The Montpelier we are speaking about today is not the southern French town but the home in which James Madison was born, lived, and died. Montpelier is a special place in our nation being the site in which Madison crafted the Federalist Papers, the ratification of the United States Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Being in the presence of where the fibers of the United States took hold is an experience all to itself.
Woodlawn and the Pope-Leighy House are a fascinating mix of new and old on one property. Both considered nouveau and cutting-edge at the time they were built, they are strikingly different and a mere couple hundred yards away. Surrounded by freeways and new construction, we figured it wasn't going to be anything magical. How wrong we were when we turned in.
Woodlawn is what you see when you enter. It is a stunning Georgian home that is surrounded by a beautiful, cascading tree line. Originally part of Mount Vernon, George Washington's property, this parcel of land was gifted to George Washington's granddaughter. Although not a biological granddaughter, Eleanor "Nelly" was effectively raised by Martha and George. When she was ready to wed, George and Martha gifted her husband and her 2,000 acres for Woodlawn to be built. Woodlawn began construction in 1800 and was completed 5 years later.
During our tour, we learned some fascinating tidbits about this old home:
- The walls of the home are painted the original colors. Pigmented paint was a sign of wealth whereas most walls were white.
- The home is of Georgian style meaning equally symmetrical on both sides.
- George Washington passed away while the home was being constructed. Both Nelly and Martha were devastated by the loss and leaned on each other during this difficult time.
- Nelly was so proud to be part of Washington's family that it bordered on idolatry. She had multiple pictures of him, his bust, and even George's image sewn into her bedroom chair.
- During this time in history, once a home was paid off from the bank the mortgage was rolled up and inserted into the banner of the handrail. You can see this in the last image.
Last but not least, we have a bit to share about the Pope-Leighy House. The home originally belonged to Loren Pope, a writer for the Washington Evening Star, who begged Frank Lloyd Wright to design a home for his family. The home was finished in 1941. In 1946, the home was sold to Robert and Marjorie Leighy. In 1961, the state of Virginia informed the Leighy's that the home was to be condemned to make way for Interstate 66.
The Leighy's gifted the home to the National Trust for Historic Preservation where it was taken apart and reassembled on the Woodlawn property. Due to unsteady ground the home was moved again 30 feet from the original resting place on Woodlawn.
The home was built using Wright's Usonian model for middle-income families. This design makes nature a part of the home and uses modest materials.
Up Next: Dumbarton House
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