Men like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin have always been larger than life to me. Since the first time I heard about our Founding Fathers it was in stories that had only grown more grand over the 200 years since they had lived. And not just their legends, but their statues and monuments, too.
But they were real men, too. All three owned slaves. All three amassed huge fortunes. Jefferson and Franklin had mistresses and illicit children. And they did it all while making invaluable contributions to the founding of the country.
So they weren't all good or all bad. They weren't giants of history. And nothing will reinforce that they were just men than going to their homes and seeing where they lived. At George Washington's Mount Vernon we saw where he greeted guests, where he ate, where he worked, and where he slept.
Although the mansion itself is more than 11,000 square feet it's the very antithesis of an open floor plan. Those 11,000 feet are carved up into 21 rooms. (Too lazy to figure that out? It's about 500 square feet per room.) To my modern sensibilities it felt dark and claustrophobic. And George was at least two inches taller than I am.
Aside from the mansion there are at least 25 other buildings covering the 500 acres along the Potomac River owned by the Washington family since 1674. There are so many buildings to see there's no chance we would see them all in our short visit. What to do?
If you've been reading any of these visits you know that we take advantage of tours whenever we can. Less obvious is our reliance on Junior Ranger programs to help guide us to the most important areas. While Mount Vernon isn't a National Park Service site it does have a program for kids. With an app on your phone (iPhone or even Android if you don't have an iPhone) your littles can be one of Washington's spies. Finish The Agent 711: Revolutionary Spy Adventure and you get a prize as well as a guided tour.
It was 103F when we visited. That's too hot for anything other than staying in the air conditioned museum. When you go, make sure it's cooler and get your tickets as part of the Washington DC Explorer Pass. (That pass also covers a bunch of other sites including a bunch of museums we visited.)
(And if you can't get to Mount Vernon use the virtual tour. It's remarkably good.)