October 22, 2014

October 22, 2014

Gunston Hall

George Mason’s Gunston Hall isn’t exactly atop anyone’s list of famous residences. Graceland, sure. Biltmore, yes. Mount Vernon, definitely. But Gunston Hall? No. Indeed, a great many people don’t even know who George Mason is, and that’s partially his fault.

[Quick primer on George Mason: Considered one of the Founding Fathers, Mason was a Virginia delegate to the Constitutional Convention. However, because the Constitution gave much power to the central government and lacked a Bill of Rights, he refused to sign it. Ironically, the Virginia Declaration of Rights, drafted by Mason in 1776, formed the basis of the Bill of Rights ratified in 1791. Herein lies an important lesson: You can have principles, or you can be famous, but it’s difficult to do both.]

Gunston Hall is in Lorton, Virginia, nearish to Mount Vernon. A Groupon and some classic October weather (sunny but not too hot) led to my recent visit. I started with the small museum, which contained a few displays and a great 10-minute introductory film that I’m pretty sure was on VHS. I learned that Mason’s first wife died at only 39 (aw), but that they had married when she was 16 (ew), and that he married his second wife partly to have someone to “warm his sheets.” Direct quote. Classy.

Next, the house:

Scaffolding not period-authentic.

For some reason that I didn’t catch, all of the furniture had been removed. On the plus side, this meant we could take all the pictures we wanted (pictures aren’t allowed when the furniture is in). On the down side, there was really nothing to take pictures OF. Here, pictures showing what the rooms are supposed to look like:

Unlike some other grand estates (e.g. Windsor Castle), Gunston Hall isn’t huge. The first floor has four rooms for entertaining, and the second floor has some very small bedrooms and closets. You had to wonder how the latter-day residents of Gunston Hall crammed modern amenities like kitchens and bathrooms into the floorplan.

After we toured the house, we checked out the outbuildings and gardens. One of the largest dependencies was the schoolhouse Mason built for his kids, which sort of takes homeschooling to the next level.

One of the best bits is the Potomac River view. Apparently Gunston Hall had its own ship landing back in the day, with even more trees cut back to expose the river. Even now, it’s pretty impressive.

While not on par with Monticello or even Montpelier, it’s not a bad day trip if you’re in the DC area. Maybe wait until they put the furniture back in, though.

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