Friday, August 29, 2014

Photos on Friday: Carousel on the National Mall

This week's Photos on Friday visits the National Mall to an attraction the kids love - the historic carousel. Built in 1947, this is a unique landmark and was not originally placed downtown. I'll be doing a more detailed post in the near future about its history.

Carousel on the National Mall

One of the themed horses on this historical ride

Thursday, August 28, 2014

An up-close view of the interior of George Mason's Gunston Hall

Gunston Hal
Gunston Hall is the home of George Mason, one of America's Founding Fathers. It is located in the northern region of Virginia, just south of Washington D.C. 

Mason was instrumental in helping nurture the seeds of early American government. His writing of the Virginia Declaration of Rights was a pivotal document which influenced Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen and the U.S. Bill of Rights.

I'd been to Gunston Hall at least twice before and heard they were currently fixing the roof and during the renovations were allowing photos to be taken inside of the house since the furniture was removed. So I jumped at the chance to do this, as the inside is gorgeous. 

The house's architecture is Georgian style and was constructed during the time frame of 1755-1759; the family had moved into the new home in 1760. What is amazing about Gunston Hall is that much of the original walls and flooring are still intact and in fantastic condition. It is impressive because everything is symmetrically designed in its architecture. The detail and care that went into building this home are amazing. 

On the first floor are four rooms, the parlor (formal), formal dining room, a smaller parlor and master bedroom; there is also the main hallway, which is a large room in itself.

Gunston Hall's formal dining room (also known as the "Palladian Room") deserves a special mention because of the intricate and very beautifully detailed carvings built into this room. The beauty of the craftsmanship is incredible, considering the lack of technology in the 18th century. In the 1750s it must have taken a painstakingly long time to create and carve the ornamental details to the perfection. My photo truly doesn't do this room justice. (The stands in the picture show visitors what the room looks like when it's furnished - on the left- and also what a subsequent owner changed before it was restored back to Mason's time - on the right).

Formal dining room at Gunston Hall, known as the "Palladium Room".

Door leading from the Palladian Room to the formal parlor. The details are amazing and, if memory serves, the handles and locks are on these doors are original.

The formal parlor is inspired by Chinese design, originally placed by George Mason, but subsequent owners did keep the overall theme, despite changes that had been made. Today the room has been restored to how Mason would have designed the room; it is referred to as the "Chinese Room". While fashionable in Great Britain during the 18th century, this is the only home known in Colonial America to include this woodwork design.
Standing in the doorway looking into the formal parlor at Gunston Hall, also known as the "Chinese Room".

The smaller parlor, which is more aligned what would be considered a "family room" in modern times, is where the Masons ate their meals when company was not present. Mason also used this room to conduct business. Still beautiful, but not nearly as fancy.

The informal parlor at Gunston Hall which served as a dining area, office and "family" room

Towards the front of the house, you find the master bedroom, which you can see is painted a vibrant green. From visits to other historic homes in the area, I learned bright colors were common in that era amongst the affluent as it was a sign of wealth.  

View of one of the closets in the master bedroom. There are two and this one has been left untouched.
The second floor contained the rest of the bedrooms and there are many. This central corridor is the gateway to these rooms. What's unusual is that most homes of this era had second floors that mimicked the first floor, but not Gunston Hall. The layout upstairs is quite different than the lower level. It was described as "dormitory" style, and it really is.

Hallway on the second floor of Gunston Hall

The upstairs rooms are quite plain (in comparison to the first floor) except the ornate staircase which can be seen from the lower floor. As you head back downstairs, you take a beautiful stairway that leads you back down to the first floor.

Entry to the grand staircase from the second floor

Looking up at the carvings on the staircase from the first floor

Another view of the staircase

The tour guides are very knowledgeable, to date, I've been on several tours of this property and found each one to be fantastic and I always learn something new about the history of George Mason and the house itself.   

If you are visiting Washington DC, Gunston Hall is only a 20-mile drive south conveniently located off Route 1 and I-95 (about 4.5 miles in off Route 1), just beyond other remarkable landmarks such as Mount Vernon, Fort Belvoir, Pope-Leighey Home and Woodlawn Plantation. When visiting this region you have many wonderful options of historical places to visit, all within a handful of miles to one another. I found Gunston Hall to be a memorable experience and learn something new on each visit.

