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Historic Properties Bustling with Activities

Visit them now and enjoy their holiday attire.

New is not necessarily better. People looking for a place to host a party or to get away from it all are finding that visiting a historic property this time of year is the smart thing to do. Not only do historic homes offer public tours and special events but they are available for private parties as well.

Last week, Woodlawn Plantation, Gunston Hall Plantation and River Farm were bustling with activity. On Thursday evening, Woodlawn hosted its annual Holiday Candlelit Dinner. This black-tie event attracted approximately 100 guests, many of whom serve on either The Woodlawn and Pope-Leighey House Council or the Woodlawn Foundation.

Betsy Stuart Valentine chaired the event and said, "What is so neat about this is that it is one of the few dinners that are actually held inside the historic home. It's a long-standing tradition, and people look forward to receiving their invitation."

During the cocktail hour, guests could try Martha Washington's bourbon slush or a holiday punch. After the cocktail hour, guests entered either the parlor or the living room, where they were seated at an elegantly set table. They enjoyed a meal of grilled tenderloin and grilled duck breasts with assorted vegetables and blue cheese scalloped potatoes. Martha's bundt cake was served for dessert.

State Del. Kristen J. Amundson (D-44th) and state Sen. Linda "Toddy" Puller (D-36th) attended, as did Colette and Frank Godfrey. Lizabeth A. Williams, associate director of business operations for Woodlawn, said that the Godfreys were major players in helping to secure a $233,000 grant for Woodlawn. This appropriation was recently received from the U.S. Congress as part of the Save America's Treasures program. Williams said Woodlawn applied for the grant but that it was the Godfreys who lobbied for it. The Godfreys and other foundation members have also contributed much of the matching funds.

Executive Director Ross Randall said that nearly half of the $233,000 needed has already been pledged by private donors, and he said, "We encourage everyone and anyone to become involved in this worthwhile undertaking."

The federal and private gifts will be used to stabilize the exterior of the historic site, preserving the wood, masonry and roofing.

Woodlawn will host a Tea & Tour this weekend and will be open the next three weekends for its Gather the Family Tour. It will also be hosting private parties.

RIVER FARM WAS also busy last week. Throughout the week, American Horticultural Society (AHS) staff members and volunteers worked on decorating the theme trees that have now become a tradition at River Farm. Completed now are four decorated trees: Americana, George Washington, Plants and Flowers, and Lewis and Clark. The trees can be viewed at no charge during regular business hours.

On Thursday evening, AHS volunteers enjoyed the annual volunteer party. Volunteers, staff and friends were treated to an ample buffet of goodies provided by the staff and local merchants. Hollin Hall Pastry Shop donated a gingerbread house as well as several trays of desserts.

That same evening, volunteers at Gunston Hall Plantation were treated to a special event. A buffet prepared by catering manager Barbara Good was presented against a lavishly decorated table complete with gingerbread houses, Christmas trees, poinsettias, colorful lights, nutcrackers and decorated miniature houses.

"I do all the decorations and the private parties," said Good. "We do something different every year. This year the theme is entertaining during that time period."

The setup for the party remained in place for the next two evenings' Plantation Christmas and Holiday Buffet. It was also in place for the two seatings of the Holiday Luncheon Tea & Tour, which were held this past Sunday. Good said that the rest of the month she will be busy with private parties.

Several workers were on hand to serve tea and escort guests to their tables. Among them were Deanna Roscher, Shannon O'Higgins, Taryn Wilkinson, Chip Hulfish and Adam Nestor.

Good said that they had approximately 50 guests at each seating, which she said was more like a light lunch than a tea. Guests had a choice of scones, sandwiches, spanokopita, reubens, pasta, salads and lots of desserts. Hot cider was available in addition to tea, and wine and champagne could be purchased at an additional cost. Members from at least three chapters of the Red Hat Society took advantage of the tea to get together.

WHILE WAITING FOR tea, guests had time to browse the tables in the lobby filled with wreaths, centerpieces and kissing balls. Janet Cole said that the items were made with boxwood cut from the grounds and created by members of Hallowing Point Garden Club. Cole said that it enlivens the Gunston Hall events, plus the Club gives a portion of their profits to the estate. There was also plenty of time to tour the grounds and visit the gift shop at Gunston. The plantation has a gift shop on the grounds, as do all of the above sites. Check them out for holiday gift ideas, gourmet foods and collectibles.

While the special dinners and teas are over for this season, there is still time to visit Gunston for its Candlelight Mansion Tours & Garden Illumination; it will be offered tonight and tomorrow evening.

<ro>WHERE & WHEN:

<lst>GUNSTON HALL PLANTATION

10709 Gunston Road, 703-550-9220.

Dec. 11 and 12, Candlelight Mansion Tours & Garden Illumination.

Visit George Mason’s home made ready to welcome guests to an 18th-century holiday party. Enjoy the elaborately carved formal rooms seen in flickering candlelight. Refreshments in the Visitors Center. Tours are from 5-8 p.m.

RIVER FARM

7931 East Boulevard Drive, 703-768-5700.

Throughout December, Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

View four decorated trees in the theme of Americana, George Washington, Plants & Flowers and Lewis & Clark.

WOODLAWN PLANTATION

9000 Richmond Highway, 703-780-4000.

Dec. 13, 14 Tour & Tea at Woodlawn

In addition to enjoying a special blend of tea and period confections, guests will learn about tea customs of the early 19th century, followed by an in-depth complimentary tour of the house. Seatings are at noon and 2 p.m.

Cost: $25 for Tea & Tour of Woodlawn, $30 for Tea & Tour of Woodlawn & Pope-Leighey. Reservations required by phone: 703-780-4000, Ext. 27.

Dec. 14, 21, 28.

GATHER THE FAMILY

Experience the holidays when food, frivolity and family all took center stage. Enjoy an 1820s Christmas with America's First Family and see how people of all classes and ages commemorated the season at one of Woodlawn's most popular events. Tours from 5:30-8 p.m. Cost: $15 per adult; $5 for children K-12. Reservations required by phone: 703-780-4000, Ext. 27.