Woodlawn, the first site operated by the National Trust, was part of George Washington’s Mount Vernon. In 1799, he gave the site to his nephew, Lawrence Lewis, and Lewis’ new bride, Eleanor “Nelly” Parke Custis, Martha’s granddaughter, in hopes of keeping Nelly close to Mount Vernon. The newly-married couple built the Georgian/Federal house designed by William Thornton, architect of the U.S. Capitol.
In 1846, the entire plantation was sold to Quaker timber merchants, who
purposefully operated the farm plantation with free labor, making a statement in Virginia on the eve of the Civil War.
At the turn of the twentieth century, two separate owners, Paul Kester and Elizabeth Sharpe, lovingly restored the property using the best Colonial Revival architects and builders. Senator Oscar Underwood from Alabama, an uncompromising advocate for civil rights, lived at the mansion from 1925 until his death in 1929.
Operated as a historic house museum since 1949, Woodlawn is an interesting case-study of the cultural relevance of the house museum. Woodlawn relies on local support and engagement to succeed. For more information on the history of Woodlawn, please check out our historical brochure.
Woodlawn Recent Preservation Work
The main mansion is a formal building of brick masonry, sandstone trim and regal window openings – eighty-six windows to be exact – and many of those window openings are larger than 4 feet wide by eight feet tall, creating quite an imposing façade. While the main block windows date to 1805, most of the hyphen and wing windows date to the early twentieth-century restoration. Amazingly, none of the windows had received much more than cyclical maintenance since they were installed. 2012, therefore, has been the year of the window campaign, as most of the windows were removed to a carpenter’s shop for full restoration. The exquisite craftsmanship and joinery of the original cypress windows held up well, and little new material was introduced during conservation. Windows on all sides of the house were removed, restored, and reinstalled. The shutters have also been restored and re-hung on the northwest elevation, which is the current public approach to the building. The original public approach was on the southeast side of the mansion. Much of the Aquia sandstone trim had predictably weathered, and the worst conditions were patched with mortar, rather than introducing replacement stones.
To learn more about the window restoration project, read Restored Woodlawn Windows Ready for Another 100 Years by National Trust architect Ashley Wilson and Victorian Homes Magazine’s story on the project.
The Dairy, a small brick masonry dependency to the south of the mansion, will undergo a brick and mortar restoration, as will the site walls that connect the Dairy and the Smokehouse to the mansion.