By Robby Osborne
Before crossing the threshold into the freshly renovated “New Room” at Mount Vernon, George Washington told me in his melodious voice to “Watch My Step.” I found that I had to take the first president’s suggestion literally and stared at the ground until I was well into the room. When I finally looked up, a conflict of the modern and the past went through me as I saw the wall was painted a color I once thought reserved for a Tiffany’s Box.
When Washington returned to his home on Mount Vernon from his second term as president in 1797, his priority was properly furnishing the largest room on his estate, which he and his wife called, “The New Room.” History would repeat itself, as last year a $600,000 restoration project began.
“At the beginning of 2013 we undertook a full scale restoration of this room, the product of which you see here today. It represents true collaboration across disciplines,” said Carol Borchert Cadou, senior vice president for Historic Preservation & Collections. After over a year of restoration work, the New room opened to the public Saturday at 9 a.m.
This restoration wasn’t just some shine and polish, but involved deep research and was the most costly restoration to date. The staff scoured through historical letters, and even put the wall under the microscope.For a long time, The New Room was thought to be a large and extravagant dining room, but recent research has shown Washington’s vision of the New Room as a picture gallery. Because of the restoration, the room is now serving its original purpose.
The room showcases 20 of the 21 pictures, a majority of which were landscapes of rivers, that Washington acquired and hung in the room during his lifetime. The paintings are thought to be a showcase on how Washington celebrated both America’s past and how he saw its future. From private and public lenders, The New Room has acquired a vast majority of its original furnishings.
“There are more than 35 pieces in this room that are traditional Washington pieces,” said Susan Schoelwer, a curator at Mount Vernon. “I would challenge you to find any 18th century room in America that has as much original furnishings in it.”
Mount Vernon is is privately owned and maintained by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, who purchased the estate in 1858. Mount Vernon has received more than 85 million visitors since opening to the public, making it the most popular historic home in America.
3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Mount Vernon, 22121
8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Adults, $18; Children $9