While staying in Manassas Virginia we had an opportunity to run up to Mount Vernon. This is the plantation home of George Washington. Being military history buffs, much of Washington's exploits both as a British Colonel during the French and Indian war (1757-1764) and as commanding General of the Colonial Forces in the American Revolution (1775-1783), were somewhat familiar to us. We were looking for the man behind the battles. This normally can be found by reviewing the letters written to love ones. Martha Washington receive a myriad of correspondence over the many years of her husband's campaigns, but chose to keep their many thoughts private by destroying all but 2 missed letters. What he did leave, was his personality on everything at his beloved estate mansion. In Colonial America, land was money, the more land you had, the wealthier you were. George Washington's father was by the standards of that day, a reasonably wealthy man, having acquired some 2500 acres. This land passed to Washington's elder half-brother at his father's death. Following the half-brother's death, Washington leased the land from the widow until her death when the property came rightfully into his hands. Washington lived at Mount Vernon from 1754 until his death in 1799. He is buried on the property. Although George and Martha had no children of their own, they came from large extended families which brought many children to the estate. Over the years, Washington would continually build onto the mansion and add to the estate. At one time the estate would encompass over 8000 acres managed by over 300 slaves. To this day the estate is still over 500 acres in size. Washington was not particularly well educated, but was considered an avid reader. Although he was destined to spend many years away from his beloved home, he never forgot it. Many changes and improvements were made following his correspondence from afar. The mansion was expanded and attachments were added connected by archways. The back of the house has a magnificent panoramic view of the Potomac River about a 1/4 of a mile away. The 14 rooms available for viewing are meticulously reproduced in both original Washington furnishings and period reproductions selected for their authenticity through the use of a detailed inventory of the property taken in 1799. Our arrival at this spacious plantation was somewhat different from those of long ago. Instead of riding up the main path to the bowling green style front lawn as would have been customary, we were escorted to a table manned by uniform security personnel who conducted a rudimentary search of all bags, purses and camera cases. Welcome to the new age. For those ancient visitors, the wide expanse of the bowling green created a foreground for the Mansion, evoking the naturalistic style of English landscapes so appreciated by Washington. It's symmetry however also reflected his enduring admiration of formal landscaping. The grass was regularly cut with scythes and smoothed with a roller to keep the surface firm and even. Although Washington held many titles and ranks, he was in his own eyes foremost, a farmer. Over the years he kept some 3000 acres under cultivation. He would often add a bit of nature to his otherwise stiff English design by having orchards planted in irregular patterns rather then in rows. He was always thinking up ways to improve production and reduce time and effort. He was determined to find a more efficient way to process the wheat he grew, and his creation of a 16 sided barn was one solution. This allowed animal treading to take place inside, protected from the elements. Horses trampled the harvested wheat, trotting on a lane inside the nearly circular barn, and the impact of their hooves broke the grain free. The slatted floor of the upper level permitted only the grain to fall to the level below, where it was cleaned and stored. A working reconstruction is in place today. Washington also ran a profitable whisky distilling business and other enterprises of which all were successful. Washington was an aggressive tree lover, often being heard voicing complaints about the amount of trees being cut in Virginia. Of the thousands of trees he had planted throughout the Plantation, only 13 are still alive. A cloning process is under way to replace some of the original trees. So great was the reputation of George Washington that river boat captains took to ringing a salute when passing the mansion. As time passed, the manor and lands passed on to other Washington heirs, and was finally abandoned and slid into dreadful disrepair. In the middle 1800s, attempts to get the Federal Government to buy the property fell on deaf ears. With a civil war looming in the future, money was just not available. So it was in 1853 that the mother of Pamela Cunningham of South Carolina, was summoned to the deck of the ship she was traveling on, by the ringing of the ship's bell. Having been told of the reason for the ringing, she was appalled by the deteriorated sight of the mansion and grounds. In a letter to her daughter describing her distress over what she had witnessed, she commented that if the men of this nation could not keep up such a remarkable place, then the women should. Inspired by her mother's comments, Ann Pamela Cunningham launched a campaign to raise the funds necessary to purchase and preserve the home of Washington. The Association she founded in 1853, a nationwide organization of women, appealed to the American people for $200,000. The country responded and five years later the Association purchased the mansion along with some 200 surrounding acres. Today, the Mount Vernon Ladies Association is the oldest preservation organization in the country. Under their 140 year leadership, Mount Vernon has been authentically restored to its original appearance. It was a beautiful place especially with the turning of the leaves for fall. I would put this on everyone's "must see" list, especially if history is your interest. If you would like to find more information about Mt. Vernon be sure and check out their website at: http://www.mountvernon.org.