Woodlawn & Pope-Leighey House, Alexandria

#3 of 15 in Historic Sites in Alexandria
Historic Site · Hidden Gem · History Museum
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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Woodlawn & Pope-Leighey House reviews

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197 reviews
  • One may tour either of the houses or buy a combination ticket for both which we did. The restrooms and gift shop are both located only at Woodlawn and the parking lot is between the two houses...  more »
  • I have been an admirer of Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs since I studied architecture in college.  On multiple journeys, I have passed by the exit for the Pope-Leighey House while driving along...  more »
  • Beautiful house in a beautiful setting. My tour guide very obviously loves her job. It is a long walk down a hill to get to the house, so not easy for wheelchairs or strollers. This and Woodlawn are a definite must see
  • Fascinating to visit this place where you can see the genius of Lloyd Wright at the service of good living. The small house made of wood and red bricks and thought for the working class is showing a great attention to details and a strong sensibility to space design. The big windows connect the house to the outside providing light and air to the inside.

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