The main Federal-style house was designed by the architect of the U.S. Capitol, Dr. William Thornton, and constructed between 1800 and 1805 for Washington’s nephew Major Lawrence Lewis and his bride, Eleanor “Nelly” Custis Lewis. During the Lewis’ years in residence, Woodlawn comprised over 2,000 acres and was worked by over 100 workers, at least 90 of whom were enslaved people of African descent.
By the turn of the 20th century, Woodlawn was sadly deteriorated and, in 1896, severely damaged by a hurricane. In 1901, the playwright Paul Kester moved in — with his mother, brother and 60 cats — and began “restoring” the house to livable conditions. In 1905, Kester moved on to nearby Gunston Hall, and sold Woodlawn to Miss Elizabeth Sharpe, a Pennsylvania coal heiress who spent two decades lovingly rehabilitating Woodlawn and its grounds to suit contemporary views of an ideal early American estate. Woodlawn’s final private owners were Senator and Mrs. Oscar Underwood of Alabama.
Visitors can tour through the spacious rooms and formal gardens that reflect Virginia plantation life in the early 1800s.