- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 26, 2007

A visit to Oatlands Historic House and Garden is a glimpse into Virginia plantation life, both as a working farm in the pre-Civil War era and as a country estate in the 20th century.

The Leesburg estate’s history reflects the many changes in Virginia since George Carter started building the mansion in 1804. Carter eventually turned his 3,400 acres into a highly profitable plantation, growing a variety of crops with the help of more than 100 slaves.

Carter’s mansion began as a Federal-style brick house, reflecting changing architectural styles. He later remodeled it into a yellow stucco Greek revival home. The artistry of the front porch pillars is still in great shape today, house manager Liz Wall points out. Carter also added a 4-acre walled garden, a greenhouse, mill, smokehouse and barn, some of which have been restored.

A guided tour of the home — offered every hour — is a quick but complete lesson about the families who lived here. Among the antiques and artwork are portraits of the generations who called Oatlands home.

Visitors will learn that Carter died in the mid-1800s, and his wife, Elizabeth, stayed on the plantation until 1861, when the Confederate Army planned on making Oatlands a headquarters. Aside from the 10 days following the Battle of First Manassas, when Confederate Gen. Nathan “Shanks” Evans operated out of the home, it mostly was empty during the war years.

Without the help of slaves, Oatlands was never able to operate the way it did before the war, Mrs. Wall says.

“There were about 70 here after the war,” she says. “It was never, ever the same lifestyle.”

Carter’s son, George, and his wife sold Oatlands in 1897. The price of the house and 60 acres was $10,000. In 1903, the interim owner sold to the well-connected William Corcoran Eustis family.

William and Edith Eustis brought life to the estate, modernizing the house, restoring the gardens and hosting many of Washington’s elite.

“They knew everyone in Washington,” Mrs. Wall says. “Franklin Roosevelt was here frequently.”

After Edith Eustis’ death in 1964, her children gave the house, furnishings and 261 acres to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

There is a little bit of history in everything in the home. Mrs. Wall points out a huge desk on the first floor. The 1880s desk belonged to Mrs. Eustis’ father, Levi Morton, former ambassador to France and vice president under Benjamin Harrison.

“We’re 99 percent sure he signed the papers welcoming the Statue of Liberty to the U.S. at this table,” she says.

Other noteworthy items include artwork, items from popular steeplechases, and photographs of Gen. George C. Marshall, who kept his horse in Leesburg and lived there with his second wife from 1941 until his death in 1959. In the dining room, the table is set with china that originally belonged to George Washington.

Upstairs, the bedrooms are staged as they would have been when the Eustis family was in residence. There are early 20th-century furnishings, a children’s room with a huge wooden dollhouse, and Edith Eustis’ closet, circa 1920s, complete with a selection of furs and gloves.

One room is set up with a tribute to Morton Eustis, Mr. and Mrs. Eustis’ only son, who was killed in World War II. In addition to a portrait and biography of Morton Eustis, there is a display with his medals: a Silver Star, a Bronze Star earned at Normandy and a Purple Heart.

This time of year, the gardens at Oatlands are in full bloom. The terraced formal gardens start at the right side of the house. There are paths and benches for quiet walks and reflection. Dogwoods, coral bells, lilacs, tree peonies and Virginia bluebells, among others, are there to enjoy.

The 1810 greenhouse and potting shed have been restored to working order. Visitors can stop by to pick up seedlings and plants as well as garden-themed statues and other gift items.

Oatlands also is a popular spot for afternoon tea. Teas, held in the carriage house, generally are offered once a month or more in the spring and summer. In November and December, fall and holiday teas are held every weekend at 1 p.m. as visitors take in the fall foliage and holiday decorations. Reservations are recommended for tea, which costs $24.95 for adults and $15.95 for children 8 and younger.

WHEN YOU GO:

LOCATION: OATLANDS HISTORIC HOUSE AND GARDEN IS AT 20850 OATLANDS PLANTATION LANE IN LEESBURG, VA.

DIRECTIONS: FROM THE BELTWAY, TAKE INTERSTATE 66 TO THE DULLES TOLL ROAD. CONTINUE ONTO THE DULLES GREENWAY. EXIT AT ROUTE 15 SOUTH. GO ABOUT FIVE MILES, AND THE ENTRANCE TO THE PLANTATION IS ON THE LEFT.

HOURS: OATLANDS IS OPEN FROM APRIL 1 THROUGH DEC. 30. HOURS ARE 10 A.M. TO 5 P.M. MONDAY THROUGH SATURDAY AND 1 TO 5 P.M. SUNDAY.

ADMISSION: $10 FOR ADULTS, $9 FOR SENIORS 60 AND OLDER, $7 FOR CHILDREN 6 TO 16, $5 FOR NATIONAL TRUST MEMBERS, FREE FOR CHILDREN 5 AND YOUNGER.

PARKING: FREE PARKING IN LOT.

MORE INFORMATION: 703/777-3174 OR WWW.OATLANDS.ORG.

NOTES:

• GUIDED TOURS OF OATLANDS HISTORIC HOUSE AND GARDEN BEGIN ON THE HOUR, WITH THE LAST TOUR AT 4 P.M.

• THE SECOND FLOOR OF THE HOME IS NOT HANDICAPPED-ACCESSIBLE. STAIRS ALSO LEAD TO THE HOME AND ARE IN THE GARDEN.

• THE GROUNDS INCLUDE A WOODED PICNIC GROVE.

• TEAS ARE HELD AT THE ESTATE NEARLY YEAR-ROUND. THE NEXT TEA IS AN ARTISTS’ TEA ON JULY 29.

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