On a hill overlooking the Potomac River valley (but not the river), Woodlawn Plantation was a 2,000-acre section of Mount Vernon, of which some 130 acres remain. George Washington gave it as a wedding gift to his adopted daughter (and Martha's granddaughter), beautiful Nelly Parke Custis, and her husband (and Washington's nephew), Maj. Lawrence Lewis, when they married in 1799. Three years later, they moved into the Georgian-style brick mansion designed by William Thornton, first architect of the U.S. Capitol, and furnished it primarily with pieces from Mount Vernon (everything you see dates to before 1840, with about 30% from the Lewis' time). Now under the auspices of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the restored Woodlawn mansion and its elegant formal gardens reflect the lives and lifestyles of the plantation's original free and enslaved inhabitants.
On the other side of the parking lot, you leap 150 years ahead architecturally to Frank Lloyd Wright's modernistic Pope-Leighey House, designed in 1940 for the Loren Pope family of Falls Church. Built of cypress, brick, and glass, the flat-roofed house was created as a prototype of well-designed space for middle-income people. "The house of moderate cost," said Wright in 1938 (the house and lot cost $7,000 back then), "is not only America's major architectural problem but the problem most difficult for her major architects." In 1946, the Robert A. Leigheys purchased the house. After living in it for 17 years, Mrs. Leighey donated it to the National Trust, which moved it here.
Give yourself 1 1/2 hours to digest both houses. Normally given on the hour and half-hour, tours are only provided two times a day during March, when Woodlawn is open daily to host one of the nation's largest annual needlework exhibits.
- © Frommer's 2013
Ask a local about Woodlawn Plantation and Pope-Leighey House
Ask Mount Vernon Locals about Woodlawn Plantation and Pope-Leighey House
- Recommended 2010