Almost in the shadow of Mount Vernon lies another great estate of Washington fame: Woodlawn, home to Martha Washington’s granddaughter Nelly Custis and George Washington’s nephew Lawrence Lewis.
The Washington family tree is a complex one. Although Nelly Custis was Martha Washington’s granddaughter via her first husband and therefore not a blood relative of George Washington, the Washingtons adopted Custis and one of her brothers, taking them in as children of their own. In sum, Woodlawn was the home of Washington’s adopted daughter as well as his nephew.
Today however Woodlawn is simply a historic estate open to the public. Located a mere three miles down the road from Mount Vernon, it’s well worth a visit by anyone hoping to avoid the crowds that flock to George Washington’s house. The scenic estate will unfortunately be closed between now and March 2012 for window restoration.
In the meantime, enjoy the above slideshow and the prospect of a springtime visit to a home that is a trove of Washington memorabilia for those seeking something outside the normal Mount Vernon routine. Distinctly Washington items include a bust of the General commissioned by Custis in the mid-19th century. She had the piece, which was made by sculptor Hiram Powers, placed outside her window at her son’s house so that she could “look upon the countenance of my grandpapa” when she awoke in the morning. A spyglass thought to have been given to Lewis by Washington is also on prominent display.
What is perhaps most Washingtonian about the grounds, however are simply the grounds themselves. Originally part of the Mount Vernon estate, the 2,033-acre parcel of land that in Washington’s words was “a most beautiful site for a gentleman’s seat” plus money with which to build the house were gifted by Washington upon the marriage. In his will Washington would also leave his gristmill and distillery to Lewis.
Woodlawn was finished in 1805, after Washington’s death, and 100 workers, at least 90 of whom were slaves, tended the plantation. Today the estate comprises only 126 acres and is home to the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture, a nonprofit farming and food initiative that provides fresh produce to Washington restaurants and underserved neighborhoods. It’s just the sort of initiative that would likely have made Washington, an ever-innovative farmer, proud.