Location: Mount Vernon, Virginia
Notable Owners: George & Martha Washington
Period: 1734 - 1776
National Historic Landmark
The house that became Mount Vernon was first built in 1735. Over the next half century, George Washington enlarged it at least three times. The resulting structure is a deeply complex puzzle. During the past 150 years, periodic interventions by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association have further complicated the structure, and in recent times, the addition of modern systems introduced still another layer of change. The entire process has produced one of the most intricate and challenging buildings our firm has ever encountered. Nonetheless, the task was to understand Mount Vernon’s cellar, and to assess the feasibility of restoring it to the time just before George Washington’s death in 1799.
To establish a reliable chronology for the building’s development, MCWB surveyed documentary and visual records complied by Mount Vernon staff. This material included relevant Washington archives, historic
drawings and photos, studies by past consultants, and data from previous archaeological excavations. After reviewing the full range of available sources, MCWB offered suggestions for mortar testing and for further archaeology, both aimed at testing hypotheses about the various building phases. Every piece of wood in the cellar was inventoried, characterized physically, and dated, to fix its place in the overall sequence of events. In the same way, all masonry features were studied in detail, linking them to similar workmanship of known date. This resulting data, a vast body of information, was synthesized to provide a physical history of the cellar, including the state it attained by 1799.
Using scans of the cellars prepared by MCWB staff, it was possible to prepare a series of 3-dimensional views depicting the state of Mount Vernon’s cellar at various points in its history. Working with a team of engineers and conservators, MCWB used the 1799 view to develop a scope of work for restoring the cellar to 1799. From that scope, the architectural and engineering teams developed schematic estimates for execution of the work.