I had a lovely day trip planned last weekend for a visit to a historical estate, some hiking, and a picnic, as it was uncommonly warm. (Well, I say uncommonly. In years past it would have been a normal temperature, but it’s been a very chilly Winter!) I was planning to visit Gunston Hall, the home of George Mason. Mason, of course, created the Virginia Bill of rights and was the main speaker in demanding a Bill of Rights be added to the American Constitution, so he’s kind of a big deal in American history and in creating something most modern democracies have included in their own constitutions.
I was excited to see the house has been well maintained in the last few years since I’ve visited. The grounds, however, were a different matter. Though the view from the front and side was as amazing as the photo above suggests, there is a reason there is no photographic evidence of the back yard. Not that anything showed outright abuse, mind you. But it was brought to my attention once more that historical sites have really suffered since the recession, and still haven’t made a comeback. The house used to lead onto a path of bushes that led to an amazing terraced garden and a maze on a lower level. There was neither garden nor maze, however. In fact, there wasn’t much of anything besides a pervasive feeling of sadness.
If one were to wander to the outbuildings area, you’d find the same thing. Here a pot, there a churn, and a whole lot of empty spots where things used to be.
Some investigation was called for at this point. I oh so charmingly asked the tour guide about it, till she squirmed and finally confessed that some of the extras had been dropped for financial reasons. I wasn’t sure why, as Mount Vernon (home of George Washington, first president of the US) was absolutely rolling in money from all I could tell only an hour or so away. I then went to the website, and found the reason for this decay.
Gunston Hall is run by it’s own nonprofit. There are no government or state funds supporting it, and neither the national trust nor park authority are funneling donations to it. And that’s despite the miles of trails the estate supports. Looking at the finance reports on their site, you’ll soon find that the house has been run on $700 average a year. I can’t run an apartment on that little. That little must be used almost completely on property taxes, especially in this area. Not that being in a relatively affluent area has helped it, however. No, it’s a little hidden by the trees on the edge of the property, so many locals wouldn’t even know that the house is there if they weren’t looking for it.
I asked my Mom, who is highly involved in the Nova (Northern Virginia, it’s a region that’s part of the DC area) community and seems to know at least one person everywhere she goes (yes, even when we go on vacation as a family people she knows will still pop up, it’s a skill I tell you especially considering we live in an area this huge where people value privacy) and she said two years ago the place was a complete ghost town and it’s slowly been rebuilding since then. She also mentioned she has a friend who works there that gave her the scoop that a lot of the former attractions like the renactment farm were removed because of wildlife pests, but the rest of it was caused by a different leadership group which may not have been quite as skilled in the marketing aspect of the job as the current group.
It’s still hurting and needs some help, either financial or donations. Maybe that’s a good excuse to tour the house- your tickets will support their efforts and the house itself is still pristine- and then take a hike along the miles of waterfront trails with your own picnic. After all, a view like that is something no one could complain about.