Historical importance: Woodlawn was built for Martha Washington's granddaughter Eleanor "Nelly" Parke Custis Lewis and her husband, Lawrence Lewis, George Washington's nephew. The 2,000-acre property was a wedding present from Washington. William Thornton, architect of the U.S. Capitol, designed the Georgian home, which has a view of Mount Vernon about three miles away. Nelly Lewis and her husband were among Washington's most fervent fans and acquired all things Washingtonian. She outfitted a whole room for the Marquis de Lafayette, who stayed there during his 1824 tour; his bed and writing desk are on display. When the house was sold in the 1840s, Lewis used the proceeds to have Hiram Powers, one of the most prominent sculptors of the day, carve a marble bust of Washington.
Tour highlights: Pieces of Lewis's needlework are around the house. A smaller oil version of Edward Savage's "Washington Family" portrait at the National Gallery of Art, showing a teenage Lewis and her brother with George and Martha Washington, hangs in the entrance. One of a pair of Lewis's American Empire sofas is in the hallway; in 1962, Jacqueline Kennedy bought the other one for the Red Room of the White House, where it remains. The Lewises' son Lorenzo carved his initials and a skull-and-bones into a beam, which was later turned into a table. Woodlawn is said to be haunted, and a portrait of a son-in-law Lewis disliked frequently falls off the wall.
Bring the kids? There's fun stuff for fourth-graders and older. Strollers are allowed. There is no elevator to the second floor, but if parents need to take turns with the kids, docents will let them take alternating tours.
Tour information: Open Monday for Presidents' Day; 99 cents. Regularly open March-December for guided tours (about 45 minutes) Tuesday-Saturday every hour and half-hour from 10 to 4:30. $7.50, ages 6-12 $3.
Wheelchair access: Limited to the ground floor; restrooms accessible.
While in the neighborhood: The Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Pope-Leighey House is on the Woodlawn property; also open Presidents' Day ($7.50).
Fun fact: The American press repeatedly speculated about a romance between Nelly Custis and Lafayette's son, but she said she loved him as a brother.
--Eve Zibart (Feb. 15, 2008)