George Washington looms large in history. Even if he hadn’t been elected our first president, he made his mark as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, and as the man who presided over the convention that drafted our Constitution. He was also a phenomenally wealthy plantation owner—estimated to have been our wealthiest president.
Washington’s family plantation was called Mount Vernon, named for English naval officer Edward Vernon. Washington’s elder brother served under Vernon in the marvelously titled “War of Jenkins’ Ear,” a British and Spanish conflict named after the ear cut off of a British smuggler.
Washington looms so large in American history that people have named at least 32 pieces of land after him, including at least 30 cities, one District of Columbia, and a state. Patriotically minded Americans have also taken to naming things after Mount Vernon, or recreating it—Wikipedia lists at least six full-sized replicas of his mansion built over the course of American history, as well as a particular interest in the plantation’s famous gardens.
These gardens are even replicated in Omaha, which will surprise nobody who has heard its name: Mount Vernon Gardens, a half-scale replica of Washington’s estate located on a bluff in South Omaha.
The idea for the replica first made an appearance in 1927. A national ladies association, appropriately known as the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, originally sent Omaha’s city engineer to the Virginia plantation to look it over. Inspired by this, he and Park Commissioner Joseph B. Hummel decided they could build a local duplicate.
It was, of course, impossible to exactly mirror Washington’s gardens in Omaha—“we cannot have the beautiful magnolia trees and boxwood for hedges does not do so well here,” Hood told the Omaha World-Herald. But they would reproduce the place’s beauty, if not its exact collection of trees, flowers, and plants. To show off their intentions, in 1929, the city invited students of Technical High School to create a miniature version of the proposed park, which was then displayed at a spring flower show.
In 1930, the city started construction. Trees and shrubs were added to the site at a cost of $3,500, although some of that was immediately damaged by motorists who sped along River Drive in April, stripping trees of their flowers. Nonetheless, by May of that year, the garden was ready for visitors, including a reproduction of the sun dial that reportedly stood at the original plantation during Washington’s time. The park included a Masonic maze exactly the size and shape planted by Washington near a Martha Washington garden. And where Martha once planted vegetables, this Mount Vernon offered more flowers, arranged according to the time of day they best represented.
The local site has long been a favorite for visitors and events, particularly weddings. The popularity of the gardens helped encourage a restoration that added accessible walkways in the 1990s. Encounter
Visit backtotheriver.org/mt_vernon.htm for more information.