Behind the Scenes Special: Gunston Hall

In Behind-the-Scenes on May 24, 2011 at 3:18 am

Once again, the NPS came through for me and there was a Behind-the-Scenes Daytrip to Virginia! This time to Gunston Hall:

Gunston Hall was the home of George Mason. I know that all you 24 fans find this incredibly confusing, but George Mason was actually a Patriotic American fellow who was a contemporary and friend of some other George. Think his surname was Washington. They aren’t too keen on him around here, so I don’t really know. Anyway – George Mason’s home and estate are still sitting pretty on the opposite side of the Potomac to DC, and you are more than welcome to pay a visit – we had the regular guided tour, and it was very interesting.

So, I’m afraid no photos of the inside, but that’s just another great reason to go and visit. This also gives me the excuse to focus on the not-so-commonly focussed on, such as the admirable collection of rare books and manuscripts housed at Gunston, for it is a sight to behold:

Mark (Librarian, Archivist, Lovely person and pretty good tourguide too) was our guide for the day, and is rightly rather proud of the collection at Gunston, which includes some incredible gems – he has even found unpublished George Washington letters in the archives, and there is yet more stuff he hasn’t been through yet. Who knows what other goodies are in there! Anyone who knows me knows I’m not to be allowed into second-hand or antique bookshops, or even libraries, because the chances of getting me out of there without the help of an armed repsonse unit or chloroform are slim; I’m anyone’s for an old, leather-bound tome. My nerdy little eyes just sparkled when the archive doors were opened up. If you have an interest in rarities, American history or things of literary beauty, you need to add Gunston Hall to your itinerary. The library is open by appointment, but it is absolutely worth making one. This is a Behind-the-Scenes that is open to everyone with a bit of forward planning, so don’t let it pass you by.

Moving on, the beauty of the locale isn’t something you should miss, either. When you think about how close you are to one of the most turbulent cities in America (not to mention roads busier than Heathrow’s runways less than a mile away), the tranquility of the house grounds is a welcome respite for any weary traveller:

There are quite a few hidden treasures in the grounds as well – a family burial ground, some lovely designed gardens and even an archaeology lab – a lovely place for an afternoon ramble, and just the thing to escape the oppresive heat of the city with a river breeze.

Gunston Hall is a strange operation – the house is very small, and could easily be swallowed by it’s enormous visitor centre, but it’s still a nice getaway. An hour or more is a *tad* too long for half a dozen rooms, but I get the feeling that you can guide the length by chatting with your docent. The fact that the house is small dictates an intimate experience, rather than the horrific wholesale nightmare of bigger establishments (NMAI, I’m talking to YOU). It’s also pretty far from the Capitol Tour experience, but I’m all about giving you guys options.

This is another one of those small sites that is omitted from the guidebooks, so I’m just glad that folks like Chris at the NPS are taking good care of me and making sure I see this stuff, and I hope that maybe one of you will visit DC or somewhere else I’ve waffled on about and be tempted off the beaten track because of it. Take my word for it – Gunston Hall and it’s incredible library are well worth crossing the Beltway for.


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