Woodlawn & Pope-Leighey House, Alexandria

#3 of 15 in Historic Sites in Alexandria
Historic Site · Hidden Gem · History Museum
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Woodlawn and Frank Lloyd Wright's Pope-Leighey House are two historic sites owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. We are innovative partners with the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture as well as Nelly's Needlers, a group of dedicated women who continue needlepoint in Woodlawn's first owner, Nelly Custis' honor, as a way to support our sites.

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.

During the 1930s, Frank Lloyd Wright set his formidable attention towards designing affordable middle-class residences. More than 100 of these modest homes, referred to as Usonian, thought to mean “the United States of North America,” were constructed between 1936 and Wright’s death in 1959, including the Pope-Leighey house (1940). Commissioned in 1939 by Loren Pope, a journalist in Falls Church, the residence was sold to Robert and Marjorie Leighey in 1946. The house was in the path of an expansion of Highway 66, so in an effort to preserve the building, Mrs. Leighey gave the property to the National Trust, which relocated it to nearby Woodlawn and granted her lifetime tenancy. Mrs. Leighey occupied the house at Woodlawn, until her death in 1983. Unusually, the house required a second move due to the instability of the clay soil, and was relocated about thirty feet up the hill in 1995-96.
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225 reviews
  • Our visit to the Pope-Leighey House was a wonderful way to combine history, renovation, design with an excellent docent. We highly recommend this small gem. 
    Our visit to the Pope-Leighey House was a wonderful way to combine history, renovation, design with an excellent docent. We highly recommend this small gem.  more »
  • Visited the frank Lloyd Wright house. The tour was excellent, there were just the two of us. Very informative, lots of details in the house design explained that you would never noticed. Makes you appreciate how far ahead of his time Frank Lloyd Wright was.
  • I had my wedding at Woodlawn Pope-Leighey House in May, and it was spectacular! Not only was the property pristine, but staff was extremely helpful and attentive to our needs, and the needs of our guests. The tent was perfect for weddings, with outlets, fans and beautiful lighting throughout. The fountain garden is ideal for cocktail hour! Highly recommend photos on the upper balcony of the home.

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