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April-November 2003InteractiveDig Mount Vernon
The southwest corner of the reconstruction, July 21
The west wall of the distillery on September 9
The reconstructed distillery's masonry is modeled on Rockledge, a nearby eighteenth-century house.

Photos courtesy Historic Mount Vernon. Click on images for larger versions.
by Dennis J. Pogue

Building the Distillery

There's been exciting progress at the site of George Washington's Distillery. The archaeological excavation ended in early spring 2005 and after six years of digging, two years of intense planning, and six months to get an approved building permit from the State of Virginia, on June 23 we finally broke ground on the recreated Distillery. Within two weeks the concrete foundations were poured and on July 12 our masons began to prepare to lay the stone for the walls. As of this writing (September 8), the rear wall of the building is virtually complete (10 feet tall), and portions of the south gable wall and the interior partition wall have been laid as well. If all goes well, we hope to have all of the walls completed before the end of November. Washington's masons erected the original distillery walls in a remarkably short period--over just 60 days between late October and early December 1797--a pace that our modern masons cannot even hope to match!

The stone used in the original distillery was local, iron-rich sandstone. Approximately 5,000 cubic feet of stone, weighing more than 370 tons, is needed. No quarries in Virginia currently produce this type of stone, so we have contracted with a company in Ohio to supply the needed material. Fortunately, the Ohio stone is virtually identical to the Virginia sandstone, and we have used it in other projects at Mount Vernon where we needed to replicate the eighteenth-century masonry (such as repairing the mansion's stone steps).

In addition to finding a stone that matches the original work, we needed to determine the overall "look" of the walls. This means deciding how the stones would be laid (whether in regular courses or randomly), the width and profile of the mortar joint, and the composition of the mortar itself. To help us in making these decisions, we consulted period documents, but even more helpful was studying other stone buildings in the area that date from this period. One of the best sources is Rockledge, a two-story stone house located in Occoquan, in Prince William County, that was built in two stages during the mid-to-late eighteenth century. Our building follows the Rockledge model in that the stone is randomly laid with plain, recessed joints that are roughly one to two inches in width. The mortar is made from lime, as it was in the eighteenth century, but we were required to add modern materials to meet current building codes.

You can check out the Mount Vernon website to keep track of the distillery's construction where we'll post photos of the progress. The distillery is scheduled to open to the public in October 2006, and we hope you'll stop by to see this exciting building and watch Washington's whiskey being made.

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