Mount Vernon’s Digital Decade:
10 Years of Scanning Projects with The Crowley Company

Mount Vernon scaled
Mount Vernon’s team reviews scans from the collection with Crowley operator, Marissa Parham-Tennant.

Nearly 10 years after The Crowley Company’s (Crowley) original blog on digitizing collections with George Washington’s Mount Vernon, the two institutions continue to share the legacy of George and Martha through digital preservation.

Since then, Crowley has assisted in six Mount Vernon scanning projects (producing over 20,000+ digital images). While the materials have changed and the technology has advanced, the process and partnership have remained constant.

In honor of the first ever State of the Union address (given by George on January 8, 1790), Crowley and the Mount Vernon estate and library are giving our own “state of the scanning union.” Let’s revisit this pantheon of American history and share how Mount Vernon is continuing the first U.S. president’s legacy through digitization.

Mount Vernon History

In 1743, Augustine Washington (George Washington’s father) built the core of what would become the Mount Vernon mansion. The Virginia mansion and surrounding grounds underwent many changes, expansions and events throughout its many decades as a home. By 1858 the home had fallen into dilapidation and was acquired by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association with the aim to “preserve, restore and manage the estate” and educate visitors worldwide on the life of George Washington.

Today, through the Ladies Association’s efforts, Mount Vernon remains a stalwart pioneer in preserving Washington’s home and legacy as a family attraction and through historic preservation efforts within the archaeological, architectural, museum, archive and special collections realms.

Telling a Story through Artifacts

Created in 1861, this image from the most recently scanned collection of prints depicts lady liberty surrounded by the first 16 presidents. Used with permission from Mount Vernon.

From household pieces (i.e. furniture and ceramics) to personal holdings (including the key to the Bastille, given to Washington by the Marquis de Lafayette) and visual media (paintings, prints, drawings, artistic renderings, etc.), the estate’s collections date back to the 17th century and include nearly eight thousand pieces.

The estate has made a concerted effort to digitize all such items and steadily grow their digital catalog. Collections Manager, Brady Stroyke, explains the motivation behind this large-scale effort. “There is a goal amongst all of Mount Vernon’s institutions to digitize objects for databases, museum websites and outside access. It’s a lot easier to have someone quickly scan [the media] and review an image rather than pulling each print. Some items are fragile so the more you expose them to light or movement, the more risk to the original. Researchers can use a really high-quality scan to get their information instead.”

The motivation to be the foremost academic institution for information on Washington also inspired the need for digitization. Adam Erby, Chief Curator and Director of Fine and Decorative Arts Collection, elaborates, “Many other institutions across the country and the world have materials on George Washington but Mount Vernon aims to be the top academic resource for all information on the United States’ first president. Facilitating easy online collection access helps us remain a constant and reliable resource for researchers and propels us towards that goal.”

From Prints to Pixels: Scanning Cultural Heritage Collections

Scanning large-format, bound maps from the Mount Vernon collection.

The Crowley Company has assisted in various Mount Vernon scanning projects (split between the Fred W. Smith National Library and the Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens), including:

  • Ladies Association annual reports
  • Association minutes
  • Ledgers
  • Diaries and papers from the Washington family
  • Long-running publication “Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow,” the Ladies’ newsletter giving updates on their efforts to preserve and promote Mount Vernon

Having scanned nearly all their assets for life online through these projects and others, the final piece in the historic digitization puzzle was to capture a large collection of approximately 400 prints. While small format prints were captured at Mount Vernon, they enlisted Crowley to scan oversized materials due to their expertise and range of large-format hardware.

Mount Vernon’s team brought sections of the collection to Frederick, MD, not far from Virginia, to be scanned over several trips. The Mount Vernon team is specially trained and insured to handle materials of high historic import. Their team handled the materials as they were scanned in Crowley’s award-winning service bureau using Zeutschel overhead scanners. Images were captured in 600 dpi and exported as archival TIFFs and smaller JPG files (which are more suitable for access). After each session, the images went through a quality analysis process and were delivered to Mount Vernon’s team via hard drive.

“We had a tight deadline and Crowley was very accommodating and flexible,” Brady notes. “Thrice now we’ve been able to bring in sections of the materials and it’s been a very smooth process.”

While the images from past scanning projects are already online, the Mount Vernon team estimates that the print images will be available in early 2024.

Beyond the Quill, Washington’s Legacy Lives On

The first State of the Union was an important milestone symbolizing that the country had indeed forged a way past the hardships of early independence and continued working towards a lasting and unified nation. Similarly, in that first project, Crowley and Mount Vernon created a partnership that would become the cornerstone of many more to come. We are honored to have a part in preserving the Washington’s legacy and know that through the steady hand of Mount Vernon that his legacy will continue to inspire a new generation of Americans.

Crowley, Your Long-term Scanning Partner

Looking for a long-term digitization partner? Crowley’s trusted scanning bureau has the hardware, experienced imaging experts and network of industry professionals to support your institution’s wide-reaching digitization goals for any collection size or type. For more information on services and hardware from The Crowley Company, please call (240) 215-0224 or click here.

Leave a Reply