As the drab days of February yield to the winds of March, kite festivals are popular events. One of the best will be held next Sunday at Gunston Hall in Lorton, Va., the Colonial plantation of George Mason, known as the "Father of the Bill of Rights."
The 5,000 original acres owned by Mason are now reduced to 550, but the plantation remains pretty much intact, with a fine manor house filled with 18th century furnishings, restored kitchen yard and schoolhouse, the famous boxwood garden, nature trail and family graveyard. Next Sunday you can see it all. You can also watch demonstrations of hearth cooking, the uses of herbs, carding and spinning wool in the manor house. In the schoolhouse visitors can write with a quill pen and participate in other Colonial schoolroom activities.
The sheep will be removed from the pasture to make ample space for kite flying, an activity the nine Mason children enjoyed over 200 years ago. If you don't have a kite, you can buy one in the plantation's museum shop. Children can also enjoy free marionette shows at 1:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Popcorn will be sold from an antique popcorn wagon and barbecue, soft drinks and funnel cakes will also be available.
On Kite Day adults pay the regular admission fee of $4 (which includes the tour and the day's activities); children 15 and under are admitted free.
Gunston Hall is 20 miles south of Washington and can be reached by Interstate 95 or U.S. 1 to the Lorton Exit. For information, call (703) 550-9220.
Military re-enactment groups from all over the East Coast will be Jamestown Settlement near Williamsburg, Va., Saturday and next Sunday to present "Military Through the Ages."
Thirty re-enactment groups will depict various military conflicts, beginning in Celtic Britain with Caradoc's revenge on Roman rule in 43 A.D., and continuing through the era of the Vikings, the Middle Ages, the French and Indian War, American Revolution, Civil War, both World Wars and the Korean War. Veterans of Vietnam and members of today's Virginia Army National Guard will also participate.
Visitors will learn how military tactics and weapons evolved over the centuries. Throughout the week- end the soldiers will demonstrate all kinds of weapons and participate in drills and mock skirmishes. The various groups will also set up encampments for each of the military periods. There will also be displays of swords, muskets, machine guns and cannons, along with jeeps, a 1915 Pierce Arrow truck and even a reproduction of a Celtic chariot.
All the re-enactment groups will be present for a pass-in-review ceremony on Sunday at 3 p.m. At that time awards will be presented for the best camp, best unit demonstration, best camp cooking, best costume and judges' choice.
Admission is $7 for adults, $3.50 for children ages 6 to 12. Military personnel with ID can buy two tickets for the price of one.
Jamestown Settlement, on Route 31 south at Colonial Parkway, southwest of Williamsburg, is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. For information, call (804) 229-1607.
The Museum of American Frontier Culture in Staunton, Va., will celebrate the "wearin' of the green" next weekend with special activities at its historic Scotch-Irish farm. A comparison will be made of the Scotch-Irish (Presbyterians) who came to the Shenandoah Valley in the 1740s and the Irish Americans (Catholics) who came 100 years later. Visitors will learn about the significance of the shamrock, St. Patrick and much of the folklore associated with St. Patrick's Day. There will be hands-on activities each day, such as making St. Patrick's crosses and planting potatoes.
The museum opened in 1988 as a living history museum of 18th and 19th century farmsteads along the Appalachian frontier, focusing on the many contributions of the early European settlers. Three of the four farms on the site are European: a 17th century English farm, an 18th century German farm and a mid-19th century Scotch-Irish farm. They represent the type of homes the early immigrants left behind in Europe. The fourth farm is a 19th century American farm that combines these various European influences. Each farm is staffed by costumed interpreters who demonstrate daily seasonal activities.
Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $4 for adults, $3.60 for seniors, $2 for ages 6 to 12, free for those under 6. During this event visitors wearing green will receive $1 discount on admission. For information, call (703) 332-7850.
From Staunton you might head west through the Blue Grass Valley in Highland County, Va., where the 33rd Highland Maple Festival is being held this weekend and next. For the most part festival activities are centered in the towns of Monterey, Blue Grass and McDowell.
Four maple sugar camps throughout the county will welcome visitors with guided tours to see the syrup-making process. Two camps are located on Route 637 above the town of Blue Grass and the other two are near McDowell.
Antique and craft exhibits will be set up in schools, fire departments and Ruritan clubs in Monterey and McDowell. Entertainment will be provided by cloggers, storytellers, jugglers and bluegrass and country musicians each afternoon at the Stonewall Ruritan Building in McDowell and on the courthouse lawn in Monterey. The Blue Grass Ruritan will host a "Buckwheat Stomp" on Friday and an old-fashioned square dance on Saturday from 8 p.m. to midnight. There will also be a dance at the Stonewall Ruritan on Saturday.
Throughout the festival visitors can sample pancake and sausage meals at various sites as well as Allegheny Mountain trout dinners, a highland specialty and other country food.
All festival activities except the evening dances and food are free. For information, call (703) 468-2550.
The Christmas Country Store, located in Cecil's General Store in Great Mills, will host its annual spring open house Friday through next Sunday. Operated by the Crafts Guild of St. Mary's County Inc. in cooperation with St. Mary's County Historical Society, the store serves as an outlet for local artists and craftspeople. Demonstrations are held here throughout the season, which runs from mid-March through Dec. 24.
On Saturday one craftsperson will create miniature clay folk from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. During the same hours on Sunday there will be a demonstration of making eucalyptus heart-shaped wreaths and other dried flower designs. Refreshments will be served. Admission is free.
Other events include ceramic egg painting for children March 23 and visits from the Easter Bunny March 24 and 30.
Cecil's Old Mill, another outlet for local craftspeople, also opens for the season next weekend. Both the Christmas Country Store and the mill will then be open every Friday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. They are located in Cecil's historic district on Indian Bridge Road, off Route 5 in Great Mills. For information, call the store at (301) 994-1770 or the mill at (301) 884-5765.
Nationally known historians are scheduled to speak at Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg today and the next two Sundays. The theme of the series is the Union Army of the Potomac. Lectures are given at 2 p.m. in the Visitor Center auditorium.
The topics are: "McClellan and the Army of the Potomac in the Maryland Campaign," today; "The Common Soldier of the Army of the Potomac," March 17; and "Cushing's Battery at Antietam," March 24.
The lectures are free, but there is a $1 entrance fee to the park for ages 17 to 62. For information, call (301) 432-5124.