Thursday, August 29, 2013

Khayaking on Mason Neck

 by Janet Cole
Mason Neck Resident

George Mason's "Hole in the Wall," this break
in the bluff allowed Mason access to the shore, as
described by his son John.
Visitors arriving by car at Gunston Hall may find it difficult to comprehend the significance of its location on Mason Neck and the Potomac River.  One gets a hint by standing at the west entrance to the great hall, where a bit of the river and the Maryland shoreline can be seen.  In George Mason’s day, however, when fields were cleared, the river view would have stretched from north to south.  He must have been able to watch the passing ships from his study window.

Col. Mason knew this land intimately, for much of it had been in the Mason family for nearly 100 years.  For his manor house, he chose one of the two highest locations on Mason Neck and picked the other one for Lexington, the home he built for his son and heir, George V.  What’s more, the river curves around both of these sites and provides multiple spots for fine landings, a valuable asset as nearly all the commerce of the day was carried out by ships.  Maps show that the 5,500 acres owned by Mason were surrounded on three sides by the river or major creeks and coves.  A narrow neck of land, about a mile in width, allowed the property of be easily enclosed.

A watercolor of the landing at Gunston Hall.
Mason himself had at least five major landings, places where the natural slope of the land provided easy access to water that was deep enough to carry small boats to the larger ships standing offshore.  Most wharves were associated with his several “Quarters,” or farms:  Upper and Lower Gunston, Hallowing Point, Dogue’s Island (on the Occoquan), and Dogues Neck (at Sycamore Point).  Numerous other wharfs and landings developed through the years and reflect the names of their owners or location:  Barn Landing, Iona Wharf, Causeway Landing, Gabriel’s Tobacco Bed Landing, Maills Landing, Halfway Landing, Crawford’s Landing, and Bronaugh’s Landing.

A modern day view of the Potomac from the Gunston Hall
landing.  Click on the image to read the legend identifying
the landmasses.
Today,  no single road connects these landings, and many are on private private property.  The only way to truly understand George Mason’s plantation and how it functioned is by water, preferably by kayak or canoe.  One can quietly imagine the creaking wagons bringing bales of tobacco down to a dock, carriages arriving from the Mansion to pick up visitors who arrived by boat, sailing vessels standing offshore to unload shipments of fine goods from England, and fishing nets strung out to capture the rich marine resources of the river.

Fortunately, several places on Mason Neck do provide public access to this historical shoreline, as noted below.  Future blogs will describe the facilities available at each location and how you can reach the sites of some of these old Mason Neck landings.

1)  Pohick Bay Regional Park:  10301 Gunston Road, Mason Neck, Lorton, VA.   703-339-8585.  Large and small boat launches,  seasonal rental canoes and kayaks, swimming pool, hiking, and picnic areas.  Access to Pohick and Accotink Creeks and Gunston Cove.

2)  Mason Neck State Park:  7301 High Point Rd, Mason Neck, Lorton, VA.  703 339-2385.  Small craft (non motorized)  launch, seasonal canoe and kayak rentals, picnic area, hiking.  Access to Belmont Bay and Kanes Creek.

3}  Occoquan Regional Park:  9520 Ox Road (Rt. 123).  703 690-2121.   Access to Belmont Bay and Occoquan River (Below the dam).  No boat rentals.

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