In 1674, George Washington’s great-grandfather, John Washington, secured a land grant along the Potomac River. The land was passed down the Washington line until it came into the possession of Augustine Washington, George Washington’s father.
In 1734, Augustine Washington moved his family, including a two-year-old George, into a new one-and-a-half story home built on a property called Little Hunting Creek. This home would become the core of the Mount Vernon mansion.
Augustine and his family lived at Little Hunting Creek for several years and then moved to Ferry Farm, across the Rappahannock River from Fredericksburg, Virginia.
When Augustine died in 1743, Little Hunting Creek passed to his son Lawrence Washington, the half-brother of George Washington.
Lawrence renamed Little Hunting Creek “Mount Vernon” in honor of the British Admiral Edward Vernon under whom Lawrence had served as a commander of Virginia colonial troops in the War of Jenkins’ Ear.
After Lawrence died of pneumonia, George Washington began renting Mount Vernon from Lawrence’s widow. When she died in 1761, Mount Vernon officially passed into George Washington’s ownership.
George Washington expanded the house that his father had built by first adding a full second story, and then erecting a wing onto each side of the house.
By 1787, George Washington had transformed the 3,500 square foot home that had been built by his father into an 11,000 square foot mansion. Washington also modified the outside appearance of the mansion.
Using a technique called rustication, yellow pine boards were carved to look like cut blocks of stone and then covered in wet paint and sand. The end result was a wooden structure that appeared to be made of stone. (Battlefields-org)
Following George and Martha Washington’s deaths (1799 & 1802), the estate passed to four successive heirs, the last of whom deeded it to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association in 1860.
While still in private hands, the property nonetheless attracted thousands of visitors each year, most of whom arrived after a fifteen-mile overland trek from Washington, D.C. With the establishment of regular steamboat access in the 1850s, the numbers swelled to ten thousand annually.
The public claimed Mount Vernon as its own. In the words of a nineteenth-century Washington family member, “the Nation shares it with us.”
In the Islands, Captain John Dominis was an Italian-American ship captain and merchant from New York who had been trading in the Pacific since the 1820s.
In the 1840s, he purchased property on Beretania Street. There, he started to build a home for his family, Mary Lambert Dominis (his wife) and John Owen Dominis (his son.)
The original central portion, built in 1844-1847, was designed and executed in Greek Revival Style, with supplies ordered from Boston.
Captain Dominis reportedly embarked on several trading voyages while the house was being built, using the profits to pay off accumulated debts and resume operations (it’s not clear how many trips were required to build the new home.)
Designed and constructed by Isaac Hart, the elegant Greek-Revival house rose on the fringe of the village of Honolulu, towering over the barren landscape and native thatched houses.
Hart built another grand mansion around this time that would become the royal palace of King Kamehameha III when he moved the capital from Lahaina to Honolulu in 1845.
As Captain Dominis’ house drew near completion in 1846, he sailed for China on a trade mission. The tragic disappearance of his ship at sea left Mary Dominis a widow and she found it necessary to rent suites in her new mansion.
The grounds were said to have been planted “by Mrs. Captain Dominis as the first private garden in Honolulu, carefully watered until the yard was a handsome, cool retreat.” By 1848 the garden was sufficiently interesting for a visitor to ask for a list of the plants in the yard.
Mary Dominis then rented out the spare bedroom to American Commissioner Anthony Ten Eyck. Inspired by its stately elegance, he sought to christen the home in 1848, in honor of the “great, the good, the illustrious Washington,” and the memory of his countryman, Captain Dominis. (Washington Place Foundation)
The following is an extract of his February 22, 1848 note to Mr. Wyllie, “I have much pleasure in making the following semi official announcement to you.”
“In honor of the day which gave birth to him, who was ‘first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen’ – the great, the good, the illustrious Washington …”
“… the United States Commissioner, with the assent of its much esteemed and hospitable proprietress, has this day christened the beautiful, substantial and universally admired mansion of Mrs. Dominis, Washington Place.”
“Thus let it hereafter be designated in Hawaiian Annuls and long may it remain in this distant isle of the Pacific, a memento of the eminent virtues of the ‘Father of his country’ and of the enterprise, and the distinguished excellencies of its much lamented projector.”
Then, published in the Polynesian of February 26, 1848, with the authoritative notice looked for, which are herewith presented in like manner:
“Official Notice. ‘It has pleased His Majesty the King to approve of the name of Washington Place, given this day by the Commissioner of the United States, to the house and premises of Mrs. Dominis, and to command that they retain that name in all time coming’ (Sgd.) Keoni Ana. Home Office, Feb. 22, 1848.”
Liliʻuokalani visited Washington Place in 1860 during her courtship with her future husband John Owen Dominis. Washington Place became the home at which Liliʻuokalani and her husband started their life together in marriage on September 16, 1862.”
When Mary Dominis died in 1889, the Washington Place property was passed on to John Owen Dominis. The Queen ascended to the throne in 1891 and her official residence ʻIolani Palace.
John Owen Dominis was in failing health and chose to remain at Washington Place due to the numerous stairs at ʻIolani Palace. In August of 1891, Washington Place was passed on to the Queen upon the death of John Owen Dominis.
It would remain her residence for 55 years, a home she fondly described as “a large, square, white house, with pillars and porticos on all sides, really a palatial dwelling, as comfortable in its appointments as it is inviting in its aspect… a choice tropical retreat in the midst of the chief city of the Hawaiian Islands.”
Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalanianaʻole, one of the heirs to the estate of Queen Liliʻuokalani, suggested that the Territory acquire Washington Place as the Executive Mansion. The Legislature appropriated funds for the purchase and the property was acquired by the Territory.
In 1922, major additions were made. These included the glassed-in lanai, the porte-cochere and the rear one-story wing with Dining Room and Kitchen. Family bedrooms were added to the second-story of this wing, later.
Across the street from the State Capitol on Beretania Street, Washington Place was the executive mansion for the territorial governors from 1918 to 1959, and, after Hawaiʻi became the 50th state, the state governor’s mansion, from 1959 to 2002.
Washington Place remains the official residence of the governor however, a new house, built on the property in 2002, is now the personal residence of the Governor of Hawai‘i.
A March 16, 1895 article in Kuokoa refers to the home as Wasinetona Hale. (Lots of information here is from Washington Place Foundation and Governor’s website.)