If a lady travelling on the Potomac River in 1853 had not been struck by the sight of the home of America's first President, George Washington, in the moonlight, Mount Vernon might have been lost to the nation forever. Fearing this important historic house would fall derelict Louisa Cunningham galvanised some of her friends into raising enough money to buy the mansion and the surrounding 200 acres in 1860.
Testament to the far-sightedness of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, as the group became known, Mount Vernon today is a thriving estate attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors a year, and is still owned and managed by the Association.
Restored to its former glory, the mansion forms the heart of the estate in Virginia's Fairfax County, which also includes a garden and grounds, Washington's tomb, the pioneer farm, slave memorial, a museum and education centre. Also part of the estate is the distillery and grist mill a few miles down the road.
On arrival, you can watch a short biopic about George and Martha Washington who lived in the mansion which George inherited and expanded in the late 1750s. Tours of the house are available via timed tickets and it is well worth a visit to see inside the first Mr.President's study as well as some of the more public rooms where he and his wife entertained a steady stream of guests.
If the weather is fine there are a number of outbuildings to visit, including the blacksmith's shop and slave quarters, and extensive grounds to stroll around. In the summer season, boat cruises depart from the wharf on the Potomac River.
We were unlucky with the weather as it rained quite heavily when we visited. However, the museum and education centre are brilliant, combining short films by The History Channel, an action movie and artefacts, such as George Washington's false teeth, to tell the story of Mount Vernon and its famous owners.
There is a restaurant and food court to help keep up your energy levels and when you're ready to leave there's a large gift shop with an extensive array of items to purchase as souvenirs of your visit.
Mount Vernon is about 18 miles south of Washington D.C. and can be reached via Interstate 1.