Gunston Hall, Home of George Mason

Descriptions of Analostan Island


Description of Analostan Island by David Baillie Warden in 1811 after a visit to John Mason's island.1

". . . I can never forget how delighted I was with my first visit to this [Analostan] island. The amiable ladies whom I had the pleasure to accompany, left their carriage at Georgetown, and we walked to the mansion-house under a delicious shade. The blossoms of the cherry, apple, and peach trees, of the hawthorn and aromatic shrubs, filled the air with their fragrance. We found Mrs. M. at home, in the midst of her familv, composed of nine children. Twin boys, of a healthy mien, and so like each other as scarcely to be distinguished, were tumbling on the carpet of the saloon, full of jov and merriment. Mrs. M. has so youthful an appearance, that a stranger might readily suppose her to be the sister of her daughter rather than her mother.
     The house, of a simple and neat form, is situated near that side of the island which commands a view of the Potomac, the President's House, Capitol, and other buildings. The garden, the sides of which are washed by the waters of the river, is ornamented with a variety of trees and shrubs, and, in the midst, there is a lawn covered with a beautiful verdure.
     In July, 1811, Mrs. M. gave a rural dance to the friends and acquaintance of her son, at the eve of his departure for France. Though the weather had been excessively warm during the day, in the evening there was a delicious breeze . The young people danced on the lawn. Tea, coffee, cakes, fresh and preserved fruits, were presented to the guests, who sat or walked about conversing, or silently admiring the dance under the shade of trees, illuminated by lamps, which were half obscured by the bright light of the moon. The summer-house is shaded by oak and linden-trees, the coolness and tranquillity of which invite to contemplation. The refreshing breezes of the Potomac, and the gentle murmuring of its waters against the rocks, the warbling of birds, and the mournful aspect of weeping willows, inspire a thousand various sensations. What a delicious shade --

"Ducere solicitae jucunda oblivia vitae."

The view from this spot is delightful. It embraces the picturesque banks of the Potomac, a portion of the city, and an expanse of water, of which the bridge terminates the view. Numerous vessels ply backwards and forwards to animate the scene. Directing the eye over a corner of the garden, we perceive the sails only, as if by enchantment, gliding through the trees. A few feet below the summer house the rocks afford seats, where those who are fond of fishing may indulge in this amusement. From the portico on the opposite side of the house, Georgetown, Calorama, the beautiful seat of Joel Barlow, Esq. And the adjacent finely wooded hills, appear through a vista. To the left there is a prospect of the fields and woods on the opposite banks of the river. Every part of the island is romantic. Hawthorn and cedar hedges, and an improved cultivation, indicate taste and agricultural knowledge. By means of an hydraulic machine, water may be easily raised from the river, and conducted by pipes to every part of the surface . . . .

Description of Analostan Island by Anne Newport Royall in 1828 after a visit to John Mason's island.2

Wishing to take a view of Mason's Island, so celebrated in history, I left my baggage to follow, and walked up to Georgetown, near which the island lies, calling, occasionally, to rest, and salute my friends…
     After resting some time, I walked to General Mason's house, on the island; for he also has one in town, which he lives in one part of the year. The island lies in the Potomac river; and the General, at great cost, has built an elegant bridge over that part of the stream that bounds the Virginia shore. The scenery, from the bridge, in all directions, is beautiful; and the island, clothed in the most dense and luxuriant green, is eminently so. The house is some distance in the island, in the midst of a thick grove which completely conceals it. It is a large, elegant building, and stands on an artificial mount. The house fronts the course of the river, on both sides; the trees are mostly removed from that part of the island facing Washington, so as to command the view. On this part of the island, viz. the south front of the house, lie the garden and pleasure grounds. A great part of the garden, some acres, consists of culinary vegetables. That part adjacent to the house, is appropriated to flowers, shrubs, grapes, and every rare plant, consisting of the various species of the four quarters of the globe!
     An avenue, planted with trees, leads from the house, south, to the river, dividing the garden into two equal parts. The margin of the island is fringed with natural growth, and forms innumerable grotesque coppices, of subtle, whimsical figures -- some entwined with the wild grape, form beautiful bowers and recesses, on the very brink of the river. Those natural bowers completely shut out the rays of the sun.
     The whole of the kitchen and flower garden, is laid off with exquisite taste, and cultivated in the neatest style. The rear front of the house, or that part which faces up the river, has also underwent the hand of taste, and is beautifully decorated with trees; the orchard and some tillable land, and by far the largest part of the island, lies on this side of the mansion; the greater part, however, is covered with lofty, verdant trees.
     Taking the whole together, it is the most enchanting spot I ever beheld! A smooth, noble river in front, encircled by the same on all sides -- the variety and richness of the dazzling flowers, intermingled with every shade of green -- the broad, straight walks -- the exact, level squares -- the wild, woven bowers -- the varied shrubbery, the lofty trees -- the melody of the birds, every where redundant in the nicest touches of taste and skill -- it staggers belief that such is reality, and fills the mind with intoxicating pleasure. "Here, too, dwells simple truth; plain innocence Unsullied beauty, sound, unbroken youth."
     The General met me at the door, and gave me a cordial welcome, and introduced me to his family. Mrs. Mason was indisposed, but three beautiful and accomplished daughters did the honors of the house; and, as I had but a very short time to stay, tea was ordered, while the ladies accompanied me in a walk over the garden, and through the island. The General has been at a vast expense in improving and decorating this spot, in which he has been for years engaged. He is a gentleman of great wealth, plain and easy in his manners, and hospitality itself.
     Although this island, where we may say nature keeps her holiday, has so many allurements, yet it can be inhabited but a short part of the summer, it being sickly. In July they have to leave it, and return to town. This is really mortifying, it being the most delectable summer residence on the sea-board.
     Besides daughters, the General has several fine looking sons, who are very promising. The family move on the island the first of April, annually. In addition to his island, which has heretofore engaged alike the pen of the poet and historian, General Mason owns a large property in Georgetown, and the vicinity; particularly an extensive cannon foundry, and several mills. These be about three quarters of a mile above Georgetown.

1.Quoted in Nan Netherton, "Delicate Beauty and Burly Majesty: The Story of Theodore Roosevelt Island" (Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, 1980) pgs. 29-31.

2. Quoted in Netherton, "Delicate Beauty and Burly Majesty," pgs. 32-34.

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