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Review: Gunston Hall - A tour of the home and life of George Mason Special

By Leigh Goessl     May 29, 2012 in Travel
George Mason was born a fourth generation Virginian in Colonial America. A man who was very influential in his time, but over the years had became less known in history. A tour of his home, Gunston Hall, tells his piece of Early American history.
Gunston Hall is located in Mason Neck, Va. and was home to George Mason and his family. Located south of Mount Vernon, the majestic home of George Washington, this structure serves as both a lesson and reminder of Mason's contribution to creating a new nation.
Mason's primary home on the 5,500-acre property was constructed during the time frame of 1755-1760, and serves as an excellent example of classic Georgian architecture.
The tour begins off with an approximate 10-minute film that provides the background of who George Mason was. Born in Virginia in 1725, Mason inherited the land on which Gunston Hall is located on in 1735 after the sudden death of his father from a drowning accident. Being only 10 years old at the time, construction on the grand home did not begin until many years later.
Mason married Ann Eilbeck in 1750, and the marriage lasted 23 years, until Ann died. Nine of their 12 children survived to adulthood. He remained a widower for seven years and eventually married a second time to Sarah Brent.
After the film, visitors can peruse the small museum that is a part of the visitor's center, explore the property, or go straight to the Gunston Hall tour; tours are held every half-hour.
We had just missed a tour, so we had a good 30 minutes to wander the grounds. Most of the structures on the property are not originals, but reconstructed based on historical accounts. The two original structures on the property are the main house and the well.
The view from the property is quite nice, and must have been spectacular in its time. The home is set back, high on a hill about a half-mile from the Potomac River, you can see the river in the distance standing in Gunston Hall's rear yard, which is large. (The weather was too warm to take a walk down to the riverfront, and we didn't want to miss the next house tour, but the trail looks to be worth exploring upon a future return visit).
The interior of the house is in excellent condition and has been restored beautifully. In Gunston Hall, not unlike many other historic properties in the region, photography is not allowed in the interior of the home.
What is most remarkable is perhaps the moulding and design of the 'grand' rooms in the house. The work was designed by indentured servant William Buckland and master carver William Bernard Sears. The detail in Buckland's and Sears' handicraft is exquisite, and the work done in the primary dining room is unlike any I'd seen before. The style of this room, Chinoiserie, was not a common one used in America. All of the pieces currently in the home are 18th century pieces, and several actually belonged to the Mason family.
On the house tour we learned the name "Gunston Hall" was named after an ancestral home located in Staffordshire, England; that home had been built in either the 15th or 16th century. Very interesting information we learned during this 30-minute tour with a very informative and friendly guide. Another historical bit of information learned was that after Mason refused to sign the U.S. Constitution, because he felt it too "strong" of a national government, this led to the permanent severance of his friendship with George Washington.
The first floor of the home is a guided tour and after this portion, visitors can go upstairs and self-tour the bedrooms, which are also uniquely designed, described as "dormitory", when walking through the hallway, the word "hospital" also came to mind when examining the layout.
After touring the house, next was taking a walk up a tree-lined path (off to the side of the house) which led to the family cemetery. This is where Mason, his first wife and several generations of family members are buried. The list of those interred at this location did not include his second wife, Sarah.
Over the course of his life, many people lived on the plantation; Mason employed paid laborers, indentured servants, and slaves. A once flourishing plantation, which yielded profitable tobacco and wheat crops, Gunston Hall's owner preferred not to leave the property, but eventually would be pulled away in the 1770s to play a role in the political affairs unfolding at this time. His family kept the property for a few generations, but it was eventually sold and later donated.
A fourth generation Virginian, Mason was a pivotal figure in Colonial America, having written the Virginia Declaration of Rights. His writings and ideas were integrated not only in the Declaration of Independence, but also served as a model for the U.S. Bill of Rights, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, and the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
George Mason IV died at his home, aged 67, in 1792. On the tour, it was mentioned that over time Mason's role in history had become less known, and much of his life is a mystery, as he'd eased out of the political circles.
Considering its age, Gunston Hall is in remarkable condition and is truly one of the historic grand homes located in Northern Virginia. Today, the property is now owned by The Commonwealth of Virginia and administered by a Board of Regents appointed from The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America.
Tours are open to the public daily, for a fee, excluding Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the grounds are open to visitors until 6 p.m.
More about gunston hall, Photo Essay, george mason, Northern Virginia, America
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