Down the Potomac from Mount Vernon is the home of another important George. Gentleman farmer George Mason was a colonel of the Virginia militia and author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, the model for the U.S. Bill of Rights, which called for freedom of the press, tolerance of religion, and other fundamental democratic principles. Mason was a framer of the Constitution but refused to sign the final document because it didn't stop the importation of slaves, adequately restrain the powers of the federal government, or include a bill of rights. Mason's objections spurred the movement for the inclusion of the Bill of Rights into the Constitution.
Mason's home was begun about 1755. The Georgian-style mansion has some of the finest hand-carved ornamented interiors in the country and is the handiwork of the 18th century's foremost architect, William Buckland, who also designed the Hammond-Harwood and Chase-Lloyd houses in Annapolis. The house is built of native brick, black walnut,
and yellow pine, and follows the style of the time that demanded absolute symmetry, which explains the false door set into one side of the center hallway and the "robber" window on a second-floor storage room.
The interior, with carved woodwork in styles from Chinese to Greek, has been meticulously restored, with paints made from the original formulas and carefully carved replacements for the intricate mahogany medallions in the moldings. Restored outbuildings include a kitchen, dairy, laundry, and smokehouse, and a schoolhouse has also been reconstructed.
The formal gardens, recently under excavation by a team of archaeologists, are famous for their boxwoods—some were planted during George Mason's time, making them among the oldest in the country. The Potomac is visible past the expansive deer park, and Mason's landing road to the river was recently found. Special programs, such as archaeology tutelage and a plantation Christmas celebration, are available. A tour of Gunston Hall takes at least 45 minutes; tours begin on the front porch of the house. Buy tickets at the visitor center, which includes a museum and gift shop.