Variations on Mount Vernon : replicas of an icon as vehicles for American memory

Brandt, Lydia Mattice, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia
Wilson, Richard Guy, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia
Bluestone, Daniel, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia
Nelson, Louis, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia

The replication of Mount Vernon - one of the icons of eighteenth-century American architecture - during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries served a range of purposes. Each version represented a different group's attempt to define their identity through their memory of George Washington, his home, and America's early history. These memories, therefore, were constructed in order to serve these identities and to provide a backdrop for the presentation of each replica. This thesis follows the ways in which Mount Vernon was appropriated by different collective memories - the regional, national, and Colonial Revival - and demonstrates that while Mount Vernon has been ever-present In American iconography, its meaning has never been fixed.

The Virginia Building at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois, was the first in a series of reproductions of Mount Vernon at world's fairs or otherwise significant public events, and thus its conception and construction serves as a turning point in the history of Mount Vernon in American memory. This initial replica represented two narratives. One was regionally specific to the South and placed the building within the movement to memorialize the Lost Cause myth, whereas the other narrative was part of a longer national tradition of the memory of Washington and Mount Vernon that was emerging in American culture in the late nineteenth century through the Colonial Revival. Both narratives, despite their differences, were intent on depicting some version of an idealized domesticity of Washington and his iconic home; the domestic realm presented at the 1893 Virginia Building and the subsequent replicas presented an uncritical and uncontroversial view of antebellum American life. In addition, both narratives were central to the roles of late nineteenth and early twentieth century women as historic preservationists and keepers of public memory. This regional narrative persisted through the presentations of Southern and Virginian identity at the 1907 Jamestown Exposition and in the replica of Mount Vernon that was used as the Virginia Building at the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, Illinois. The replicas that followed World War I, however, became increasingly focused upon the national connotations of Mount Vernon as concepts and tropes of early American domesticity grew more commercialized and need for the Lost Cause myth faded. At the 1926 Sesqui-Centennial in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Young Women's Christian Association erected a replica of Mount Vernon to serve as a cafeteria and welcome center, depending only upon the building's most distinct architectural features and its general concept of domesticity in their choice. The United States then erected a replica of Mount Vernon at the 1931 Paris International and Colonial Overseas Exposition. The
next year, a version of Mount Vernon was erected in Brooklyn, New York to celebrate the bicentennial of Washington's birth. Though these later replicas did not maintain the allusions to Southern elitism and the Lost Cause myth, they did retain emphasis on a memory of an idealized Colonial American domesticity and had an overtone of social exclusiveness - they merely lost their direct regional references. Ironically, the reproductions of Mount Vernon that began by symbolizing such restrictive memories of Colonial American domesticity led to the complete democratization of the Mount Vernon domestic model. By 1932, Sears, Roebuck and Company were selling a pre-fabricated version of Mount Vernon through their catalogue, making the famous architectural symbol available to all Americans who could afford to purchase it. By the 1930s, a world war, national crises, and the fading of the living memory of the Civil War had laid aside sectional differences to allow Mount Vernon to be more egalitarian.

MA (Master of Arts)
Mt. Vernon, Replicas, 18th Century American Architecture

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

Thesis originally deposited on 2016-02-18 in version 1.28 of Libra. This thesis was migrated to Libra2 on 2017-03-23 16:34:02.

All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: