Mount Vernon is nothing but swooping green hills, plump groves of tulip poplars, sycamores, and red maples. Today a clear sky hangs above a perfect red-roofed colonial mansion in the distance.
George Washington’s Virginia home is filled with hordes of historically conscious tourists, most have traveled thousands of interstate miles to bring their families here so everyone can play on their phones.
My guide is Mimi. She is a random elderly woman tourist I met at the gate. Big glasses. White hair. Mimi used to teach high school history in North Carolina.
Mimi gestures at George Washington’s mansion. “None of this woulda been here if not for women,” she says. “Women fought for Mount Vernon.”
She is using her teacher's voice.
In the 1850s, Washington’s wooden house was in shambles. In some places it was splintering like a hobo’s shack.
The great-great nephew of George Washington inherited this place, but didn’t know what to do with it. There were ruts in the floorboards, the walls were crumbling, the place smelled like an old bowling shoe.
The nephew tried to rescue Vernon by asking outsiders for help. After all, this was a historic landmark. The Washington family had owned this land since 1674. But almost nobody wanted to save it.
Mimi says, “The only folks interested in buying Washington’s house were commercial developers.”
Today’s breed of developers would have love to get their hands on a tourist spot like Vernon, which sees about a million tourists each year. They would have already built a mini-golf course, a casino riverboat in the backyard. And a phone charging station.
When nobody seemed to want the house, the nephew offered to sell it to the Federal Government for a song, to preserve it as a landmark. But they had no interest.
So he offered it to the Commonwealth of Virginia. “Thanks, but no thanks,” was the reply. The state legislatures felt it wasn’t prudent…