Statement | Washington, DC | March 20, 2023

Statement from the National Trust for Historic Preservation on the lawsuit filed by Oatlands, Inc.

For more than four decades, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has worked with Oatlands, Inc., as our partner in operating Oatlands as a public historic site. Over the years, this partnership has sustained and cultivated this cultural site while also making it an important center for community events and traditions. Under Oatlands, Inc.’s management the site has remained protected and relevant to its community for decades. To support Oatlands, Inc., in that role, the National Trust provides regular financial and technical assistance.

Oatlands tells important stories of the agricultural and cultural history of the region, including the stories of the people enslaved there by the Carter family when the site was a working plantation. The National Trust’s commitment to telling the full history of Oatlands and other sites of enslavement has been demonstrated for decades and the organization is a nationally recognized leader in this important work.

Over the years, Oatlands has also been part of the fabric of the Leesburg and Loudoun County community, through events including the Loudoun Hunt’s Point-to-Point races, weddings, holiday teas, lectures, performances, and many other events. Oatlands is also closely associated with David Finley, the founding chairman of the National Trust, whose wife’s family owned it in the 20th century. As such, the site also is intrinsically connected to the National Trust’s core mission and our own history. We remain devoted to its preservation and interpretation for the benefit of the public.

In recent years, the National Trust has become increasingly concerned that Oatlands, Inc., is not fully meeting its responsibilities to properly steward and manage this National Historic Landmark. These specific responsibilities are outlined in contracts between Oatlands, Inc. and the National Trust, the most recent of which was signed in 2019. We have communicated these concerns to the leadership of Oatlands, Inc. consistently over the past 18 months and provided specific steps to address these issues collaboratively.

The National Trust has cooperative relationships with 11 other co-stewardship organizations and, although disputes occasionally arise, the parties always work together to resolve disputes for the best interests of the historic site. The National Trust seeks every possible avenue to develop reasonable solutions to every challenge. In our 50 years of co-stewardship partnerships, we have never been faced with an irreconcilable situation. The National Trust is deeply disappointed that Oatlands, Inc. has chosen to file a lawsuit rather than work with us in the best interests of this important historic place.

While we are confident that we will prevail in this legal battle, we are deeply concerned that this highly public dispute is not in the best interests of Oatlands, the historic place. The National Trust is deeply committed to the ongoing preservation and operation of Oatlands as a historic site, which serves the Loudoun County community in a number of ways and is an important part of the history of the United States and Virginia.


What are Oatlands and Oatlands, Inc.? What is the relationship between Oatlands, Inc. and the National Trust?

Oatlands is a National Historic Landmark near Leesburg, Virginia, that has been owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation since 1965. Twelve National Trust Historic Sites are operated and supported by local nonprofit partner organizations in a relationship known in the preservation field as "co-stewardship.” We deeply value these partnerships, and we honor our obligations to help them sustain these properties. In order to support local governance and community connections, the properties are leased to our co-stewards and they are accountable for the care and management of the site as part of a long-term lease agreement. The National Trust places great responsibility with a co-steward with an understanding that a competent local operation will allow the place to flourish and thrive through support, participation and philanthropy rooted in its community.

Oatlands, Inc. is a non-profit organization independent of the National Trust. Since 1979, the National Trust has leased the Oatlands property to Oatlands, Inc., as our local co-stewardship partner, to preserve, raise funds for, and operate the site for the public’s benefit. The written agreements between the National Trust and Oatlands, Inc. require them to use their best efforts to operate a financially sustainable business model with a goal of achieving self-sufficiency. For more than four decades, the National Trust and Oatlands, Inc. have maintained a collaborative relationship and the site has operated successfully with little to no disruption. The current challenges with Oatlands, Inc. are unique to this partnership. While we occasionally have disagreements, we have not had a comparable disagreement with a co-stewardship partner and the National Trust has never been sued by a co-stewardship partner.

What is the nature of the lawsuit against the National Trust?

In the lawsuit, Oatlands, Inc. is claiming that the National Trust owes Oatlands, Inc. additional funding, and also demands that the National Trust transfer the property to another entity to take advantage of the Virginia tax credit for conservation easements, for which the National Trust does not qualify. The National Trust considers Oatlands, Inc.’s legal claims to be without merit and is vigorously defending itself in the litigation. Most recently it filed a motion to dismiss the entire lawsuit.

While we are confident that we will prevail in this legal battle, the following detail is provided in response to several claims that have been related in press interviews by Oatlands, Inc. staff in a way which profoundly mischaracterizes events which occurred, and which attacks the reputation of the National Trust.

Oatlands, Inc. has stated that the National Trust has withheld funds that should be available for the care of Oatlands and has also implied that the National Trust has used funds restricted for Oatlands for other purposes. The National Trust has never used funds restricted for Oatlands for any purpose other than the preservation and operation of Oatlands. The National Trust owns an endowment for Oatlands that is managed by the National Trust Board of Trustees under board policies and guidance. The National Trust has regularly made quarterly payments from the endowment to Oatlands, Inc. as provided for in the agreements between Oatlands, Inc. and the National Trust. The National Trust carefully manages endowments for its sites, including Oatlands, to ensure that the endowments are available for future needs as well as present day needs.

At the request of Oatlands, Inc.’s board and management, the National Trust used funds that were owned by the National Trust for the preservation of the Oatlands property to pay off a debt Oatlands, Inc. incurred to acquire the Oatlands Hamlet, an adjacent property that had originally been part of the Oatlands property. Oatlands, Inc. now argues that the National Trust should not have used those funds to pay off the debt, even though it was done at the express request of Oatlands, Inc. and was an appropriate use of the funds.

Why doesn’t the National Trust just give Oatlands, Inc. money it is asking for to care for the property?

As the owner and steward of the endowment restricted to Oatlands, the National Trust protects and manages that fund, providing scheduled disbursements to Oatlands, Inc. The National Trust has provided Oatlands, Inc. substantial sums of money over the years to support the property, including providing regular income from the endowment dedicated to the property, paying off a $1.3 million debt for Oatlands, Inc. with funds designated for the property, and establishing a reserve fund for maintenance and preservation with funds restricted to the property. The National Trust, in collaboration with Oatlands, Inc. mutually set aside more than $500,000 for the most urgent preservation projects at the site including repair of the roof, balustrades and other work.

However, we cannot address these issues alone under the co-stewardship arrangement—the property is leased to Oatlands, Inc. which has specific responsibilities under the lease and other agreements it signed, including fundraising responsibilities, as a co-stewardship partner. The $500,000 for preservation remains unused because Oatlands, Inc. has been unable to develop the projects, even with considerable technical assistance from the National Trust.

What is the future for Oatlands?

The National Trust’s highest and greatest concern is for the perpetual protection of this National Historic Landmark. Oatlands, Inc.’s representative has stated publicly that what it wants is for the National Trust to transfer Oatlands and its assets to Oatlands, Inc. The National Trust has no intention of selling or otherwise transferring any part of the Oatlands property or assets to Oatlands, Inc. The National Trust has deep concerns about the capacity of Oatlands, Inc. to preserve, maintain, and operate Oatlands. Indeed, Oatlands, Inc. admits that it has not been able to maintain the property as a leaseholder even with the current substantial financial support from the National Trust, which is the basis for its lawsuit against the National Trust. Nothing suggests that it would be able to do so if Oatlands, Inc. owned Oatlands outright and the National Trust no longer was involved.

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Updated 5/12/2023


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