MOUNT VERNON CAPTION: Pictures 1 and 2, Historic preservation in the United States began during a moonlit cruise on the Potomac in 1853, when an Alexandria woman looked over a steamer's rail and saw Mount Vernon, the rundown estate of the nation's first president. "I was painfully distressed at the ruin and desolation of the home of Washington," Mrs. Robert Cunningham wrote her daughter, Ann Pamela Cunningham, in South Carolina. "The thought passed through my mind: why was it that the women of his country did not try to keep it in repair, if the men could not do it? It does seem such a blot on our country!" Ann Cunningham founded the Mount Vernon Ladies Association of the Union, which began a six-year nationwide campaign to save Mount Vernon. Without help from the federal government or Virginia, they bought the 500-acre estate in 1859 for $200,000. The 1858 photograph shows Mount Vernon with slaves and possibly its then owner, the president's great grand nephew John Augustine Washington III. The side porch and a railing over the front porch were added after George Washington's death and were later removed. Mount Vernon was declared a neutral zone during the Civil War and was visited by soldiers from the North and South. By Kim McGuire