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Garden at George Washington Mount Vernon

There are four gardens at Mount Vernon and each has a special purpose.  Photo Credit: Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association

My grandparents were Hungarian immigrants. They lived in a little Wisconsin farmhouse on a plot of land with ten children and a cellar where they stored food to feed their large family.

They were not wealthy. In fact, my mom remembers chewing wax instead of gum because chewing gum was a luxury. And when she got a deep cut in her hand from jumping a fence, my grandma dunked her injured hand in a jar of pickle juice to avoid infection because going to the doctor was too expensive. Luckily her hand healed.

I loved when my grandma came to visit because she was a great cook. Everything she made was from scratch and it was mostly simple meals. My favorite was a green bean soup that I thought was a culinary masterpiece but for her, it was just something she had always made because they grew green beans on the farm. Simple. Inexpensive. Home grown. I’m grateful for learning from her.

About that Cellar

Maybe it’s because of her that I have always loved farms and farm life. Once upon a time my husband and I had a little piece of land, backyard livestock, and our own garden, but never a cellar to store the things we grew.

I always wondered how it was possible to store food in a cellar without it going bad. I remember my mom telling me they stored apples, potatoes, other root vegetables, and things they canned. I wondered how long that food would last buried deep in the earth. For a season? For a year? Or was it more?

Well, it seems that archaeologists at George Washington’s Mount Vernon may have just unearthed some answers to that question.

Buried Treasure at George Washington’s Mount Vernon

historical bottles in a dirt hole archaelogical dig George Washington Mount Vernon

If you’ve ever wondered how long provisions can survive in a cellar…archaeologists at George Washington Mount Vernon may provide some answers!  Photo Credit: Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association

With tiny shovels, plastic picks, and metal dustpans, archaeologists have painstakingly uncovered 35 glass bottles from storage pits in the Mansion cellar. 29 of these 18th century bottles contain perfectly preserved cherries and berries.

According to reports, this discovery follows a recent find in the cellar of two intact European-manufactured 18th-century glass bottles containing liquid, cherries, and pits.

“These artifacts likely haven’t seen the light of day since before the American Revolution, perhaps forgotten when George Washington departed Mount Vernon to take command of the Continental Army. This means the bottles are extremely fragile and require the utmost care…”

Doug Bradburn, Mount Vernon President & CEO

Where do Heirlooms Come From?

You may wonder what value there is in jars of 250-year-old fruit. That true value is being discovered through analysis of the find.

According to the news released by George Washington’s Mount Vernon, they have partnered with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service to analyze the contents of these historic bottles. So far, study of the bottles reveal:

  • 54 cherry pits and 23 stems have been identified thus far, suggesting that the bottles were likely full of cherries before bottling. Cherry pulp is also present.
  • Microscopy suggests that the cherries may have been harvested by snipping from trees with shears. The stems were neatly cut and purposefully left attached to the fruit before bottling.
  • The cherries likely are of a tart variety, which has a more acidic composition that may have aided in preservation.
  • The cherries are likely candidates for DNA extraction, which could be compared against a database of heirloom varieties to determine the precise species.
  • The pits are undergoing an examination to determine if any are viable for germination.

Garden enthusiasts with a love of heirloom plants might like that news! 

Now, you might be wondering why they were digging around in George Washington’s cellar to begin with. For that answer, we look toward the newest revitalization efforts of the historic home.

Mansion Revitalization Project

details of the archaeological dig George Washington Mount Vernon

Archaeologists painstakenly dig in the cellar of George Washington Mount Vernon to uncover the treasures that provide a glimpse into Washington’s life.  Photo Credit: Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association

These archaeological finds were made possible by a privately funded $40 million Mansion Revitalization Project at George Washington’s Mount Vernon home.

In the short video on the website, you’ll learn that they are restoring the home so that generations upon generations will get a glimpse of the iconic home of America’s first president. A key part to achievling that goal is to restore the foundation George Washington’s 18th century cellar, which is vital to supporting the structure above.

