Woodlawn is a 126-acre estate that was originally part of George Washington’s Mount Vernon. The main Federal-style house was designed by the architect of the U.S. Capitol, Dr. William Thornton, and constructed between 1800 and 1805 for Washington’s nephew, Major Lawrence Lewis, and his wife, Eleanor “Nelly” Custis Lewis. During the Lewis’ years in residence, Woodlawn comprised over 2,000 acres and was supported by scores of workers, at least 90 of whom were enslaved people of African descent. In 1846, the Lewis’s son sold the property to Quaker families who made Woodlawn a “free labor colony,” selling lots to free black and white farmers – a tremendously controversial social experiment. By the turn of the 20th century, Woodlawn was sadly deteriorated and only saved through the efforts of Elizabeth Sharpe, a Pennsylvania coal heiress. In 1952, Woodlawn became the first historic site owned by the National Trust. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Pope-Leighey House, scheduled for demolition due to widening of Interstate 66, was donated to the National Trust in 1964 and relocated to the grounds of Woodlawn.
Woodlawn is a National Historic Landmark, recognized for its role in the development of the American preservation movement. Two residences on the property – one a Federal-style mansion, the other a groundbreaking Usonian house – make the estate one of the most unusual historic sites in the country.
- Ensure that the widening of adjacent Route 1 does not adversely affect preservation of the estate.
- Complete urgently-needed restoration projects at the 1805 mansion.
- Identify alternative approaches for site stewardship that support a sustainable future.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation and Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture are partnering to expand the mission of the historic Woodlawn Plantation in Alexandria, Va., to include a destination for visitors to eat, learn and garden. Arcadia, which has been operating a garden, agriculture programs and a Mobile Market bus at Woodlawn since 2010, will work with the National Trust to evolve the use of the site to include a variety of mixed-uses, such as dining, agricultural production, educational programs and retail operations.
Over the next year, the National Trust and Arcadia will work to set future stewardship terms for the site in recognition of the expansion of Arcadia’s role. Agricultural use of the site will grow. The two non-profit organizations will collaborate to evolve the use of the Woodlawn mansion toward expanded joint programming and operations. The public will continue to be able to access the site, including the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Pope-Leighey House, which was moved to Woodlawn in the 1960s.
Courtesy of Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture.
Woodlawn will host the All American House, a MADE: In America™ exhibition of emerging designers’ work, June 16, 2013. Students from The George Washington University, University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the Corcoran College of Art + Design will participate in a juried design competition to create the show house at Woodlawn. Corcoran students will do a virtual makeover of the Frank Lloyd Wright’s Pope-Leighey House inside a room at the Woodlawn mansion. Come see the future interior designers of America turn this historic home into an even greater masterpiece. For more information, visit http://www.woodlawnpopeleighey.org/.
Written by Ashley R. Wilson, Graham Gund Architect
The windows at Woodlawn, arguably the most elegant architectural feature of the residence, have been fully restored in the woodworking shop of Oak Grove Restoration, and reinstalled at the mansion after a nine-month campaign that included over 65 windows.
The twelve-over-twelve, double-hung windows of the main block date to the original construction (1805) and proved to be irreplaceable in design, craftsmanship, and material. These first growth cypress windows had not been restored in over 200 years, and after this careful restoration, this original fabric will continue to grace the building for generations.
The windows are comprised of straight grain – heartwood that is knot-free and naturally rot resistant. Constructed without glue, the windows have mechanical connections such as mortise and tenon joints with dowel pins and locking wedges. The super thin mutin bars are held in place with tension created by the dowel pins.
In locations where the wood was damaged, dutchman repairs were employed using mahogany placed with the grain oriented to match the host timber. New wood pieces are connected with scarf joints adding to the durability. Epoxy was used in locations where the grain pattern was too short for dutchman, such as on the oval windows.
The windows were primed and painted in the shop and reinstalled in the openings with new sash cords. Many of the sills also needed repairs after years of weathering. The sills under the dormer windows were patched with wood dutchman as they had deteriorated from placement below window air conditioning units. We added copper flashing to these sills to prevent future deterioration.
Once the sashes were repaired, the glass was reinstalled. Broken glass was replaced with modern cylinder glass and secured with new glazing compound. New ultra violet film was applied to the windows in the main block, and the process was completed with a final coat of paint. These exquisitely designed windows should last another 150 years before they need another full-scale restoration.
The basement windows have not yet been restored, as the site's drainage issues will be resolved first in the spring.
Written by David Brown, Chief Preservation Officer
As the Route 1 project advances, we are committed to working with the community and the Federal Highway Administration to protect our most valuable asset: our history. Click here to read more about how the National Trust is dealing with this issue and its impact on Woodlawn.
Rebecca Buntrock on September 11, 2012
There are many things to note about the architecture of the Pope-Leighey House, but I was most surprised to learn about Wright’s invention and use of “sandwich-wall construction”: vertical sheets of one inch thick plywood with a layer of roofing felt on each side, and horizontal cypress boards and battens screwed onto both sides. Sound familiar? These wall panels are a precursor to modern Structural Insulated Panels, or SIPS. The sandwich-wall construction reflected Wright’s desire for simplification within the Usonian house: it eliminated individual wall elements such as studs, drywall, wallpaper, etc. – all of which take time and labor to fabricate and install. The sandwich panels could be shop-built and easily erected on site. Wright was ahead of his time with this innovation, and it is just one example of how he always endeavored to push the envelope and experiment with new methods and materials. Sometimes it was successful and other times it failed, but there was always something to learn from each attempt.The innovations on display at the Pope-Leighey House are great examples of this fact.
Ashley Wilson, AIA on August 21, 2012
George Washington’s BBF and physician also happened to be an amateur architect, William Thornton, and GW selected him to design the US Capitol and two residences for Martha’s grandchildren, Woodlawn and Tudor Place. Woodlawn is a special architectural treat as the main block is relatively pristine and the wings, hyphens and dependencies, all renovated in the early Twentieth Century showcase the best of Virginia’s Colonial Revival. If you can smell the boxwood just by reading this, come visit the restoration work that is in progress for the windows, brick and sandstone.
Tanya Bowers, Washington, DC on June 09, 2012
I first stepped foot on the grounds of Woodlawn one year ago for Preservation Leadership Training. Last week when I returned, the mansion looked like something befitting the title National Trust Historic Site. The exterior restoration of the north side included new windows and repaired shutters. The contrast between that facade and the unfinished south side was like night and day. The new paint on the walls of the first floor lifted the mood of the interior immeasurably.