A couple of years back, our family visited Mount Vernon specifically for their annual special event Mount Vernon by Candlelight.
My daughter, almost 7, was visiting Mount Vernon for the first time and it happened to be the perfect combination of small crowds and mild winter weather.
The Guided Tour Experience
We gathered with our group, donning name tags of Washington’s guests. Our group of 20 was known as Sara Blackburn. Sara, daughter of Revolutionary war patriot, Colonel Thomas Blackburn, were guests at the estate back on January 5, 1785.
Looking around the Ford Orientation Center, I was in awe of brilliantly lit Christmas trees with ornate decorations, lilting music and the large scale doll house of Mount Vernon (big hit with my daughter).
There were other children on tour, but she was the only one in our group.
This was perfect for her because she was chosen by the crier to deliver the visitor invitation to Mrs. Washington!
Our guide, Rita, led our group up the candlelit path to the grounds. It was magical walking past real candles in the lanterns guiding us to Washington’s home.
The guide made several brief stops making the walk to the mansion about 10 minutes long. Surprising to us was the use of greenery instead of trees or lights as they didn’t exist in the 18th century.
The tour inside the mansion is different from what one would experience during the day. Several of us wanted to leisure about peeking in the rooms, but unfortunately there was not enough time in the tour to linger.
Every 15 minutes, tours were being led through the grounds. The tour starts in the servants’ quarters, main dining room, main hall, bedrooms, and the study.
Costumed docents are in each room, covering two levels. If you have a stroller, you will be asked to leave it outside before entering the home.
Guided Tour of the Estate
While the main dining room was under construction at that time, Mrs. Washington, along with her granddaughter, Martha Peter, cleverly wove the renovation into the tour.
Washington said that between nursing troops during the war, family being away, and simply not being able to find the right colors to decorate, there was no time left to finish the room.
All of the re-enactors were delightfully charming, but I was particularly fond of Christopher Shields, Washington’s personal valet, who met us at President Washington’s study.
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He was frantically trying to find the recipe book for Martha’s Great Cake and he knows how particular George is of having an organized home.
This brought us outside the main house to meet Mrs. Forbes, the housekeeper, in the kitchen. Along with meat pie, she was hired to make Mrs. Washington’s Great Cake recipe which included 40 eggs, four pounds of butter, four pounds of sugar and five pounds of fruit. No stress there!
Everyone received a copy of the original recipe and a modern day version to try at home.
After the kitchen, the formal tour wrapped up and visitors ventured to out-buildings. We made a brief stop at the blacksmith where he was forging nails.
Then it was off to see the slave quarters where a gentleman with a soothing voice sang and played the mandolin.
Visit the Greenhouse where hosts demonstrated and volunteers from the crowd danced the “Indian Queen.”
A Holiday Visit
Our next stop was to say hello to Aladdin, the camel, that Washington paid 18 shillings for to spend a few days at the estate. With hot cider and ginger crisps in hand, we sat around large bonfires and listened to a duo singing 18th century Christmas carols.
The visit concludes in the museum and education center which has more Christmas trees and performers playing the Jewish harp and hammered dulcimer.
We briefly looked at some of the museum exhibits, but for my youngster, the collection of Mount Vernon gingerbread houses done by elementary students kept her attention.
Good to Know Before You Go
- The tickets sell out fast.
- Arrive early. My family, along with several others, had issues with their tickets. Whether it was will call or purchased online, there were technical glitches that had many of us almost missing our scheduled tour time.
- Hopefully this will clear up, but it’s worth getting there a little bit early to avoid any issues.
- Photography is not permitted in the mansion.
- Mount Vernon by Candlelight is not included in daytime admission and is a separate event from Christmas at Mount Vernon.
- The Shops at Mount Vernon and food court are open during Candlelight Tours.
- The gift shops had several affordable items for children like a Nellie Custis doll, tavern games, and the camel mascot.
- Only one vendor in the food court was open. The selection of foods was nice with pre-made salads and sandwiches.
- You can get a bag of chips, cookies, pretzels or a drink, and so on.
Hours and Admission
- Admission to Mount Vernon by Candlelight is $36 for adults and $28 for children under 12. (These are the rates for non-members)
- Tickets can be purchased online or at Mount Vernon’s Ford Orientation Center.
- Mount Vernon by Candlelight will run on Dec 2-3, Dec 9-10, Dec 18 and Dec 25-26
- My family spent 2 ½ hours at the event and given the amount of walking and historical context, the tour would be best for ages 7 and up.
- Parking is free at Mount Vernon and there are parking lots in various areas.
- There are parking lots on the east and west sides of the George Washington Memorial Parkway as you approach the entrance.
- If these parking lots are full, you will be directed to an overflow parking lot.
Mount Vernon is located at 3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway Mount Vernon, Virginia 22121
Mount Vernon by Candlelight is a wonderful way to enjoy a serene evening in 18th century Virginia. It is a great event to enjoy a simpler time in the home of our first U.S. president.
All photos courtesy of the Mount Vernon website