- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 13, 2004

Gunston Hall Plantation on Fairfax County’s Mason Neck peninsula is holding its annual kite festival Saturday. Fam-ilies will be able to tour the historic home of George Mason, enjoy kite-flying in the plantation’s vast meadows, and meet and greet newborn lambs in the farmyard.

“It’s a very popular event. We usually get anywhere from 800 to 1,200 visitors during the kite festival,” says Susan Blankenship, spokeswoman for the plantation.

The event, which runs from noon to 5 p.m., also features a puppet show, hands-on archaeology and open-hearth cooking. Ms. Blankenship says she suspects the open-hearth menu might include apple pie.

Costumed characters, including a George Mason impersonator, will introduce children to 18th-century games, penmanship with a real quill pen and outdoor laundry chores.

The emphasis this day, however, is on colorful kite creations, Ms. Blankenship says. For those who don’t have a kite, the gift shop will offer several kinds of varying colors and styles for sale. For ailing kites, a kite doctor will be on site to mend kites for free.

Barbecue also will be available for purchase on the plantation grounds, but families are welcome to bring their own picnic baskets. The estate has dozens of benches and picnic tables.

The farmyard, aside from the sheep and lambs, also has hogs, geese, chickens, peacocks, dogs and a steer named Harry. Children not only will get a chance to watch the animals, but will be welcome to pet them, particularly the newborn lambs, some of which are bottle-fed.

A visit to the 550-acre plantation (it was a 5,500-acre tobacco and wheat plantation during Mason’s day) also gives families an opportunity to familiarize themselves with one of the most important statesmen of the American Revolutionary era.

Mason (1725-1782), a fourth-generation Virginian, was the author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights and called for such basic, but back then controversial, liberties as freedom of the press, religious tolerance and the right to trial by jury.

The main house, a 7,000-square-foot Colonial plantation home thought to have been designed by Mason himself, gives a glimpse into the personal life of the statesman. He was married twice and had 12 children with his first wife, Ann Elizabeth Mason. Nine of them survived.

The mansion, built in 1755, had to be spacious enough to accommodate the children’s needs as well as the needs of guests being entertained formally. The first floor, therefore, was divided into one informal wing and one formal wing. The formal area consisted of a dining room, where many fancy silver dinnerware items are displayed, and a gaming room. The informal area housed Mason’s bedroom.

Upstairs are the eight children’s rooms. Some of the children shared rooms. One of the rooms displays a bed stripped of its mattress to allow visitors a look at how beds were roped. It was on top of this rope pattern, reminiscent of a large fishing net, that a mattress was placed.

The basement is dedicated to a “touching museum,” where children can touch old farm equipment, wool, yarn and other old-timey items.

Also on the grounds is a reconstructed schoolhouse, whose second floor is dedicated to a tiny bedroom for the schoolteacher.

“One of the things that interests children the most is to see how the Mason children lived and played,” Ms. Blankenship says. Some of them find the small teacher’s quarters remarkable, even amusing, she says.

At the entrance to the grounds is a small museum space featuring silver and dinnerware from Mason’s era, such as a silver sauceboat from 1782 engraved with Mason’s crest, and a diorama of how the plantation may have looked during Mason’s day.

For those who still have some energy in their legs and minds, the grounds are well worth a visit. There are formal gardens, some with boxwoods planted by Mason, and meadows and woods.

Mason Neck is also a prime eagle-spotting place, and many visitors enjoy taking the one-mile walk to the Potomac River, looking for eagles and enjoying the beautiful views, Ms. Blankenship says.

Whether visiting for the kite festival or on a “regular” day, little people will find that Gunston Hall provides plenty of activities for them.

“Kids love it here the demonstrations, the farm animals, the hands-on activities, like trying their hands at spinning,” Ms. Blankenship says. “It’s just so different from the world of Nintendo and PlayStation.”

The plantation was home to George Mason, author of Americas first bill of rights, and his large family.

WHEN YOU GO: LOCATION: Gunston Hall Plantation is located at 10709 Gunston Road on Mason Neck. Directions: Gunston Hall is about 20 miles south of the District. Take Interstate 95 south and get off at Exit 163. Turn left onto Lorton Road. Turn right onto Armistead Road. At the light, turn right onto Route 1 south. At the third light, turn left onto Gunston Road (State Road 242). The Gunston Hall entrance drive is about 3.5 miles on the left.

Hours: Open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Admission: $8 for adults, $7 for seniors, $4 for children six and older and free for children age 5 and younger.

Parking: On site

Note: Wear good, sturdy walking shoes. The plantation consists of 550 acres of formal gardens, a farmyard and meadows in addition to the historic buildings. There is a one-mile path from the mansion to the Potomac River for those who want a short scenic hike. Strollers are allowed on the grounds but not in the mansion.

Information: 703/550-9220 or click on the Web site (www.gunstonhall.org).

Family activities at Gunston Hall

• Gunston Hall’s annual kite festival, Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. This popular annual event welcomes families to fly their own kites in Gunston Hall’s meadows. The event also features plenty of hands-on activities. Families are invited to bring a picnic, but on-site barbecue will be available for purchase. Admission, which includes access to the mansion and grounds: $8 for adults, $4 for children ages 6 to 12 and free for children ages 5 and younger.

• Weekender focus tours, held the third and fourth Saturdays of the month from April through October at noon, 1:30 and 3 p.m. Behind the Scenes in the Farmyard is the theme on the third Saturday of each month. Visitors are introduced to rare 18th-century breeds of sheep, turkeys, guinea fowl and a pair of hogs with a taste for apple bobbing. The fourth Saturday of each month is devoted to Hidden History Archaeology, a tour that introduces families to archaeology on the plantation. Visitors will get a look at the remnants of George Mason’s original garden. Hands-on examination is encouraged. These events are included in the general cost of admission: $8 for adults, $7 for seniors, $4 for students ages 6 to 18 and free for children 5 and younger.

• Mother’s Day Luncheon Tea & Tours, May 9 at noon and 3 p.m. At this event, guests are invited to enjoy an 18th-century fashion show while sampling a wide variety of sandwiches, desserts, scones and teas. The luncheon also includes general admission to the historic site. Reservations are required. Admission: $25.95 for adults and children 11 and older, $12.50 for children ages 6 to 10, free for children younger than 6. Reservations: 703/339-0460.

• Plantation Sleuth, Tuesdays and Thursdays in July and August, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Children are invited to investigate a mystery at Gunston Hall. Young detectives and their parents are invited to complete a Sleuth Score Card as they look for important clues to solve an 18th-century mystery. A guided mansion tour is included in the cost: $8 for adults, $5 for children ages 6 to 12, free for children age 5 and younger.

• Camp Gunston Hall, July 12 through 16, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Youngsters ages 8 to 12 are invited to explore what life was like in Virginia more than 200 years ago at this interactive camp. Archaeology, garden projects, games and storytelling are some of the featured history-related pastimes. Reservations are required. Fee: $150. Price includes T-shirt, snacks, disposable camera, writing journal and Friday luncheon. Information: 703/550-9220.

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