Mason Alumni Find Home at Gunston Hall

Posted: November 4, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Tara Laskowski

The sprawling 550-acre estate of George Mason, the man, is filled not only with history and tradition, but also with George Mason University alumni. Behind the antique furniture, the cobblestone pathways and the roped beds, many Mason alumni have had a hand in restoring, resurrecting and replicating Gunston Hall.

Walk this way and find several Mason graduates who will give you a tour of the estate, packed with all kinds of interesting historical information. They make it so fun that visitors often don’t realize they are also learning something. Donna Bafundo, MEd Counseling and Development ’78, volunteers as a docent and has been giving tours for more than 5 years, ever since she retired from the university as director of the Mason Scholars Program. She is now vice chair of the Gunston Hall Docents Association.

Most tours of Gunston Hall consist of school-aged children, so the docents try to cater to their audience. “George Mason was a single dad of nine kids,” Bafundo says. “We talk to the kids about what it was like to live then, how those things impact their lives today.”

Docent Barbara Farner, MA History ’94, says she feels like she’s been giving tours there “since three weeks after George Mason died.” She has also been working on a 10-year project with a team of historians trying to restore Gunston Hall’s interior.

“We want the house to look like it did when George Mason lived there,” Farner says. When Mason died in 1792, no inventory was taken of his estate, so there is no record of what he owned. To learn the types of things Mason likely owned, Farner and the team began researching the inventories of other 18th-century upper-class families.

Outside the home, archaeologists dig through dirt and stone to uncover the mysteries of the gardens. Susan Hardenburgh, BA History ’04, a part-time archaeologist at Gunston Hall, spends her Saturdays analyzing wine bottles, pottery and other pieces of household items she and the team find buried on the grounds. “Part of the thrill is coming across something that no one has seen in 250 years,” she says.

Other alumni not only give tours to the public, but also write historical and educational books. Terry Dunn, MA History ’91 and PhD candidate, edited the recently published “John Mason’s Recollections,” the first printed edition of the remembrances of George Mason’s fifth son. Lauren Bisbee, BA Area Studies ’90, MA History ’92, who works as an interpreter at Gunston Hall, wrote “Of Land and Labor: Gunston Hall Plantation Life in the 18th Century,” which is on sale at the Gunston Hall bookstore.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2005 Mason Spirit in a slightly different form.

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