as a paucity of local inns. When Weld made his pilgrimage to Mount Vernon, Washington was nearing the end of his second term and had not lived there full time for several years. When he retired from public life in 1796, Washington made it his first order of business to restore and repair his family mansion. ]

From Washington I proceeded to Alexandria, seven miles lower down the river, which is one of the neatest towns in the United States. . . . Nine miles below this place, on the banks of the Patowmac, stands Mount Vernon, the seat of General Washington; the way to it, however, from Alexandria, by land, is considerably farther, on the account of the numerous creeks which fall into the Patowmac, and the mouths of which it is impossible to pass near to.

Very thick woods remain standing within four or five miles of the place; the roads through them are very bad, and so many of them cross one another indifferent directions, that it is a matter of very great difficulty to find out the right one. I set out from Alexandria with a gentleman who thought himself perfectly well acquainted with the way; had he been so, there was ample time to have reached Mount Vernon before the close of the day, but night overtook us wandering about in the woods.

The Mount is a high part of the bank of the river, which rises very abruptly about two hundred feet above the level of the water. The river before it is three miles wide, and on the opposite side it forms a bay about the same breadth, which extends for a considerable distance up the country. . . .The scenery altogether is most delightful. The house, which stands about sixty yards from the edge of the Mount, is of wood, cut and painted so as to resemble hewn stone. The rear is towards the river, at which side is a portico of ninety-six feet in length, supported by eight pillars. The front is uniform, and at a distance looks tolerably well. The dwelling house is in the center, and communicates with the wings on either side, by means of covered ways, running in a curved direction. Behind these wings, on the one side, are the different offices belonging to the house, and also to the farm, and on the other, the cabin for the slaves. In front, the breadth of the whole building, is a lawn with a gravel walk round it; planted with trees, and separated by hedges on either side from the farm yard and garden. As for the garden, it wears exactly the appearance of a nursery, and with everything about the place indicates that more attention is paid to profit than to pleasure. The ground in the rear of the house is also laid out in a lawn, and the declivity of the Mount, towards the water, in a deer park.

The rooms in the house are very small, excepting one, which has been built since the close of the war for the purpose of entertainments. All of these are very plainly furnished, and in many of them the furniture is dropping to pieces. Indeed, the close attention which General Washington has ever paid to public affairs having obliged him to reside principally at Philadelphia, Mount Vernon has consequently suffered very materially. The house and the offices, with every other part of the place, are out of repair, and the old part of the building is in such a perishable state, that I have been told he wishes he had pulled it entirely down at first, and built a new house, instead of making any addition to the one one. The grounds in the nieighbourhood are cultivated; but the principal farms are at the distance of two or three miles.

As almost every stranger going through the country makes a point of visiting Mount Vernon, a person is kept at the house during General Washington's absence, whose sole business it is to attend to strangers. Immediately on our arrival every care was taken of our horses, beds were prepared, and an excellent supper provided for us, with claret and other wine, &c.

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