This is one of the great houses of the South, magnificently set on 1,600 acres above the Potomac, renowned for its distinctive architectural style and for the illustrious members of the Lee family who lived here. Thomas Lee, a planter who served as governor of the Virginia colony, built Stratford in the 1730s. His son, Richard Henry Lee, made the motion for independence in the Continental Congress in 1776, and he and Francis Lightfoot Lee were the only brothers to sign the Declaration of Independence. Cousin Henry "Light-Horse Harry" Lee, a hero of the Revolution, coined the phrase about his friend George Washington, "First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen." Light-Horse Harry and his wife, Anne Hill Carter of Shirley Plantation on the James River, were the parents of Robert E. Lee, who was born here in 1807.

The H-shaped manor house, its four dependencies, coach house, and stables have been brilliantly restored. Brick chimney groupings that flank the roofline are some of the mansion's most striking features. The paneled Great Hall, one of the finest rooms to have survived from Colonial times, runs the depth of the house and has an inverted tray ceiling. On the same floor are bedrooms and a nursery, where you can see Robert E. Lee's crib. The fireplace in the nursery is trimmed with sculpted angels' heads.

Start at the visitor center, where tours begin. You can go inside the mansion and its dependencies only on 30-minute tours led by costumed guides, who will meet you at one of the outbuildings. You can easily spend another 2 hours strolling the gardens, meadows, and nature trails on this 1,600-acre estate, still operated as a working farm.

advertisement

You can stay overnight or longer in Stratford Hall's guesthouses and cabins, all rustic on the outside but comfortable inside.