“This historic discovery comes at the beginning of our transformational $40 million Mansion Revitalization Project to strengthen and restore the home of the nation’s first president so that it will be stronger than ever when we celebrate America’s 250th birthday in 2026. This historic preservation project is Mount Vernon’s birthday gift to America…”

Doug Bradburn, Mount Vernon President & CEO

As much as possible, they are using techniques and material that is compatible with that historic time period. In addition, they are adding a state of the art HVAC system for the home and drainage to control moisture which aligns with the goal of maintaining the property for years to come.

The Value of Preservation

Front of antebellum home George Washington Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon is an American Treasure that has been maintained for hundreds of years. Thousands of visitors tour the house every day, which has brought about the need for Restoration.  Photo Credit: Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association

When George Washington’s home was originally built, its purpose was a private residence. Since then it has become a public monument that is visited by thousands of people everyday. Can you imagine the wear and tear on your own home if thousands of people visited everyday? Whew!

The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association took the lead in repairs to the Mansion when they acquired the home in 1860. Millions of visitors have enjoyed the estate and learned more about the history of America’s first president and life in the 18th century because of their efforts.

While the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Assocation has done a fantastic job, many of their repairs were directed at whatever needed to be fixed. Today’s Mansion Revitalization Project is approaching this project more holistically to ensure the complex network of interlocking systems is updated and repaired in the most efficient manner. This includes:

  • Repairing sections of the Mansion’s framing and masonry
  • Installing a new heating/ventilation/air conditioning system
  • Improving drainage in and around the Mansion’s cellar
  • Conducting research in rarely accessible spaces

Visiting George Washington’s Mount Vernon

Colonial distillery historical building at George Washington Mount Vernon

The Distillery has been restored and produces spirits which guests can taste during a tour at George Washington Mount Vernon.  Photo Credit: Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association

It’s been many years since I visited Mount Vernon, but I do remember the beautiful grounds. Today, visitors can still visit while the revitalization project is active although there may be some rooms closed to viewing. However, you can see the mansion and grounds much in the way that Washington himself saw them.

The estate is open to visitors and includes the Mansion, a museum and education center, gardens, tombs, a working farm, a functioning distiller, and a gristmill. 

I was not aware that the estate included a distilliery! The distillery produced 11,000 gallons of whiskey in 1799. Today, you can enjoy tastings of three small batch spirits made from the reconstructed distillery. Check the schedule for tickets, dates and times for this outdoor event.

Another opportunity arising from the multi-year restoration project is that history enthusiasts and people who love restoring historic homes now have a unique way to learn more about life in the 18th century and historic home restoriation.

The Preservation Tour

student pouring from the historical bottle George Washington Mount Vernon

Juice poured from one of the historic bottles found in the cellar of Mount Vernon.  Photo Credit: Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association

Take the Preservation Tour and learn about the discoveries that are being unearthed. This 60-minute specialty tour takes a deep dive into Mount Vernon’s history and the museum operations.

Tour Highlights include:

  • Identifying original structures and replicas;
  • Learning how a one-hundred-year-old document led to the transformation of the greenhouse;
  • Viewing the bricks in the reconstructed slave quarters that survived two fires;
  • Why George Washington ordered the construction of a smokehouse after he married Martha;
  • Learning how the stunning view of the Potomac River has been protected from modern development;
  • And more!

These developments show that there is always something new to learn from history. We are in an exciting time when the methods and technologies we have today can help answer some of the mysteries and questions of yesteryear. By filling in the gaps of history’s stories, strengthening the foundation if you will, we get a more complete understanding of our nation’s past.

Sometimes, the wisdom learned on a farm from living a simple life, buried in the recesses of our collective memories or the earth of a cellar, can last forever.

What Else About George Washington Mount Vernon

Colonial styled dining room with forest green walls and table with food prepared George Washington Mount Vernon

Dining room set as George Washington would have used it in the main home of Mount Vernon Estate. Photo Credit: Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association

Mount Vernon is owned and maintained by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of hte Union, a private, non-profit organization.

Location: 3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Mount Vernon, VA 22121

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Other Articles You May Enjoy:

Pilgrims and Oysters: Foodie Roots in the Colonies

Cookbooks Throughout History: Foodie Treasure Troves

America’s Forbidden Fruit: History of Apples in America

 

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