Northern Virginia is closely tied to early American history. Across the region many original structures still remain, and are open to the public.
As settlers began to establish homesteads and farms and, in the case of the affluent, some plantations complete with mansions were built. Oatlands is one such plantation that highlights 200 years of American history.
Located in Loudoun County, Va., near Leesburg, Oatlands plantation was established in 1798 with almost 3,500 acres of prime farming property. Built by George Carter, a young bachelor who had inherited the property, the land grew to become a substantial piece of prosperous property, cashing in wheat crops.
Carter was a descendant of one of the first families to come settle in Virginia from abroad. The Carter history in America began in 1649 when John Carter immigrated from Buckinghamshire, England (George Carter was born in 1777, the first of his family to be born in the newly named United States).
Building for the classic Federal-style mansion, which was eventually transformed into Greek revival style mid-build, commenced in 1804, but wasn't finished for many years. Over the decades, Carter expanded his mansion and added the expansive gardens. In the aftermath of the War of 1812, he focused on business during the recession that commenced. During this time he built additional businesses, rather than invest in the completion of the house. Although, the house was finally completed in 1835.
By the time he finished the house in the 1820s, styles had changed, which suggests the reasons why the finished home was converted to the Greek Revival style mid-build.
He never married until late in life. Carter wed Elizabeth Grayson Lewis, who was a widow, in 1835. The couple went on to have two sons. After Carter passed away, his wife managed the property, along with the couple's sons. The Civil War took a toll on the family's prosperity, as their wealth had been built using slave labor. During the post-Civil War years, the mansion was used as a girls' boarding school, and later, a bed and breakfast.
In 1897, the family let the main property go and sold it to Stilson Hutchins, the founder of the Washington Post newspaper. Hutchins never lived at Oatlands, which, by the time he had purchased it, had significantly dwindled down in acreage. Hutchins sold his investment of the property in 1903 to William and Edith Eustis, an affluent couple from Washington, D.C., both having descended from 'known' families in elite social circles.
This sale bridges the history of the home from the 19th to the 20th century.
View of Oatlands seen when approaching the main house from the side
Eustis was an avid horseman, and his primary motivation to buy Oatlands as a secondary home was to have a base in Virginia where he could be near the social events and fox hunts in the region. Eustis' high interest in equestrians shows as one tours the house.
In one of the rooms, the connection to U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt is also highlighted. Mrs. Eustis and President Roosevelt had been childhood friends in New York's Hudson Valley, and maintained contact throughout the decades, as mentioned on the tour. The Eustis' are also said to have acted as liaison to opening their Virginia home to Roosevelt meeting his mistress, Lucy Mercer, according to some accounts.
The Eustis' restored Oatlands to its former glory, without making many structural changes, and Edith Eustis took it upon her mission to restore the beautiful gardens. With restoration and ongoing care, the gardens still bloom heartily in modern day.
Interior of greenhouse located on Oatlands property
After Mrs. Eustis' death in 1964, the couple's two surviving children donated the home, its furnishings and 261 acres to the National Trust for Historic Preservation (Mrs. Eustis outlived a son and a daughter). It was later opened to the public.
No photos are allowed to be taken from the inside of the home, but many period pieces. and family paintings and photos that had belonged to both the Carters and Eustis', remain. The restoration of Oatlands truly showcases both the 19th and 20th centuries in this piece of American history, as parts of the house reflect the Carter era while others are clearly modernized, such as the upstairs bathrooms, showing how the Eustis' lived.
This article only touches upon the intimate and intricate relationships that are likely connected to this home. In early American history, many of the families reflected in the region have several ties that bind them to other prominent families and pieces of history.
Visitors are introduced to Oatlands' history by tour guide prior to touring the house
Today, the property is listed as a National Trust Historic Site and a National Historic Landmark, and, for a fee, tours of the house and gardens are open to the public. In addition to the house and gardens, there are other structures on the property where visitors can explore.
The former carriage house, today is a welcome center, gift shop and also where Oatlands holds scheduled teas. Oatlands is open seasonally from March 28–December 30. During this time is open Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. (except for Thanksgiving Day, December 24, and Christmas Day)