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.
Photos: Gordon Beall for the National Trust for Historic Preservation