Updated on November 7, 2023 by Julie McCool
Explore the history and beauty of Gunston Hall, and learn about George Mason's lasting impact on Virginia and the beginnings of our American democracy. A guided tour of the mansion and reconstructed outbuildings offer a fascinating look at Georgian architecture and early American history. Visitors can also explore 550 acres of grounds and hiking trails on this expansive estate.
What is Gunston Hall?
Gunston Hall was the family home of George Mason IV, a prominent historical figure in Northern Virginia. He is not as well known as George Washington and Robert E. Lee but was very important to America's birth. Gunston Hall was built for Mason between 1755 and 1759 and is a wonderful example of Georgian architecture.
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George 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 fundamental American liberties like religious tolerance and freedom of the press. These ideals became the foundation of the United States Bill of Rights.
Touring the Mansion and Grounds
A tour of the mansion reveals a wealth of popular Georgian interior designs. Tours highlight the symmetrical Central Passage, simple “Virginia Neat and Plain” Parlor, elaborately carved Palladian Room, and colorful Chinese Room.
Begin at the Visitor Center, where a film and exhibits introduce George Mason. Here you learn about Mason's impact on the 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 lovely grounds. The Carriage Way was once flanked by radiating lines of cherry trees. Today, large magnolias shade the approach.
In Mason's time, visitors approached the mansion on this 12-foot wide carriage road. The carriageway, 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, restored rooms are decorated to recreate the original home, and include many original items from Mason's time. The hall, or “Central Passage,” was used to welcome and entertain guests, and features pillar and arch wallpaper.
Symmetry was an important design ideal in Georgian architecture. The entry 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. Here, George Mason dined with friends and colleagues including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison.
Across the hall, in George Mason's study, is the original desk where he penned the Virginia Declaration of Rights. That declaration is the model for the United States Bill of Rights.
Next door is Mason's master bedroom, once the 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.
Back in the hall, ask your guide for a demonstration of the clever ladder which could be unfolded for use, then stored in a space-saving pole shape.
There were nine children in the Mason family, and their more modest bedrooms are upstairs. House servants climbed a tightly curved staircase to move between the basement and other floors of the mansion.
Gunston Hall Grounds and Outbuildings
Outside the mansion, visitors can see several reconstructed outbuildings including a kitchen, dairy, laundry, and smokehouse. Behind the mansion, a walkway leads to a view of the Potomac River. Marked hiking trails allow you to explore the fields and woodlands that surround the mansion.
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 the house to a river overlook.
The 1.7-mile River Trail passes through the woods and down a steep hill to a rocky beach. From here you can look across Gunston Cove and the Potomac River to the Maryland shore.
As you make your way back to the Visitor Center, stop to view the schoolhouse and visit Mason's family burying ground. Here Mason erected a tomb for his beloved wife. Ann Eilbeck Mason was only 39 when she died. Mason'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.
Explore more with our guide 20 Must-See Northern Virginia Hidden Gems Rich in Nature and History.
George Mason and the Virginia Declaration of Rights
Mason was an active leader and participant in the colonies' efforts to push back against British control. In 1774, Mason wrote the Fairfax County Resolves with George Washington and others. The Resolves lists the colonies' grievances and actions to be taken against British aggression.
Two years later Mason 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 slaveholder. 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 and Visitor Tips
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. There are two ticket options.
- General Admission tickets are $10/$8/$5 for adults/seniors/children 6 – 15. This includes a guided tour of the grounds and house plus access to the Visitor Center exhibit and grounds.
- Or purchase a Grounds Pass for $5 to hike the trails and visit the garden and outbuildings.
- Children under 5 are free.
The Visitor Center and first floor of the mansion are wheelchair accessible. The garden and grounds around the mansion are flat with gravel and hard surface paths.
Allow at least an hour for your visit, longer if you attend one of the special events held throughout the year. For example, Revolutionary War Weekends offer an engaging look at the life of 18th-century soldiers and civilians. Every September, Gunston Hall hosts Constitution Day, a celebration of the signing of the U.S. Constitution.
Things to Do Near Gunston Hall
The Mason Neck Peninsula is home to excellent hiking and biking trails in and around Mason Neck State Park. There are also several places to rent kayaks or launch your own boat to explore the waterways. Plan your visit with these guides:
- Mason Neck State Park: Nature and Outdoor Fun in Northern Virginia
- Hiking and Eagles on the Mason Neck Peninsula in Northern Virginia
- 15 Northern Virginia Bike Trails for Paved / Mountain Biking Near DC
- Northern Virginia Boating and Fun on the Water
- Historic Homes of Virginia Share Lives That Shaped America
Gunston Hall is a beautifully restored mansion with fascinating ties to the beginnings of US Independence. Get a closer look at some of its features in this short video from our friends at Visit Fairfax.