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Explore the history and beauty of Gunston Hall, and learn about George Mason’s lasting impact on Virginia and the very beginnings of our American democracy. George Mason is a prominent historical figure in Northern Virginia, not as well known as George Washington and Robert E. Lee, but very important to America’s birth.
At Gunston Hall, the family home of George Mason IV, you can enjoy a guided tour of the mansion and reconstructed outbuildings, and explore 550 acres of grounds and hiking trails.
Mason was a fourth generation Virginian who became a senior statesman and author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights. He was among the first to call for such fundamental American liberties as religious tolerance and freedom of the press, ideals that became the foundation of the United States Bill of Rights.
With the recent completion of a new roof, expertly restored to its original glory, now is the perfect time to tour Gunston Hall.
Touring the House and Grounds of Gunston Hall
Gunston Hall was built for George Mason between 1755 and 1759 and is a beautiful example of Georgian architecture. A tour of the mansion reveals an array of popular interior designs, from the beautiful Central Passage, to the simple “Virginia Neat and Plain” Parlor, to the elaborately carved Palladian Room, and the colorful Chinese Room.
At the Visitor Center, a film and exhibits introduce George Mason, his impact on the burgeoning Virginia and US government, and his personal life in the 18th century.
Outside you’ll follow a long pathway to the mansion, providing an impressive introduction to Gunston Hall’s beautiful grounds. Once flanked by radiating lines of cherry trees, your approach is now shaded by large magnolias.
In Mason’s time, visitors would have approached the mansion on a 12 foot wide carriage road. The carriage way, front portico, central hall, rear portico, and rear pathway, were all 12 feet wide, creating a central axis through the heart of the property.
Inside the mansion, are beautifully restored rooms decorated to recreate the original home, and populated with many original items from Mason’s time. The hall, or “Central Passage,” was used to welcome and entertain guests, and features beautiful pillar and arch wallpaper.
Symmetry was an important design ideal, and the hall even includes a false door, placed to mirror a working door on the opposite wall.
Our favorite interior detail was the incredible carving on the fireplace wall and around the doors in the Palladian Room.
The neighboring Chinese Room functioned as a formal dining room, where friends and colleagues such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison were invited to dine.
Across the hall, George Mason’s study includes the original desk where he penned the Virginia Declaration of Rights, the model for the United States Bill of Rights.
Next to it is the Mason’s master bedroom, heart of the domestic management of the plantation. The rich green verdigris walls and trim stand in contrast to the simpler furnishings in the room.
Ask your guide for a demonstration of the clever ladder which could be unfolded for use, then stored in a space-saving pole shape.
Upstairs, more modest bedrooms housed the family’s nine children. If possible, head upstairs on the tightly curved staircase, used by house servants to move between the basement and other floors of the mansion.
Outside, you can visit reconstructed outbuildings including a kitchen, dairy, laundry, and smokehouse.
In summer, you may be able to visit volunteers working on an archeological dig to uncover more of the outbuildings and materials from Mason’s day.
If time allows, walk through the Boxwood Allee behind the mansion. The boxwoods were planted during George Mason’s time, and their lovely, twisted trunks continue to mark the path from house to river overlook.
As you make your way back to the Visitor Center, you can stop to view the schoolhouse and visit Mason’s family burying ground. Mason erected a tomb for his beloved wife, Ann Eilbeck Mason, who was only 39 when she died. Masons’s matching tomb was added in 1961.
There are hiking trails around the perimeter of the grounds and down to the river, which we intend to visit when cooler fall weather arrives.
Defining American Liberties: George Mason and the Virginia Declaration of Rights
Mason was an active leader and participant in the colonies ongoing efforts to push back against British control. In 1774, Mason wrote the Fairfax County Resolves with George Washington and others, stating in detail the colonies’ grievances and actions to be taken against British aggression.
Two years later he wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights, defining many of the ideals that were incorporated into the US Bill of Rights. These excerpts from Mason’s Articles will sound familiar to anyone who has studied the Bill of Rights:
- “all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights… namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”
- “all power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people”
- “in all capital or criminal prosecutions a man hath a right… to be confronted with the accusers and witnesses, to call for evidence in his favor, and to a speedy trial by an impartial jury of his vicinage…”
- “excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed; nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”
- “That the freedom of the press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty and can never be restrained but by despotic governments.”
Despite his dedication to these ideals of liberty, George Mason was also a slave holder. In his writings, he expressed an intense dislike and disapproval of the institution of slavery, but he did not free his own slaves even at his death.
When to Visit Gunston Hall
Gunston Hall is open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day, with guided tours every half-hour from 9:30 to 4:30. Admission is $10 for adults with discounts for seniors, children, and a grounds only pass.
Allow at least an hour for your visit, longer if you attend one of the special events held throughout the year.
In 2016, Gunston Hall celebrates the 240th anniversary of the ratification of the Virginia Declaration of Rights with a year of special programs and events.
Gunston Hall is a beautifully restored mansion with fascinating ties to the beginnings of US Independence. Get a closer look at some of it’s features in this short video from our friends at Visit Fairfax:
After our tour, we wondered why it took us so long to visit.