This past weekend, my family and I travelled to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate on the Potomac River where he spent most of his life. It was a great experience and I really enjoyed being able to wander around the grounds and see some of the same buildings that Washington lived and worked in.
I really enjoyed all of the history on the grounds and learning some new facts about the Washingtons, their guests, and their servants/slaves. At the same time, I don’t think that the Ladies of Mount Vernon (the sites governing body) did such a good job when they created the tour inside the house.
During the tour, you travel through many of the important rooms in the house and get to look at others without actually going inside. I have no problem with this, it is completely understandable that they don’t want just anyone wandering around the house and messing up paint or pieces of furniture or art that is more than 200 years old.
My problem came with the speed of the tour.
The docent in each of the important rooms in the house said their little spiel to about 20 people per group (too many for the small spaces, which made it so that not everyone could see everything) and then sent them on their merry way. Each of these short, but informative, speeches were nice but they only allowed people 3-4 minutes in each important area of the home, not nearly enough for people like myself and my father who care much more about what we can glean from objects in the house or questions asked directly to the docent than the little speech made for people who only know Washington from their 3rd grade history class. Not only were the speeches short, but that was all the time that one was allowed in a particular room because the next group of 20 people was hot on the tail of the previous group, not allowing for any time to take a meaningful look around at the rooms in which George Washington lived and worked.
The tour at Mount Vernon was unlike any that I have seen at any other similar sites (such as Jefferson’s Monticello, Madison’s Montpelier, etc.). At these other sites, take Montpelier for example, which is just outside of Orange, Virginia (in the northern part of the state). James Madison lived most of his years (except his first few years and his time as president) at the Montpelier estate and the people who work there now take the time and make the effort to convey to their visitors that it was a house and estate that the Madisons loved. Although the docents at Mount Vernon make the effort to show that the Washingtons (especially George) loved their home and estate, they did not take the time to make sure that everyone who entered the house got something meaningful out of their visit.
I will admit that Mount Vernon has many more visitors per year (close to one million) than Montpelier, but that does not excuse their lack of hospitality.
Despite the failure within the walls of the mansion, there were several people outside of the mansion dressed in 18th century garb and talking about specific parts of the Mount Vernon estate. They did a great job in explaining their tasks or buildings, answering specific questions, and interacting with the general population wandering the grounds.
Overall, I had a good experience, but the underwhelming tour has been weighing on me since my family visited on Saturday.
Be well, do good work.