Over one million visitors per year traverse the visitor path through George Washington's home at Mount Vernon. Increased visitation has tested the limits of the architectural materials and created the single most threatening source of degradation. While the history of Mount Vernon is dotted with attempts to mitigate damage caused by visitors, scientific analysis of the dynamic impacts to the historic fabric is needed to preserve the integrity of the preeminent national house museum. The following thesis presents a holistic analysis of visitor impact and material degradation occurring at Mount Vernon.
Visitor impact issues are acknowledged at historic sites around the world; however, comprehensive study and measurement of direct wear and tear are rare. Analyzing the patterns of abrasion, material build-up, and micro-climatic conditions, this thesis creates standards to quantify material degradation. These tests developed can easily be replicated and applied at any house museum. The findings in this thesis are only the beginning of attempts to better understand visitor impact and further illustrate the need for future research on material loss and decay. As house museums age, material loss is inevitable. Responsible managers can mitigate the detrimental effects of well-meaning, but often harmful, visitors by better understanding the rate at which damage occurs.