From One Father To Another
Few know of George Washington's preoccupation with the weather, which historians feel derived from his original occupation -- that of a farmer. At times, Washington recorded the temperature in his personal journal as often as three times a day -- morning, noon and sunset. He even had his wife, Martha, record the weather while he was away!
Washington -- often referred to as "the father of his country" -- apparently had a knack for controlling the "indoor weather," especially during the hot Virginia summers. This is demonstrated through the architecture of his Mount Vernon, Virginia estate. The south-facing two-story portico creates shade that shelters the house from the summer sun and benefits from the Potomac River breeze. On the main floor, the courtyard entrance opens into a large hall with doors leading to the piazza at the opposite end. When both sets of doors are open, a breezeway is created helping, along with the high ceilings, to cool the first floor. The large, windowed cupola on the roof provides more than just a view -- with the windows open, rising warm air is drawn out of the house by natural air currents outside.
So it came as no surprise that after 260 years, when the curators of Washington's Mount Vernon estate decided it needed a cooling system, one was obtained with indirect help from the "father of air conditioning," Willis Carrier.
The main reason for the installation was long-term preservation of the mansion. Artifacts such as china, furniture and other personal memorabilia requiring a climate-controlled environment could finally be displayed.
Tourist comfort was viewed as a secondary benefit; more than 400,000 people visit Mount Vernon in the sizzling summer months when temperatures on the mansion's second floor are known to plateau around 100 degrees. Mount Vernon's curators had long feared that an ordinary air conditioning system would cause more harm than good. The mansion is made of wood and has no insulation. If temperatures inside were made too low, the walls and windows could rot from too much condensation.
"We're very cautious here," said Dennis J. Pogue, director of restoration at the site, 16 miles south of Washington, D.C. "This building is our main artifact. It's the most important thing we have."
However, knowing that Carrier had the technology and intuition needed to supply "preservation cooling" to the Vatican's Sistine Chapel, Mount Vernon curators were confident Carrier could do the same for the home of George Washington.
Carrier worked with the Mount Vernon staff for nearly two years to design an installation with minimal disruption to the structure. Carrier donated the entire system, including the first air-cooled chiller designed to use chlorine-free refrigerant R-134a -- the model 30GX air-cooled screw chiller, which is located in a wooded area about 200 yards from the mansion, hidden from the view of visitors by the forest tree line. Two of six central station air handlers are housed outside near the mansion in below-grade vaults. Venting is run through closets and between rafters to all three floors of the mansion. The chiller also cools the estate's museum, servants' hall and the reconstructed greenhouse. Two WeatherMaker central air conditioners that use Puron refrigerant were installed at the Mount Vernon resident director's home, located on the estate.
Visitors to the "First Home" no doubt appreciate the cooler environment. Now more artifacts and personal items can be viewed, and visits to the second floor are far less sweltering. Even George Washington -- the weather enthusiast -- would have been impressed.