- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 12, 2000

Decked out for the holidays in traditional 19th-century greenery, Oatlands Plantation welcomes visitors to a glimpse of life in a more genteel era. Located near Leesburg in the heart of Virginia's hunt country, the plantation invites all to Christmas at Oatlands, an experience sure to delight.

One of the treasures of Christmas in the Washington area is its array of historic houses decked out in Christmas greenery. Each house creates a theme for its Christmas display, with costumed guides to enhance the experience as well as offer tours by candlelight.

In addition to Oatlands, other historic properties that offer candlelight tours this weekend include:

• Billingsley House Museum in Upper Marlboro.

• Sully Plantation in Chantilly.

• Surratt House in Clinton.

• Woodlawn Plantation south of Alexandria.

The White House also has candlelight tours, on Dec. 27, 28 and 29.

Oatlands is open through Dec. 30, but its last candlelight tour is Saturday from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.

"The house was really meant to be seen in candlelight it's incredible," says Belinda Thomas, director of education and interpretation for Oatlands.

Candlelight bathes the rooms with a warm glow while guides in period costumes share vignettes of the home's history. Traditional greenery grown at Oatlands decorates the home and provides a festive air. Victorian kissing balls are hung in archways, and a grand tree stands proudly in the drawing room, which was the scene of a wedding on a Christmas Day in the 1800s.

This year's theme at Oatlands is hunt country, which is appropriate, as its last owner, William Corcoran Eustis, was one of the founders of the Loudoun Hunt and an accomplished equestrian. A room on the second level displays a hunting jacket, riding boots and saddle.

The receiving room has a reproduction Louis XIV desk with photos of family members on horseback, and a game room has photos of horses displayed on walls.

The dining room is set for a hunt country buffet with Rose Canton china used by the Eustis family. Several serving pieces date to the original owner, George Carter, who built Oatlands in 1803.

Next to the dining room, the library invites guests to linger. One could curl up with a good book there in front of the fire on a wintry eve.

"The library is wonderfully representative of the Eustis family," says Ms. Thomas. "All the books were donated by the family, and the furnishings have remained the same."

The house is warm and inviting and feels lived in even though it was donated to the National Trust for Historic Preservation by the Eustises' two daughters in 1965 following their mother's death in 1964.

Oatlands Greenhouse (circa 1810) provided the polyanthus in the dining room as well as a red amaryllis in a hallway off the library. The greenhouse is undergoing restoration, and David Boyce, executive director of Oatlands, says the potting shed will be turned into a retail operation to display and sell garden items.

"We hope we will be able to propagate some plants off the property, such as Oatlands blue atlas cedar, Oatlands boxwood and the Oatlands shag-bark hickory and sell them here," he says. Mr. Boyce expects to have the potting shed open before Christmas.

If visiting Oatlands during the day, don't miss the 4-acre terraced garden with the largest English oak tree in Virginia. A storm last year took out 14 trees, which have been used to make new floors in the potting shed.

Also, during the holidays, an English tea is served from noon to 3 p.m. Thursday through Saturday in the Carriage House. An assortment of tea sandwiches, scones and sweets are made by volunteers. Reservations are required for tea.

Two of the volunteers, Kathy and Ed Reese of Leesburg, were busy recently serving and talking with customers.

"All of the money that we raise goes for the gardens," Mrs. Reese explains. "We do teas three times a year spring, fall and a holiday tea." Thirty-two volunteers handle the teas at Oatlands.

Katharina Brandt and Monika Dietze of Fairfax had toured the house and were enjoying tea on a recent Thursday afternoon.

"It's very beautiful, and we are going to come back on Saturday night for the candlelight tour," Ms. Brandt says. It was the women's first visit to Oatlands at Christmas.

Ann Beccaccio of Spotsylvania also was enjoying her first trip to Oatlands. She and her friends had tea in the Carriage House.

Ten-year-old Ashley Cameron was enjoying her first visit to Oatlands with Girl Scout Troop 4190 from Leesburg. Lisa Mees and Kelsey Knutson, also 10, had visited Oatlands before but were back with the Girl Scouts and looking forward to seeing the mansion at Christmas.

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