George Washington's Distillery and Gristmill
George Washington's venture into the whiskey business began at the urging of his farm manager, James Anderson. Anderson, who had been involved in the distilling industry in Scotland before immigrating to America in the early 1790s, was convinced that a distilling business would round out Mount Vernon's complement of economic ventures - and generate substantial profits. Ever the discriminating businessman, Washington proceeded cautiously but allowed Anderson to purchase two stills and set up a small operation in the cooperage next to the gristmill in early 1797. The result was the production of six hundred gallons, sold for a good profit. Encouraged, George Washington agreed to construct a large distillery over the winter of 1797-1798. The new distillery was 75 feet by 30 feet and contained 5 copper pot stills, a boiler, and all required equipment for large-scale whiskey production. In 1799, the year of Washington's death, the distillery produced nearly 11,000 gallons, making it the largest whiskey distillery in America at the time.
Washington's merchant gristmill, erected in 1770-1771, was capable of producing 5,000 to 8,000 pounds of flour and cornmeal a day. Over a period of 29 years, Washington's wheat crops were turned into flour for overseas markets, and the corn ground at the gristmill was used to feed the slave population and paid staff, as well as the Washington family and their frequent guests. In the fall of 1791, Washington learned of the newly patented automated milling system invented by Oliver Evans. Evans received U.S. Patent #3 for his groundbreaking system, which moved wheat and flour throughout the mill without the need of manual labor. Washington purchased a license for the patent and had the milling system installed in his gristmill. Today, this milling system is faithfully interpreted, fully-functioning, and open to guests on a seasonal basis.
There is so much to do here. I've been to DC many times but usually did not have a car or was not wanting to spend money so I've never been here before. Let me tell you, you will not regret going here. You can easily spend all day here. My wife and I got there at 1pm and left when the museum closed at 6pm rushed through it and we didn't even see the gristmill or distillery! We could have easily spent 8 hours here. When you get in make sure to look at the calendar for the day so you can plan when to be where. If you want to see the weaving for example, it's a walk from the mansion so make sure you're in that area when it starts. Do not miss out on the museum either. There are multiple movies and tons of good information there. In the museum alone expect to spend almost 2 hours. If you've been to Monticello this place is much bigger, highly highly recommend this as something to do outside of the normal National Mall activities in DC.
Amazing! Must stop for locals and tourists! You can do the home, out-buildings, tomb, and pioneer farm in 3 hours if you are efficient. Short sightseeing boat trips are offered, however I suggest coming to Mount Vernon via boat instead of car to avoid ticket lines. The Distillery and Grist Mill is worth the extra $5 - it's amazing to see a working mill and learn about whiskey production during George Washington's time (and they still make whiskey in that manner today!). If you come by boat you probably won't have time to go to the Grist Mill. Check the event calendar - Martha and George reenactments are a must see. Also, Mansion tours during after-hours are more informative. Some parts are seasonal, they open the 3rd floor only in January and in the summer and spring the Pioneer Farm is more active.
Great place to spend the day. Would definitely recommend getting there as soon as they open. There's a lot to do. Dave, at the wharf, was very friendly and VERY accommodating. Also, the guide who did the National Treasure tour was funny and incredibly knowledgeable. Everything, inside and out, is beautifully maintained. There's a lot of walking, but trails are shaded, and there are plenty of places to stop.
Spend the day. I thought we could see everything within 4 hours - no way!! The gardens were amazing. The audio tour was very good. I would avoid early morning arrival, especially during the school year. Many school groups tour the grounds and house from 9am to 11:30am (10 min house tour). The earliest public tour is around 11:45am (30 min house tour). You can only enter the house once - so make it count! We went in the Spring, perfect temp moderate crowds - I'm assuming Summer is a different story.
The historical site is so well maintained, with a real variety of structures to view, showcasing not just George Washington's life, but the lives of enslaved and employed plantation workers. Various maps, scavenger hunts, and interactive apps engage all ages of visitors. The Museum/Learning Center is large, and extremely well organized! Fantastic interactive displays kept the group of children I attended with (ages 8-12) engaged. Multiple gift stores, 2 of which are large, offer souvenirs in a wide array of price ranges. A good, albeit slightly pricey, eatery, but sufficient food for the price. My only complaints are, I wish it stayed open longer than 5pm, and I wish they did not rush you through the house so quickly.