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Woodlawn Plantation

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1800–1806, attributed to William Thornton. c. 1893, enlargement. 1915–1916, restoration and enlargement, Edward W. Donn, Jr. 1925, restoration, Waddy B. Wood, Alden Hopkins, landscape architect. 9000 Richmond Hwy. (U.S. 1), Fairfax County. Open to the public

This five-part brick house on a hill within sight of Mount Vernon and property of 2,030 acres (the present site contains 137 acres) was a gift from George Washington to Eleanor (“Nelly”) Parke Custis and her husband, Lawrence Lewis, respectively his ward and his nephew. They were married at Mount Vernon on Washington's last birthday. William Thornton's wife, Anna Maria, refers to the house, but no other related correspondence or drawings survive. Although the attribution to Thornton is fairly certain, Woodlawn is conventional and shows little of Thornton's sparky originality. Its form, though—five bays and a central pediment—has proven exceedingly popular, and it is one of the most imitated of early Virginia houses. The pedimented five-bay central block has a standard plan with a central hall that allows the visitor a panoramic view of the countryside toward Mount Vernon. Originally the south hyphen was a well room, with kitchen beyond. The major interior space is the high-ceilinged music room, which causes interesting floorlevel changes upstairs. The house passed out of the Lewis family in 1846 and had a number of owners—including a Quaker community—and deteriorated until Paul Kester, a New York playwright, purchased it in 1902 and raised the hyphens and wings. The architect is unknown, and the work lacks sympathy with the original. The house then passed in 1905 to Elizabeth M. Sharpe of Pennsylvania, who hired Edward W. Donn, Jr., who also worked on Thornton's Octagon House in Washington, D.C., to rebuild the wings in a more sympathetic manner. Later Waddy B. Wood, who had been Donn's partner, restored the dining room and made other alterations. Senator and Mrs. Oscar Underwood of Alabama acquired the property in 1925 and made further changes. It subsequently passed to the National Trust for Historic Preservation as the trust's first property. The interior is restored to c. 1805, and about a third of the interior furnishings are original. The various gardens are a mixture of restorations and conjectures. In 1958–1960 Alden Hopkins, landscape architect, with funding from the Garden Club of Virginia, designed the approach and formal gardens.

Writing Credits

Richard Guy Wilson et al.


What's Nearby


Richard Guy Wilson et al., "Woodlawn Plantation", [Alexandria, Virginia], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Virginia: Tidewater and Piedmont, Richard Guy Wilson and contributors. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002, 73-74.

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