- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 20, 2003

The Sully Historic Site likely looks much the way it did in the late 1700s, when Richard Bland Lee, Northern Virginia's first member of Congress and uncle of Robert E. Lee, lived and worked there. The Federal-style house and furnishings and the manicured gardens are restored to evoke the Chantilly countryside of 200 years ago.

The only marked difference are the cars whizzing by on Route 28 and the planes flying low as they descend into nearby Washington Dulles International Airport.

Sully's 120-acre site was intended to be part of the airport when construction plans were drawn in 1958, but concerned residents petitioned to have a congressional bill passed to save Sully, site manager Carol McDonnell says.

The site has been meticulously restored and is operated today by the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visitors to Sully can glimpse what life was like on an 18th-century plantation, or simply take a walk among the paths and gardens on a nice day.

"Visitors here really learn about daily life," Ms. McDonnell says. "They can see social history, such as how rooms would have looked, how the kitchen worked, and the role of domestic slaves."

The park authority placed great emphasis on detail in restoring the main house at Sully.

"It was a two-year process to go from the 1940s look to the 1794 look," Ms. McDonnell says of the project.

There are small details, which subtly change every few months, just as they would have back then, from food displayed on the table to a stuffed white squirrel in the house.

"We know from some of the Lees' letters that there was a white squirrel that got in the house and they were trying to catch it," Ms. McDonnell says.

There is a fee to take a house tour, offered hourly, but strolling the grounds is free. Highlights of the site's outbuildings include the 1801 stone dairy, the smokehouse, the stone kitchen, the kitchen garden, and graves of Richard Bland Lee, Elizabeth Collins Lee and some of their children. There also are slave quarters, reproduced from archaeological artifacts found on the property. This building sheds light on how the slaves who helped operate Sully might have lived.

While walk-in visitors can get a feel for 18th-century living, the best way to experience Sully might be on a tour with a Scout or school group or by attending one of the special events.

School groups are treated to docents in period costumes and hands-on activities. A recent visit by a busload of sixth-graders from Blue Ridge Middle School in Purcellville included stirring beaten biscuits and baking them in the massive stone fireplace, tying herb bundles and laundry sachets, and carding wool for textile production in the third-floor garret.

Special events mix history with modern pursuits such as genealogy and gardening. On Saturday, the site will play host to "Foraging into Summer: From Beans to Greens," where visitors can identify and pick spring greens, such as dandelions, and listen to the folklore of their uses.

On May 10, Sully will be the site of the "War of 1812 Muster." Visitors can drill with the troops and learn about early military life, including the role of blacks in the War of 1812. There will be period music and games, a puppet show and food prepared in the open-hearth kitchen.

"During the 18th and 19th centuries, musters were used for recruitment and training for the Army and Navy, as well as for socializing," Ms. McDonnell says. "The War of 1812 is often overshadowed, but it affected this whole area."

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