With winter break upon us, I have been scrambling to fill my third grader’s time off with activities. Beyond indoor play areas, light shows and winter camps, I wanted to incorporate a day of local history. While Sully Historic Site is popular with slightly older elementary students and scouts, our small tour group consisted of younger children.
Aside from a few snacks, children can find puzzles, colonial hats and games. Restrooms with changing facility and water fountain are available and there is a beverage vending machine outside next to the center.
It’s a brief walk from the parking lot to the main house. Our docent, Allen Taylor, was very informative when sharing the history of the plantation. Sully Plantation was home to Richard Bland Lee. Richard was the younger brother of Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee and General Robert E. Lee’s nephew. Richard became the first Congressman of Northern Virginia.
He and his wife, Elizabeth Collins Lee, shared the home with their nine children. Originally Sully had more than 3,000 acres, but Dulles Airport took most of the land. What remains is the original 1794 farmhouse, stone dairy, smokehouse and kitchen. The slave quarter is reconstructed and the schoolhouse was created in the 19th century by other owners. There is also a flower and kitchen garden where apples, peaches, wheat, alfalfa and timothy grew on the farm.
I recommend you take the house tour because not only is it educational, several pieces of the house are original such as 80% of the flooring, the front door made of painted pine, a pair of mirrors, Richard Bland Lee’s eye glasses and Elizabeth Collins Lee’s green sofa which was part of her dowry.
The house tour takes about 45 minutes to go through three floors. See how sugar was stored, view a piano forte from circa 1824, learn about the Lee’s pet white squirrel, smell rosewater used to mask body odor during the winter season, see a tapestry sewn by a 6 year old, try your hand at a phonics wheel and see how a quill pen really works.
What I found most interesting on the tour was the respect I have for Elizabeth Collins Lee. Not only did she raise 9 children, but she also educated and freed one of her slaves, which in those days, was prohibited. It takes a lot of courage to do what she did and it’s nice to see women being pillars of strength during that time period.
Good to know
Guided tours of the main house take place on the hour with the last tour given at 4 p.m. However, during January, February and holidays the last tour commences at 3 p.m. The Forgotten Road Tour is a narrated walking tour of the original outbuilding and slave quarter cabin. The tour takes place at 2 p.m and is held mid-March to mid-November.
You must take a tour to see the house and slave quarters, but you can wander around the grounds and look into the outbuilding windows on your own. A tour is $7 for adult, $6 for students ages 16 and up with I.D. and $5 child for ages 5-15. If you purchase both the house and Forgotten Road tour, it’s an additional $2 per person. AAA members receive $1 off each ticket.
Sully Historic Site is even more fun when they host special events including Ice Cream Making, Civil War Encampment, All American Girl summer camp, badge earning events for scouts, Jane Austen Tea and Christmas Treasure Hunt. Until December 28, 2016, experience Santa through the Ages. The small display highlights 18th century Santas, decorations and toys showcasing how the Christmas was celebrated in Victorian times. There is a conference room attached to the visitor center that host birthday parties.
Sully Historic Site is open year round from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. During January and February, they are open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Call ahead as they are closed Tuesdays and during some holidays.
Photos courtesy of Kathleen Molloy.