**Excerpts of this post were taken from my original post about visiting Gunston Hall. The earlier post contains more information about visiting this historic landmark with additional descriptions and photos.

Related Reading:

Monday, August 25, 2014

Family Fun Fall Festivals in Northern Virginia

Northern Virginia has a ton of fall festivals going on in the fall months of September and October. If you're in the area and looking for fall seasonal fun, many of these events may be just what you're looking for as an outing to take the family.

Most of these festivals are annual events designed with family fun in mind. Some events are one or two day events while others run throughout the entire fall season, so keep in mind any specific dates if you're looking for a particular activity. Here are some good picks of family fun festivals for fall:

Friday, August 22, 2014

Photos on Friday: World Deserts exhibit at United States Botanic Garden

Today's Photos on Friday was taken at the United States Botanic Garden. I've been to the USBG a few times, usually around the holidays, but have stopped in on other occasions as well. One of my favorite sections to visit is the World Deserts exhibit which showcases succulents, grasses, flowering plants and various shrubs.

Cleistocactus winteri. The sign said it is native to Bolivia
A portion of a Big horned Euphorbia - I wasn't able to capture the entire plant. It is native to South Africa according to the sign posted.

Filled with succulents, grasses, shrubs and other flowering plants. - See more at:
illed with succulents, grasses, shrubs and other flowering plants. - See more at:
illed with succulents, grasses, shrubs and other flowering plants. - See more at:
illed with succulents, grasses, shrubs and other flowering plants. - See more at:
illed with succulents, grasses, shrubs and other flowering plants. - See more at:

Monday, August 18, 2014

In Manassas the Stone House lives to tell the tale of two U.S. Civil War battles

Stone House in Manassas Battlefield Park
Stone House as it stands today
The Stone House in Manassas, Virginia stands on the fields within Manassas Battlefield National Park. The structure had served in many capacities since its original build. It also lived to tell the tale of two major Civil War battles.

Today the property is open to the public.

Run by the U.S. National Park Service (NPS), visitors can take a step back into the past and learn about the property and the roles it served during the 19th century. 

In its lifetime, the building had been a rest stop, farm house, tavern, and eventually a Civil War field hospital ─ twice, before being restored back to a private residence. The home survived both the First and Second Battles of Bull Run (also known as the First and Second Battles of Manassas). 

Once it was returned to serving as a private residence, it remained a home until the 1940s. Today Stone House still stands, largely fully intact, perhaps a testament to its resilience and historical roots.

The federal government took ownership of the property in the late 1940s. In the 1960s, the NPS began restoring the structure back to its earlier appearance. It is my understanding the exterior of the house you see today is pretty intact to the original structure.

Credit: Unknown/photo courtesy of National Park Service
The Stone House, Prince William County, Va, as it appeared in the early twentieth century from the rear view.
Much of the home as it exists today is original, but some modifications have been made. Everything has been restored to the way it would have looked during the 19th Century.

Several homes in Virginia have cannonballs embedded in outside walls, having been caught in the crossfire in the U.S. Civil War. To my understanding, the cannonball in this image was added after the war. It has been said a later owner of the house placed cannonballs on the house where damage had actually been done during the Civil War.
There are two primary floors to the building and a basement. Visitors are welcomed to tour the main level; the top floor and basement are typically closed to visitors. However, the top floor has been opened on rare occasion. Unfortunately, I do not have any second floor images.

This room is set up as a space where families would have taken their meals. It is set away across the hall from where the main section of the tavern was located during these years.

The property surrounding Stone House is also a popular destination for hikers. There are many trails throughout Manassas Battlefield Park. Several times a year I head over there to go walking in different seasons.

Manassas Battlefield Park is open daily, year-round (except Thanksgiving and Christmas). Visitors can take both walking and driving tours. There are also frequent interpretive programs scheduled and a small museum inside the visitors center with several Civil War artifacts. 

Stone House (and the Manassas Battlefield Park's Visitor's Center) are located about 25 miles west of Washington, D.C.

Stone House at Sunset