After George Washington died, his family estate passed down through a number of relatives (Washington had no surviving children but did have step-children from Martha’s previous marriage.)
In 1848 the current “Washington” who owned Mount Vernon, John Augustine Washington, put the property for sale. John had tried to restore the property for years but did not have the means to keep up the 200 year old estate. John offered to sell the property to the Commonwealth of Virginia. Virginia was not interested in buying their most famous son’s home. John then went to the US Government and offered the estate for sale to the nation. The Federal Government was also not interested in buying the home of its first president.
Mount Vernon was in deep need of repair and it seemed, for a time, that the entire estate would simply fall apart. (For a period in the 19th century, part of the estate’s overhanging roof was held up by large pieces of wood which had been originally cut to be ships masts. The wood beams are visible in the picture below.)
Ann Pamela Cunningham thought that was ridiculous. She formed the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. Through fundraising efforts and sheer force of will, they bought the estate for $200,000 in 1858 and took possession of the entire estate on February 22, 1860.
Then that April, the Civil War started. Both sides wanted to claim George Washington’s home as a source of legitimacy. (George Washington was on Confederate money and seen as a Confederate founding father.)
Though there were many terrible battles that took place nearby Mount Vernon (Like Manassas), The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association ensured the neutrality of the estate and it was never taken by any army. Many visitors in those days were soldiers. They were not allowed to wear uniforms nor carry weapons when visiting (and each paid to visit). It was mutual hallowed ground.
To this day Mount Vernon is run and owned by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. It is a private estate and takes no tax dollars (state or federal) to help with its operation. They renovated the entire estate and made it into one of the most impressive living history museums in the world.
A day pass to Mount Vernon is $17, and includes a guided tour. Which I believe is quite reasonable.
In fact, The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association has just opened a George Washington presidential library because Washington previously did not have one.
I have a deep respect for the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. They, as private citizens, knew what was worth preserving when the government (state and federal) was too focused on the “now” and not seeing the value of what was, in their eyes, a worthless decrepit and slightly out-of-the-way estate.