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THIS IS AMERICA - August 26, 2002: Mount Vernon - 2002-08-23


VOICE ONE:

Millions of people have visited the beautiful country home of the first president of the United States. It is Mount Vernon in the state of Virginia. I’m Sarah Long.

VOICE TWO:

And I’m Steve Ember. Today we take you to the beloved home of George Washington on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.

((THEME))

VOICE ONE:

The woman who welcomes you to Mount Vernon wears a long dress. On her head is a small white hat that was popular hundreds of years ago. This guide looks like a picture from the eighteenth century. But then, so does almost everything else at the country home of America’s first military hero and president. Visiting here is like traveling more than two centuries into the past.

Everything seems quiet and calm on the green Virginia hillside of Mount Vernon. The long wooden building looks over the Potomac River. The home is only twenty-four kilometers south of Washington, D-C. But here, you feel far from the busy city. The warm afternoon sun is starting to sink lower in the sky. Before too long, darkness will fall on the white house that George Washington helped design.

VOICE TWO:

The woods around the home show the deep green of summer leaves. Birds sing, but there are few other sounds. No boats sail by on the Potomac River. On the hill leading down from the home to the river, goats sleep in the grass.Farming still takes place at Mount Vernon, just as it did when George Washington and his wife Martha lived here. The guide urges you to think what life was life for them in this place, so long ago.

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VOICE ONE:

Mount Vernon was home to George Washington for more than forty-five years. But he spent many years away from his home. In seventeen-seventy-five, he commanded the Continental Army of the American colonies in their war of independence from Britain. After the war he was the most famous leader of the new nation. He was elected president two times without opposition. And he was offered a third term. But he refused. He wanted to return to the life he had led at Mount Vernon before the war.

George Washington returned to live on his large farm after serving as president. Mount Vernon tells us about his informal, unofficial life. During those last years, he led the life of a rich farmer. He planned and directed the work of the five farms. He supervised Mount Vernon’s crops and animals. As a farmer, he was always interested in new ideas and methods.

He and his wife Martha provided meals for many friends in their beautiful dining room. The Washingtons also provided sleeping rooms and food for many travelers. Very few hotels existed then. So George and Martha Washington offered shelter to about six-hundred visitors a year. Many were strangers.

VOICE TWO:

Sadly, George Washington was able to enjoy retirement at Mount Vernon for less than three years. He died there in seventeen-ninety-nine. The sixty-seven-year old American hero became sick with a cold and throat disease. Modern doctors believe he died of a severe infection.

When George Washington died, citizens throughout the new nation mourned. The United States was a very young country at that time. The American people felt a terrible loss at the death of their revolutionary war hero and first president. George Washington was often called “the father of his country.” Historians say the United States might never have been created or survived long without him. More than seven-hundred speakers throughout the country honored him. Small towns and villages held funeral marches. Businesses were closed for days. Bells rang without stopping.

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VOICE ONE:

There is much to see on more than two-hundred hectares at Mount Vernon. You can walk through the great house, two museums and more than twelve small buildings. You can also see four gardens, the farm area and guided nature paths.

The guide suggests we start in the main house. It has three levels. George Washington was responsible for much of the design. His office is on the ground level. It contains many of his books. This is the room where George Washington planned the activities of his farm. It also is where he wrote to other political leaders. One writer called this room “the center of political intelligence for the new world.”

Another guide leads you up the steps to the two higher levels of the main house. Mount Vernon contains eight sleeping rooms. George and Martha Washington needed all these bedrooms for their visitors. Above the bedrooms is one of Washington’s own inventions – a cupola. This small room has glass on all sides. Hot summer air from inside the house escaped through these windows.

VOICE TWO:

More than one-hundred-twenty-five black people from Africa worked as slaves at Mount Vernon. They played an important part in its operation. Slaves and some paid workers operated the five farms. Each farm had its own buildings, supervisor, workers, equipment and animals. Together, the farms covered more than one-thousand hectares.

Other slaves built houses and furniture. Still others cooked and performed many services in the house. You can see the burial places of George Washington’s slaves on Mount Vernon property.

Historians say George Washington must carry the blame and dishonor of having kept slaves. Still, as he grew older he came to disapprove of slavery. He ordered that his slaves be freed after he and his wife died.

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VOICE ONE:

After George and Martha Washington died, Mount Vernon was given to other family members. By the eighteen-fifties, the person who owned it did not have enough money to keep it in good condition. He offered to sell Mount Vernon to the state of Virginia or to the federal government. Both refused the offer.

That is when an organization called the Mount Vernon Ladies Association rescued the home. The group was able to buy the property with gifts of money from citizens.

The Mount Vernon Ladies Association still operates the property today. It manages the home, farm and museums. It also operates libraries and teaching and research centers.

VOICE TWO:

Mount Vernon officials recently began a campaign to add three more buildings. They are working to raise eighty-three-million dollars for new learning centers and technologies. The officials want visitors to have a better idea of George Washington’s personal life. They say Mount Vernon should better describe him as a man. They also say Mount Vernon needs technology that will increase its interest among young people. This means devices that young visitors can operate to get information.

One new building would be a visitors’ center. There, people could see a film about the life and times of America’s first president. A George Washington Education Center would present exhibits. The exhibits would show the first president’s life in the military, in politics and in business. A new museum would show documents and personal goods linked to George Washington’s life.

Also included in the plans for Mount Vernon are educational programs for schools and communities across the nation. Published materials, C-D-Roms and Internet Web sites would tell about President Washington’s life and work.

VOICE ONE:

The Mount Vernon Ladies Association has made a number of changes over the years. Many visitors praise the organization for keeping the historical spirit of Mount Vernon while improving the property.Now, however, some experts question if that spirit will survive the planned changes. They express concern that the changes could make Mount Vernon seem too modern.

As you end your visit to Mount Vernon, the sun is setting. You turn around for one more look at George Washington’s home. You close your eyes and picture George and Martha Washington reading in their library. Then you walk away, into the gathering darkness and the twenty-first century.

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VOICE TWO:

This program was written by Jerilyn Watson. It was produced by Caty Weaver. I’m Steve Ember.

VOICE ONE:

And I’m Sarah Long. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.

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