- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 8, 2002

In its day, Woodlawn was quite a wedding present. Today, it is a look at how a prosperous family lived during the early 19th century south of Alexandria.

Shortly before he died, George Washington set aside 2,000 acres of his Mount Vernon estate for his nephew, Maj. Lawrence Lewis, and Lewis' new bride, Eleanor Parke "Nelly" Custis, who was a granddaughter of Martha Washington's. The newlyweds commissioned William Thornton, the first architect of the U.S. Capitol, to build their home, which was completed in 1805 and furnished primarily with pieces from Mount Vernon.

As at Mount Vernon, visitors can glimpse the elegance of the era as they tour the home, which has been restored and operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation for 50 years.

"Woodlawn tells the story of what happened after Mount Vernon," says curator Craig Tuminaro. "The Lewises worked hard to keep reminders of Washington alive. This is a visual annex to Mount Vernon, and it is furnished with items Washington used in his own household."

The National Trust has worked to keep the spirit of the early 1800s alive in the home. The colors of the rooms are the blues and yellows that reflect the style of the day. The elaborate dining room is set for one of the Lewises' many evenings of entertainment. Docent Carole DeLong explains that dinner might have begun at 4 p.m. and ended at 8 p.m. and may have been served on the blue-and-white china Martha Washington left to Nelly in her will.

"When Nelly entertained, she was continuing the social life of Mount Vernon, where she had lived as a child and teenager," Ms. DeLong says. "At the evening's end, she would give small items to remember George Washington, such as a lock of his hair or a scrap of fabric, to the guests. Almost every room in this house has something of George's or Martha's."

The tour continues through the parlor, where guests played games, talked about the news from the nation's capital and listened to musicians playing the violin and harp.

A trip up the sweeping stairway gives visitors a look at the bedrooms. There are four-poster beds plus chamber pots and children's toys. The Lewises had three children.

Woodlawn is hosting a special exhibit to commemorate the property's 50th anniversary as a museum. "Holding History: Family Treasures Return to Woodlawn," which runs through the end of the year, has borrowed many elegant household items. The artifacts come from the Smithsonian Institution, Dumbarton House, Yale University Art Gallery and private collectors. The collection includes silver jewelry and cameos; a hawk that was stuffed by the Lewises' son, Lorenzo; artwork and wineglasses.

The Woodlawn estate has been reduced from its original 2,000 acres to 126 acres. The view of the Potomac River and the brick pathways that run through the formal gardens still give the home its old-time feel. The grounds also make a pleasant backdrop for a spring or fall afternoon stroll.

The grounds of Woodlawn also are home to the Pope-Leighey House, a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home that was built in Falls Church in 1940. The 1,800-square-foot house built for about $7,000 for Washington Star journalist Loren B. Pope was moved to Woodlawn in the mid-1960s after it was slated for demolition to make way for the construction of Interstate 66.

After the death of subsequent owner Marjorie Leighey in 1983, the home was taken over by the National Trust as a historic house. It has been restored and is open to the public for tours.

"The Pope-Leighey House is a Usonian house, which represented Mr. Wright's utopian vision of affordable, beautiful housing," Mr. Tuminaro says.

Affordability was attempted by making the house smaller in size and using materials such as cypress, concrete, brick and glass as primary building materials, Mr. Tuminaro says. Other innovative features of the Usonian house include an open floor plan, windows that maximize the view of the outdoors, high ceilings in the living room and kitchen, minimal storage space (Mr. Wright believed too many possessions cluttered one's life), and a flat roof.


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