George Washington’s Mount Vernon has an expansive and inclusive new permanent exhibition, Mount Vernon: The Story of an American Icon.
The exhibition traces the rich and complex history of Mount Vernon—not only the celebrated era of George and Martha Washington, but the lesser-known stories of the enslaved community, earlier and later generations of Washingtons, and the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association (MVLA), which has preserved the property since 1860.
The exhibition represents the largest reunion of original Mount Vernon objects since the dispersal of George and Martha Washington’s estates in 1802. Visitors can revel in the details of such iconic objects as George Washington’s swiveling office chair, Nelly Custis’s state-of-the-art harpsichord, and the Mansion’s original gilded weathervane. Many objects—Martha Washington’s diamond-studded pocket watch, her ruffled cotton robe, a French porcelain ice cream cooler—are new to Mount Vernon’s collection, treasured by Martha’s descendants for generations before the MVLA acquired them in 2020.
Through a landmark loan from Washington and Lee University, the exhibition brings together the original Washington and Custis family portraits. Once displayed together in Mount Vernon’s parlor, these paintings include Charles Willson Peale’s 1772 portrait of a 40-year-old George Washington, the earliest known portrait of him. These paintings and decorative arts are paired with never-before-exhibited artifacts from Mount Vernon’s architectural and archaeological collections. Fragments of stone tools from 10,000 years ago, the Mansion’s original cupola spire, a handmade brick with finger impressions of its anonymous maker, a fragment of the piazza’s 19th-century balustrade: these objects reveal the layers of Mount Vernon’s complex history, which includes Native settlements, other Washington family members, enslaved and hired laborers, and the determined women of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association who raised $200,000 to purchase the property in 1860 and still operate the site today.