Treasure #1 from My National Treasure Tour: Mt. Vernon and Anne Cunningham, the Woman Who Rescued It, and What We Can Learn From Her

Are you ready to go on a National Treasure Tour with me?! In honor of Independence Day coming up, I am going to blog over the next while to share my “national treasures”: my memories, book ideas, and nuggets of truth from my trip to Washington D.C. that I took in May, with my homeschool group. It was epic! The video clip below is from National Treasure 2 and it features the subject of today’s post.

 

 

Yes, Treasure #1 from my recent “National Treasure Tour” is Mt. Vernon. Mt. Vernon is the beloved home of George Washington. He inherited it from his older half-brother Lawrence when Lawrence died. I didn’t know this, until I visited it, that Mr. Vernon is privately owned. Thirteen years ago my family drove by it on our way from Williamsburg, VA to the airport. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to get out and tour it. The closest we got was into the parking lot to see the visitors’ center (The Ford Orientation Center) while sitting in the car. This was sheer torture for me! So close and yet so far!!! We had just spent three days at Colonial Williamsburg with my parents, sibs, and all the grandkids, and now it was time to go home. So ever since then, I have been itching to get back there, go past the parking lot, and get inside the mansion!

 

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I consider Colonial Williamsburg, Mt. Vernon, and Nauvoo like Disneyland, so you can imagine how giddy I was when I got to actually get inside Mt. Vernon, at last! The Mt. Vernon estate is so vast and has so many things to look at and explore I could probably go every day for a month 8 hours a day and still not absorb everything.

 

 

Up until my recent visit, I had the idea that it was owned by the federal government, that it was a National Park. Not so. In the 1800s, it was one woman, Ann Pamela Cunningham, who spearheaded the efforts to buy Mt. Vernon and restore it to its original beauty, as a national treasure for public viewing and enjoyment. I think that is soooo cool! It just goes to show what one woman can do! I love this!!!

 

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Ann Pamela Cunningham

She started a not-for-profit organization, the Mt. Vernon Ladies’ Association. With this group, she raised $200K to buy Mt. Vernon from George’s great-grandnephew John Augustine Washington. So now the organization owns it and runs it today. Not only does the story of Mt. Vernon’s restoration project show what one woman can do, but it also shows what one mother can do!

 

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Doesn’t this make you want to lie down and sigh, looking up at the clouds, or have a picnic, or sit against the tree and read a book?

It was Ann’s mother Louisa Bird Cunningham, who inspired Ann to the cause. Louisa, a semi-invalid who suffered from a horseback riding injury, made regular trips to the doctor. Her mother often attended her on these trips. Once on her way home from a trip to visit Ann and the doctor, the ship’s bell unexpectedly woke her up in the night. Louisa noticed Mt. Vernon on the edge of the Potomac River as she rode on a steamer ship.  Right after awakening, she noticed the disrepair of Washington’s beloved estate. Then she wrote the following words to her daughter Ann:

“I was painfully distressed at the ruin and desolation of the home of Washington and the thought passed through my mind: Why was it that the women of his country did not try to keep it in repair, if the men could not do it? It does seem such a blot on our country!” (Quoted in Elswyth Thane, Mount Vernon is Ours: The Story of its Preservation(New York: Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, 1966), 16.)

Where would we be without Washington’s Mt. Vernon? It is an ensign and a rallying symbol to remind us of a statesman who served his country unselfishly with public virtue. I am grateful for a mother who, unexpectedly awakened in the night, took the time to notice something, that I believe God wanted her to notice, and write to her daughter about it.

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Mt. Vernon even inspires gingerbread homes! My friend’s daughter created this last Christmas after her visit to Mt. Vernon the previous spring.

I hope you can go to Mt. Vernon someday. If you’ve ever been, I’d love to hear your thoughts. It is so beautiful! Here I am sitting in the garden.

 

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Mt. Vernon has many features: the actual home where Washington lived, called the mansion, the greenhouse, the wharf, a gristmill, the slaves’ quarters, the blacksmith shop, a distillery, a visitor’s center with exhibits, an education center with a theater and exhibits, gift shops, places to buy food, and much much more!

 

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One side of the mansion was being worked on so it has scaffolding covering it. Not the best for pictures. 🙂 I snapped this one while I was waiting for my tour of the mansion to begin. The guy leading the group played the fife and drum for us earlier in a chat we had with a woman reenacting Martha.

 

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Then I got this one while standing in line to go inside. I’m sure it will be looking much better when the renovation is done.

 

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We weren’t allowed to take pictures of the inside. The other side of the mansion looks out on the Potomac River, with a gorgeous view. See below.

 

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Living in Arizona makes me miss grass like this!

 

 

It was just so wonderful to walk these sacred grounds and think, wow, George Washington actually walked here! He lived and breathed here. He really lived! His dear wife Martha lived here. They raised her children, his stepchildren here. George pioneered farming methods here.

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America’s First First Family: George, his wife Martha, and her children from a previous marriage, John, aka Jack and Martha, aka Patsy.

 

I can’t describe the feelings I had adequately as I saw the grounds, the beautiful gardens, his home/mansion, the slave quarters, and objects he actually owned and touched. The closest I can come is to say that maybe it was the Holy Spirit bearing witness to me that he really lived and he sacrificed his home comforts to lead the colonists in the war for independence, for the sacred holy cause of liberty. He was a true statesman, worthy of emulation, because he did not let power get to his head. He could have easily become king as he had the overwhelming support of the people, but he refused. I wonder if that’s the same feeling Ann Cunningham felt and if that’s why she felt compelled to make Mt. Vernon into a living legacy for the general public to learn from. I think so. So thank you Ann Cunningham! In the video of the story of Ann and the Mt. Vernon Ladies’ Association, which I posted above, it sounds like John A.’s wife Eleanor felt the same Spirit and convinced her husband to sell it to the Association. How grateful I am that that all came about.

Here are some questions I pose to all of us from this treasured experience I had visiting Mt. Vernon:

  •  If Ann Cunningham can raise $200K being semi-invalid, in three years’ time (before the days of the Internet selling, kickstarter, and gofundme.com) and leave a legacy that has endured long after her death, what can you do?
  • Who do you know who can help you with your cause? Ann asked Edward Everett Hale to donate the money he raised doing public speeches to the cause of restoring Mt. Vernon.
  • Do you ever wake unexpectedly at night because of a sound like Louisa did? What might you notice in that time, like she did, that could inspire you to reach out to someone and inspire them to a cause?
  • Washington is remembered as a war hero, a commander of the army, a signer of the Constitution, a pioneering farmer, statesman, loving husband and father, a churchgoer, and our first president, among other things. How do you want to be remembered?
  • What can you do consistently, starting today, to change how you will be remembered in each of your roles?
  • How can you make your home, however humble it may be, so lovely that you can say as Washington said of Mt. Vernon, “No estate in United America is so pleasantly situated as this.”?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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