The complex, in use almost continuously since 1830, contains some of the oldest military structures in the state and a wide variety of architectural styles, including Federal, Greek Revival, and neoclassical constructions. The horseshoe-shaped plan of the original arsenal is still in evidence.
For more than a century, those who operated the Mount Vernon complex adaptively reused the historic structures, building new structures when necessary and blending styles. Not all the work done was sympathetic, but wholesale destruction was not part of the construction ethic. In the last decade, that approach has been abandoned. In 1987 a large section of the original 1830s wall which surrounds the complex was destroyed to make way for a new dormitory. Currently, the last of the large 1932 dormitories is threatened with demolition, as are other structures.
The complex brings to the forefront a problem that the state of Alabama has yet to address: the use of state money to destroy sites of historic importance. In 1966 the federal government recognized the futility of creating preservation agencies while allowing other government agencies to raze important cultural resources.
Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires that all federal agencies perform an assessment of historic resources before any public monies can be spent on a project. A similar law in Alabama would help protect the state's cultural resources.