Saturday, May 2, 2009

Gunston Hall

We are visiting my daughter in Fairfax County and took a trip to Gunston Hall, the home of George Mason (1725-1792). Mason is not as well known as other founders, probably because he never sought national office and cherished his family and privacy at Gunston Hall.
Mason was one of the wealthiest planters in Virginia and a "neighbor" of George Washington. Although he'd served in local office and in the House of Burgesses, during the 1770s Mason became more politically active in the growing resistance to the British. In 1772 he helped write the Fairfax Resolves and in 1776 drafted the Virginia Declaration of Rights which was copied by other states and served as a model for the U.S. Bill of Rights.
After the Revolution, Mason because disillusioned with politics, returned to Gunston Hall, and married his second wife. But, the call for a new national government drew his attention and he was one of Virginia's delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1887, where he was one of the most vocal participants. At the conclusion of the Convention, Mason surprised many when he refused to sign the document, citing the lack of a declaration of rights as his primary objection. He also pointed to various flaws in the Constitution that he thought would lead the nation into either monarchy or a corrupt aristocracy.
Gunston Hall as today's visitors approach. In Mason's time, only locals would have arrived from this direction on horseback or coach. While Mason's home does not seem large by the standards of Mount Vernon, Monticello, Montpelier, and other well-to-to Virginia planters, the dormer style upstairs provided the home with eight bedrooms.
The kitchen at Gunston Hall was, as typical of the times, in a separate building about 50' from the main house. Other outbuildings included a dairy, a smokehouse, a school house, and slave quarters. Mason was the second largest slave holder in the region, after George Washington. Mason never freed his slaves.
The view of Gunston Hall from his gardens. The boxwood is an original! The gardens are in the process of being restored with Mason's design and the plants typical of the late 1700s. The small building is the school house. In the distance behind the camera is the Potomac River. During Mason's time all the trees were cut so there was a clear view of the river from the house; today only a glimpse is possible off to one side. Most of Mason's "important guests" arrived by boat, so this would have been their approach as they came for a visit.
A teacher was often imported from Europe and they were praised, but given only modest accommodations. This object was in the school teacher's room above the classroom. Do you know what it is?
Couldn't get this shy fellow to smile for the camera. Picture taken in a nearby park where we took a hike.

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