Tourist in My Hometown: Mason Neck and Gunston Hall

Yesterday brought the first cold, windy gust of fall to DC. I was, as usual, a complete wimp about it. Warsaw will be “challenging!” On the other hand, today was one of those sunny, crisp mid-Atlantic days that you have to take full advantage of while they last. So, we did.

We drove out to Mason Neck State Park and hiked around it and the federal nature reserve just next door. Located just a few miles down 1-95 near the former Reformatory at Lorton (definitely another day trip there), these parks seem a world away from DC. There’s barely even any cell network coverage just as soon as you leave the highway.

Seagulls, egrets and more  in the marshes along the Potomac.
Seagulls, egrets, fishermen and more in the peaceful marshes along the Potomac.
Quiet wooded paths in the river delta would be a bit warm in summer, but perfect in the fall.
These wooded paths in the river delta would be a bit warm in summer, but are perfect in the fall.
Dear Austrians, this is what proper trail signage looks like. I'm just saying.
Dear Austrians, this is what proper trail signage looks like.
Birdhouses near the visitor center are kinda sculptural.
Birdhouses near the visitor center are kinda sculptural.
Did not speak any Polish today and is fine with that.
Did not speak any Polish today and is fine with that.
Your taxpayer dollars at work and don't you forget it. (Really, I mean that.)
Your taxpayer dollars at work and don’t you forget it. (Really. You paid for all this. Go enjoy it!)

After a picnic in the woods, we drove to nearby Gunston Hall, the home of local Constitutional hero George Mason. A quiet man by nature, he nevertheless stuck to his guns when insisting on a bill of rights reserved to individuals to accompany the Constitution. This really annoyed George Washington, but was a major influence on Thomas Jefferson—as witnessed by the existence of our Bill of Rights.

Gunston Hall is not the biggest or fanciest colonial mansion, but the setting is beautiful, and I was impressed by how just plain livable the solidly-built, compact house was for the time. There are lots of clever little touches such as window shutters that keep the house either cool or warm depending on the season but fold away into pockets in the walls when not in use. 12-inch thick walls also help with climate control. And there are many built-in closets and cabinets that would be considered expensive “upgrades” in a modern home.

The house was so comfortable that it was occupied continuously with relatively few changes from its construction in 1759 until it was bequeathed to the Commonwealth of Virginia by its final occupant in 1949. I can see why. It’s a lovely place that I would take over a European castle in a heartbeat!

From the magnolia alley.
From the magnolia alley. The river runs several hundred yards behind the house, offering a pretty view from all the back windows and porch.
Pantry closets beside the fireplace.
Pantry closets beside the fireplace. Yes, they really liked green.
From the parlor into the front hall. There is a LOT of original hand-carved trim in this house.
From the parlor into the front hall. There is a LOT of original hand-carved trim in this house.
Upstairs are seven bedrooms for his nine children and many servants.
Upstairs are seven bedrooms for George’s nine children and multitudinous servants.
One of the bedrooms.
One of the cozy little bedrooms.
In the kitchen house.
In the kitchen, separate from the main house, as is normal in these old places.
The back garden, with 250 year old boxwoods.
The back garden, with gnarly 250 year old boxwoods.
Contemporary map showing neighboring plantations along the Potomac and tributaries.
Contemporary map showing neighboring plantations along the Potomac and tributaries.
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One comment

  1. Kelly, I have never heard of either of these places. Thanks for sharing. I’m sure someone has put together a book on outings like this in the D.C. area. Would be a good thing to have when living in the area.

    Like

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