Summer travel: The historic grand homes of Northern Virginia Special

Posted May 26, 2012 by Leigh Goessl
The Washington, D.C. area is full of early American history. While the U.S. is a young country, its beginning history is still highly preserved in many locations.
Northern Virginia, west of D.C., showcases many historical homes and structures. Organizations involved with various properties have done a remarkable job in safeguarding this history for current and future generations to see.
Summertime is a particularly good time to visit any of these historical properties, as many of the gardens are in full bloom and also special events and/or living history performances are also often scheduled during the warmer season.
From Alexandria in the east, to Oatlands in the west, many historic and/or stately homes still remain in Northern Virginia, spanning several counties. Many of these homes belonged to prominent Americans who had set down roots during colonial times.
Several of the homes that hold significant historical value remain intact with the hard work of the organizations taking ownership and/or custodianship of them.
• Mount Vernon
The majestic Mount Vernon was the estate of first U.S. President, George Washington, and his wife, Martha Washington. The vast grounds are beautiful, and the custodians and owners of the property, the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, have done a fantastic job restoring this grand property to its former glory.
• Arlington House
In Arlington, the former home of General Robert E. Lee, head of the Confederate Army, still remains. The home is located within the hallowed grounds of Arlington Cemetery. Visitors can see the interior of the home and also stand in front of the house and have a view of Washington, D.C.
Arlington House once belonged to General Robert E. Lee  who led the Conferederate Army in the U.S. C...
Arlington House once belonged to General Robert E. Lee, who led the Conferederate Army in the U.S. Civil War. This land was taken after the war
• Gunston Hall
Gunston Hall is the home of George Mason, and is located in Mason Neck, VA, just a few miles south of Mount Vernon and also the U.S. Army's Fort Belvoir. This property was once a grand tobacco and wheat plantation, comprised of 5,500 acres. Built in classic Georgian style from 1755-1760, this house is in spectacular condition in the 21st century. Gunston Hall is owned by The Commonwealth of Virginia and administered by a Board of Regents appointed from The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America.
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 in the Declaration of Independence, and were a model for the U.S. Bill of Rights and other documents.
• Carlyle House
In Alexandria, several notable properties remain and are open to the public. In terms of homes, Carlyle House is probably one of the more prominent homes. British merchant John Carlyle built this home for his bride, Sarah Fairfax, also from a prominent family in the newly established settlement.
Construction for the home began in 1751 and was completed in 1753. This home was the center of social and political activity in the second half of the 18th century and has a rich history. Sadly, the house later almost fell completely to ruin, but in recent decades the house has been brought back to the former splendor it possessed in the latter 1700's.
• Oatlands
Located in Loudoun County, Va., Oatlands plantation was established in 1798 with almost 3,500 acres of prime farming property. The grand home was constructed by George Carter, a young bachelor who had inherited the property. Carter's ancestors, who arrived from abroad in 1649, were among the first families to settle in Virginia.
• Woodlawn
Built on Mount Vernon's property, Woodlawn was built for George Washington's nephew, Major Lawrence Lewis and his bride, Eleanor “Nelly” Custis Lewis. George Washington had designated the land to his nephew upon his death. The home was built in Federal-style, at the turn of the 19th century, between 1800 and 1805.
• Chatham Manor
Heading south, near Fredericksburg is Chatham Manor. Chatham was built by William Fitzhugh between 1768 and 1771. It was sold to Major Churchill Jones in 1806; Jones would become an officer in the Continental Army. A huge plantation, this home survived both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars; in the latter the home served as a Union Army hospital. The history of this house has connections to several well-known names in history. The tour of this property is very interesting, but the restoration has not been as involved as some of the other stately homes.
This is just a glimpse of the historic properties that are an intrinsic part of both Early American and Northern Virginia history. Across Northern Virginia lies many museums, parks, historical landmarks and buildings of interest. During a visit to the region, there is no shortage of places to tour, and the interior of many of these stately homes are open, rain or shine. It's always best to check each one's website as some of the homes are closed seasonally, but many are open year-round.
In the summer, these properties are usually open for tours, unless closed for a specific reason. Many also offer areas for picnicking, but it is a good idea to check with a property before going.
(Note: Woodlawn Plantation will be closed most, if not all, of this season due to window replacements being made. When I visited today and spoke to a representative, I learned when routine tours would resume was still very much up in the air).