New Mount Vernon museum exhibits archaeology finds

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New Mount Vernon museum exhibits archaeology finds

February 29, 1996 
by Pamela Cressey

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The new museum on architectural restoration and archaeology includes artifacts from under the ground and the "Dove of Peace" weathervane, which was on top of the Mount Vernon Mansion since 1786.
This is a multiple-choice survey. How often do you visit Mount Vernon? 1) I went there once, why go again? 2) I don't go, but it's an easy place to drop off out-of-town guests for a day. 3) I only drive past at 8 A.M. and 6 P.M. weekdays. 4) I hear the lines are long and the price high, so I go to free museums 5) I'm not interested in an elite male's house; I like the common people. 5) Every time I can, because the experience is always enlightening. I choose number 5.

I am inevitably awed whenever I stand outside the Mansion and look over the Potomac. Over the years, the Home of George Washington has offered me even more. I have been mesmerized by a special candlelight tour of the Mansion and glimpses of the slave quarters. The Archaeology Department's laboratory meticulously curates the wonderful artifacts unearthed from different parts of the estate. The hands-on education programs bring the history alive. We are so fortunate to have Mount Vernon close to our homes and are indebted to the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association for their valiant preservation and education efforts since 1853.

This month a new museum opened at Mount Vernon which features architectural restoration and artifacts discovered through archaeological excavations in the blacksmith shop, a cellar underneath the slave quarters and the trash midden near-the Mansion.

The Mount Vernon archaeologists, directed by Dennis Pogue and Esther White, excavated thousands of artifacts from the six foot square cellar of the slave quarters referred to as the "House for Families." The majority of slaves at the Mansion House Farm (one of the five farms which comprised the 8000-acre plantation) lived there.

The blacksmith dig yielded artifacts associated with the craftsmanship of the Washington slaves. These skilled artisans were instrumental in the plantation's production through their repair of tools, cooking equipment, wagons and shoeing of horses.

In contrast, the extensive excavation of the domestic trash discarded outside the Mansion documents the Washingtons' lifestyle. The exhibit features the broken fragments of gilt-decorated Chinese porcelain, silver furniture inlay and fine glass dessert pyramids. An interactive component of the exhibit is a great learning tool, especially for children.

Esther White has commented about the value of the archaeological study: "Even at Mount Vernon, where more research and documentation is available than at most sites, archaeology provides the answers to many basic questions about the people who lived at Mount Vernon. We've learned about their diets, how they furnished their homes, and how they spent their leisure time."

Think about visiting the new museum on archaeology and architectural restoration and enjoying the buildings and grounds. Visitation is lower before the Spring season, and the price for hours of family pleasure will be lower than going to an evening movie. Call 703-780-2000 for information.

Pamela Cressey is the Alexandria City Archaeologist.