May 2, 2014

Coffee with the President...

In between the hustle and bustle of Washington, D.C. and the tourist traffic of historic Jamestown/Yorktown and Williamsburg is an American treasure, the home of George and Martha Washington.  I have been lucky enough to visit Mount Vernon several times, and it is always a delight to stroll through the beautiful gardens and tour the lovely home that Martha created for a war-weary general.

A 19th century illustration depcting the domestic bliss at Mount Vernonwhich Martha Washington prized. (original artist unknown)

There was a great mini-series in 1984 about Washington, starring Barry Bostwick as Washington and Patty Duke as Martha that really brought to life the vitality and intelligence and determination of the father of our nation.  If you are interested in a good book about his life, I highly recommend Washington: A Life, by Ron Chernow.  It was a Christmas gift from my son a couple of years ago and it was a fascinating glimpse into the life of the great leader and the turbulent times in which he lived and struggled to raise a family and build his home.

So when I spotted this lovely bone china cup while browsing through the gift shop (while my husband waited patiently on the bench outside--he's had a lot of experience with my browsing tendencies!) I thought it would be a lovely reminder of a beautiful home and all the memories of happy trips with my family to this historic place.  The first picture is actually of the back of the home, although it certainly looks grand enough to be the front entry!  Did you know the house is actually made of wood, painted to look like bricks?  Rustication is a technique designed to make a wooden house appear to be constructed from stone by beveling the edges of the siding boards to resemble individual blocks of stone. The siding was painted and sand was thrown onto the wet paint, creating a rough stone-like texture. Washington first rusticated the Mansion in 1758 to make it appear constructed of structural sandstone blocks, which were more expensive than wood or even brick. In doing so, Washington preserved the house his father built, while making it appear in the same league with other more substantially-built—and expensive—houses. 

The front of the house is the side that faces the river, as many guests arrived via boat.  The two-story porch facing the Potomac River is one of the Mansion’s most iconic architectural features and was designed by Washington. In the 18th century, it was extremely rare to see such a grand fa├žade on a private residence.  The piazza provided an additional living space and is widely copied on homes throughout America today.  It's easy to stand on the porch and imagine a boat full of hoop-skirted ladies and be-wigged gentlemen laughingly stepping from their boat to the dock, anticipating the gracious hospitality of this charming home.  In 1798 the Washingtons hosted 677 guests, which strained the pantry as well as their pocketbooks!

The final view on my coffee cup is a charming peek at a small garden nook:

Such scenes are common in Virginia--idyllic little nooks and crannies filled with flowers, white gates and little outbuildings and bee keeps. 
George Washington proposing marriage to the young widow Martha Custis as depicted by 19th century illustrator Jean Leon Jerome Ferris.

This picture reminds me of a garden I saw last summer in Colonial Williamsburg.  I love the colorful foxgloves picking over the white fence.

Mount Vernon
by Hattie Howard (late 1800s)

Subdued and sad, I trod the place
Where he, the hero, lived and died;
Where, long-entombed beneath the shade
By willow bough and cypress made,
The peaceful scene with verdure rife,
He and the partner of his life,
Beloved of every land and race,
Are sleeping side by side.
The summer solstice at its height
Reflected from Potomac's tide
A glare of light, and through the trees
Intensified the Southern breeze,
That dallied, in the deep ravines,
With graceful ferns and evergreens,
While Northern cheeks so strangely white
Grew dark as Nubia's pride.
What must this homestead once have been
In boundless hospitality,
When Greene or Putnam may have met
The host who welcomed Lafayette,
Or when Pulaski, honored guest,
Accepted shelter, food and rest,
While rank and talent gathered in
Its banquet hall of luxury!
What comfort, cheer, and kind intent
The weary stranger oft hath known
When she, its mistress, fair and good,
Reigned here in peerless womanhood,
When soft, shy maiden fancy gave
Encouragement to soldiers brave,
And Washington his presence lent
To grace its bright hearthstone!
O beautiful Mount Vernon home,
The Mecca of our long desire;
Of more than passing interest
To North and South, to East and West,
To all Columbia's children free
A precious, priceless legacy,
Thine altar-shrine, as pilgrims come,
Rekindles patriot fire!

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