18th Century to Outer Space
Start your journey from the 18th century to outer space at the most visited historic estate in America, George Washington's Mount Vernon. One of the nation's most beloved historic sites, Mount Vernon offers a glimpse into 18th-century plantation life through beautiful gardens and grounds, intriguing museum exhibits, and immersive programs honoring George Washington's life and legacy. After arriving, you should start your visit at the Ford Orientation Center where staff will help you plan your day and you can get your estate map which can assist you in making sure you see everything that peaks your interest.
The estate is made up of the historic mansion where Washington lived, the Ford Orientation Center, the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center, the outbuildings that helped sustain the bustling estate, and the gardens and landscapes that Washington devoted a lot of time to. Also on the property is the hallowed ground which is Washington's tomb. Dignitaries from around the world have visited this location to pay their respects to General and Mrs. Washington. Be sure and take a tour if possible while visiting which will give you a greater perspective into the estate and will also ensure you don't miss any of the special areas on the estate such as The Slave Memorial and the Pioneer Farm.Events are held here throughout the year and you can even travel to the estate by boat, so check their website for all the details before you come.
Then head down the road a little bit to visit another Founding Father's home, George Mason's Gunston Hall. A visit to Gunston Hall begins in the Visitor Center with an exploration of the center's exhibits which highlight details of George Mason's civic career and the lasting influences of his most famous document, The Virginia Declaration of Rights. Exhibits also focus on facets of his personal life as well as aspects of 18th-century plantation life.
Just to the east of the house is a group of reconstructed buildings including a kitchen, dairy, smokehouse, and laundry. They surround a well that resides on its original 18th century foundation. These buildings replicate what were the typical support buildings for an 18th century plantation household. They are self-guided and there is also an interpretive area for the slave housing.
Stroll through the central boxwood allée believed to have been planted during George Mason's residence. Enjoy the view of the Potomac River from Mason's garden overlook, or take a peaceful hike down to the banks of the river. A short distance from the house is the Mason family graveyard. During the warm weather months, archaeologists can often be found on the grounds discovering more information about Mason's plantation.
No visit to Gunston Hall is complete without a stop at the Museum Shop. Here one can find books and other printed materials about George Mason, Gunston Hall, and 18th century life as well as a variety of unique gift items.
Begin your second day by visiting Claude Moore Colonial Farm at Turkey Run. The Farm is a living history museum that portrays family life on a small, low-income farm just prior to the Revolutionary War. More than 2 million visitors have stopped by since it opened in 1973 and it's allure is due in large part to its continuing focus on authenticity and its ongoing encouragement of both child and adult visitors to participate in the daily activities of an 18th century family farm. Here you'll find authentic representation of colonial agricultural history to provide perspective and context for present day life. In addition to the self-guided tours of the working Farm, groups participate in a number of highly focused, structured, heavily utilized programs such as the Farm Skills Program. This hands-on educational program features the use of a collection of reproduction period items and sessions in which students produce their own 18th-century artifacts using the tools, materials, processes and techniques of the colonial period. Before visiting the farm be sure and visit their website or call ahead to see what's happening when you're planning on being there. If you're coming with a group, they will even taylor special activities to make sure you get the most out of your time there.
Next, take a short trip to visit the Turner Farm. Here you'll find an Observatory Park which is supported by the Fairfax County Park Authority. The observatory is run by the Analemma Society which supports their goal of promoting science education through astronomy in the Northern Virginia area. Friday Star-gazing in Observatory Park is open to the public for viewings of the night sky every Friday night beginning at sunset, weather permitting. Weather and sky conditions can be monitored by viewing the weather watch on the park's website and by viewing our clear sky clock. To determine whether it is a good night to come out, here is the rule of thumb we go by: If you can see clouds, no - If you can see stars, yes. If you do visit, bring telescopes and cameras. You may also want to bring chairs or blankets and snacks. The Friday night viewings usually last about an hour, starting at sunset.
Start the day at an oasis of the past - Sully Historic Site reflects the history of Fairfax County. Completed in 1799 by Richard Bland Lee, the main house at Sully combines aspects of Georgian and Federal architecture. Richard Bland Lee was Northern Virginia's first Representative to Congress, as well as General Robert E. Lee's uncle. On the National Register for Historic Places, and accredited by the American Association of Museums, Sully also includes original outbuildings, representative slave quarter and gardens. Guided tours highlight the early 19th century life of the Richard Bland Lee family, tenant farmers and enslaved African Americans. Programs reflect the history of Fairfax County through the 20th century.
Finish up the day at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum Steven F.Udvar-Hazy Center. The Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia is the companion facility to the Museum on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Its two huge hangars - the Boeing Aviation Hangar and the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar - display thousands of aviation and space artifacts, including a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, a Concorde, and the space shuttle Discovery. The Center also offers the Airbus IMAX® Theater and the Donald D. Engen Observation Tower, which gives you a 360-degree bird's-eye view of Washington Dulles International Airport and the surrounding area. The Udvar-Hazy Center hosts special programs throughout the year and you should check the museum's website before you visit to see if something extra exciting is happening when you're going to be there.