In Fairfax County, the Woodlawn Cultural Landscape Historic District began as a 2,000-acre plantation owned by George Washington that he gave to his ward, Eleanor Parke Custis, and her husband. The acreage later diminished in size—partly absorbed by the Army’s expansion of Fort Belvoir during the 20th century—but grew in stature as a landscape defined by events, buildings, structures, and sites important to the history of Fairfax County, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the United States.
The district’s multi-thread story is evidenced in four properties previously placed individually in the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places: Woodlawn Plantation, listed in 1970 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1998; George Washington’s Grist Mill (listed, 2003; and including a reconstructed distillery, pictured above); Woodlawn Quaker Meeting House and Burial Ground (2011); and the Frank Lloyd Wright–designed Pope-Leighey House (1970).
The Woodlawn district is also significant for its African American heritage as a former plantation and, beginning in the 1850s, the site of an integrated community of free blacks and whites. That community arose after northern abolitionist Quakers purchased the Woodlawn Plantation around 1845 with the primary aim of establishing small farms, between 50 and 200 acres, to be owned by whites and free blacks. The implementation of that social experiment at Woodlawn gave rise to a productive farming community that highlighted its “free” labor in a slaveholding state.
During the late 19th and 20th century, the original Woodlawn Mansion drew a succession of preservation-minded property owners who enhanced and restored the house. In 1948 the mansion passed out of private ownership after the Woodlawn Public Foundation enlisted the support of the first nationwide private preservation organization, the National Council of Historic Sites and Buildings, to “Save Woodlawn for the Nation.” That campaign, which led to the Woodlawn foundation taking possession of the house in 1949, inspired the founding of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Other notable sites within the Woodlawn Cultural Landscape Historic District include the Woodlawn Baptist Church and Cemetery, constructed in 1872 the original sanctuary was replaced by a new one in 1997; Grand View, a two-story vernacular residence with Greek Revival touches, constructed in 1869; the Otis Tufton Mason House, dating to 1854 with subsequent additions around 1873 and 1880; and a small portion of the original Alexandria, Mt. Vernon, and Accotink Turnpike, largely superseded by today’s US Route 1.
[VLR Listed Only]
Many properties listed in the registers are private dwellings and are not open to the public, however many are visible from the public right-of-way. Please be respectful of owner privacy.
VLR: Virginia Landmarks Register
NPS: National Park Service
NRHP: National Register of Historic Places
NHL: National Historic Landmark