Washington's Home And Tomb
( Originally Published 1900 )
Mount Vernon, the home and burial-place of George Washington, is seventeen miles below the city of Washington, the mansion-house, being in full view, standing among the trees on the top of a bluff, rising about two hundred feet above the river. As the steamboat approaches, its bell is tolled, this being the universal custom on nearing or passing Washington's tomb. It originated in the reverence of a British officer, Commodore Gordon, who, during the invasion of the Capital in August, 1814, sailed past Mount Vernon, and as a mark of respect for the dead had the bell of his ship, the " Sea Horse," tolled. The "Hunting Creek Estate " was originally a domain of about eight thousand acres; and Augustine Washington, dying in 1743, bequeathed it to Lawrence Washington, who, having served in the Spanish wars under Admiral Vernon, named it Mount Vernon in his honor. George Washington was born in 1732, in Westmoreland County, farther down the Potomac, and when a boy lived near Fredericksburg, on the Rappahannock River. In 1752 he inherited Mount Vernon from Lawrence, and after his death the estate passed to his nephew, Bushrod Washington, subsequently descending to other members of the family. Congress repeatedly endeavored to have Washing-ton's remains removed to the crypt under the rotunda of the Capitol originally constructed for their reception, but the family always refused, knowing it was his desire to rest at Mount Vernon. The grounds and buildings being in danger of falling into dilapidation, and the estate passing under control of strangers, a patriotic movement began throughout the country for the purchase of the portion containing the tomb and mansion. The Virginia Legislature, in 1856, passed an act authorizing the sale, and under the auspices of a number of energetic ladies who formed the "Mount Vernon Association," assisted by the oratory of Edward Everett, who traversed the country making a special plea for help, a tract of two hundred acres was bought for $200,000, being enlarged by subsequent gifts to two hundred and thirty-five acres. These ladies and their successors have since taken charge, restoring and beautifying the estate, which is faithfully preserved as a patriotic heritage and place of pilgrimage for visitors from all parts of the world.
The steamboat lands at Washington's wharf at the foot of the bluff, where he formerly loaded his barges with flour ground at his own mill, shipping most of it from Alexandria to the West Indies. The road from the wharf leads up a ravine eut diagonally in the face of the bluff, directly to Washington's tomb, and along-side the ravine are several weeping willows that were brought from Napoleon's grave at St. Helena. Washington's will directed that his tomb " shall be built of brick," and it is a plain square brick structure, with a wide arched gateway in front and double iron gates. Above is the inscription on a marble slab, " Within this enclosure rests the remains of General George Washington." The vault is about twelve feet square, the interior being plainly seen through the gates. It has upon the floor two large stone coffins, that on the right hand containing Washington, and that on the left his widow Martha, who survived him over a year. In a closed vault at the rear are the remains of numerous relatives, and in front of the tomb monuments are erected to several of them. No monument marks the hero, but carved upon the coffin is the American coat-of-arms, with the single word " Washington."
The road, farther ascending the bluff, passes the original tomb, with the old tombstone antedating Washington and bearing the words " Washington Family." This was the tomb, then containing the remains, which Lafayette visited in 1824, escorted by a military guard from Alexandria to Mount Vernon, paying homage to the dead amid salvos of cannon reverberating across the broad Potomac. It is a round-topped and slightly elevated oven-shaped vault. The road at the top of the bluff reaches the mansion, standing in a commanding position, with a fine view over the river to the Maryland shore. It is a long wooden house, with an ample porch facing the river. It is built with simplicity, two stories high, and contains eighteen rooms, there being a small surmounting cupola for a lookout. The central portion is the original house built by Lawrence Washington, who called it his " villa," and afterwards George Washington extended it by a large square wing at each end, and when these were added he gave it the more dignified title of the "Mansion."
The house is ninety-six feet long and thirty feet wide, the porch, extending along the whole front, fifteen feet wide, its top being even with the roof, thus covering the windows of both stories. Eight large square wooden columns support the roof of the porch. Behind the house, on either side, curved colonnades lead to the kitchens, with other outbuildings beyond. There are various farm buildings, and a brick barn and stable, the bricks of which it is built having been brought out from England about the time Washington was born, being readily carried in those days as ballast in the vessels coming out for Virginia tobacco. The front of the mansion faces east, and it has within a central hall with apartments on either hand. At the back, beyond the outbuildings and the barn, stretches the carriage road, which in Washington's time was the main entrance, off to the porter's lodge, on the high road, at the boundary of the present estate, about three-quarters of a mile away. Everything is quiet, and in the thorough re-pose befitting such a great man's tomb; and this is the modest mansion on the banks of the Potomac that was the home of one of the noblest Americans.