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Chippokes mansion tours return

After a months-long closure, tours of the historic Jones-Stewart Mansion at Chippokes Plantation State Park in Surry County were scheduled to resume Sept. 5.

“Tours of the Jones-Stewart Mansion started Aug. 8 as a trial for how to continue forward,” Kevin Koons, the park’s chief ranger of visitor experience, said in an email. “Now that we have the process figured out, we are hoping to get the word out to people who have been interested in a tour, but haven’t been sure if we are open.”

Tours are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, and offered hourly starting at 1 p.m. with the last tour starting at 4 p.m. To facilitate social distancing and mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, the park has created a restricted capacity plan for tours. Registration and face coverings are required, according to the park’s website, and tour group sizes are limited to family groups up to eight people.

To register for a tour experience, call 757-294-3439. There is a fee of $3 per person for everyone 12 years and up; payment can be made by cash, card or check. Walk-up tour guests cannot be accommodated.

Although the mansion closed to the public in mid-March, the park “has stayed open throughout the pandemic, giving local visitors an open space to enjoy during the most restricted portions of the spring,” Koons said.

In addition to the mansion, the park’s camping sites and cabins are open, and some programs are back. At 10 a.m. each Saturday, the park plans to offer the Quarter Lane historical hike that features the history of Chippokes. At 10 a.m. on Sundays, guests can participate in Pasture Pals, which offers a behind-the-scenes look at Chippokes’ ambassador animals. Both programs are free but registration is required for the hike.

Chippokes Plantation State Park is across the James River from Historic Jamestown. The land has been a working farm for more than 400 years. It offers modern recreational opportunities “and a glimpse of life in a bygone era.” The mansion is an antebellum-era structure that once was the site of a state-authorized distillery. The building survived the Civil War because the home’s builder, Albert Carroll Jones, sold brandy to both sides during the war, according to the park’s website.

Koons said there were 740 historic house tours for 3,951 guests in 2019, and average program attendance is about 10,000 guests annually. Currently, 14 people are employed at the park.

Although limited space in the mansion curtails how many people can tour at one time, “as for the park, our capacity is fairly high. Even at our busiest this year, we have yet to reach capacity. Thankfully our close to 2,000 acres of space, around eight miles of trails, and mile of beach allow for our guests to spread out,” said Koons.