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'New room' at Mount Vernon gets new interpretation

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 21, 2014 at 2:41 pm •  Published: March 21, 2014
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MOUNT VERNON, Va. (AP) — George Washington ate here, but not nearly as much as we first thought.

The keepers of Washington's Mount Vernon estate on Friday announced a major reinterpretation of the largest room in the Founding Father's riverfront mansion. For decades, interpreters showed the room to tourists as Washington's large dining room, complete with a dining room table front and center.

Upon further review, historians at Mount Vernon have concluded that the room Washington referred to as the "new room" — added to the mansion at the start of the American Revolution — was actually more of a multi-purpose salon to impress and entertain visitors. It was only rarely used as a dining room, historians say.

"It's really a visual statement room, a 'wow' room," said Carol Borchert Cadou, Mount Vernon's senior vice president for historic preservations and collections. At nearly 700 feet, the room alone would be larger than the average American home at the time, she noted.

To the degree Washington used the room to make a statement, it showed the ways in which America was carving its own identity while remaining steeped in British cultural influence.

It has a neo-Classical design, similar to English countryside salons that were in vogue at the time. But Washington decorated it with portraits of American landscapes, including Great Falls on the Potomac River, at a time when few others showed an interest in such art. The molded, plaster ceiling depicts agricultural icons like rakes and scythes, reflecting the Washington's interest and abilities in American agriculture.

"It tells us a lot about how he saw America, and how he saw himself," said Thomas Reinhart, the estate's deputy director for architecture.

The room now contains more than 20 paintings and other artifacts that belonged to Washington himself. A yearlong reinterpretation of the New Room will be unveiled to the public on Saturday.

Mount Vernon arrived at the new interpretation following extensive research on multiple fronts. A word search of Washington's online papers found 27 references to the New Room but only one instance in which he called the space a "large dining room."

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