Board OKs plans to add “Cultural Center” to Woodlawn site

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday to approve a plan to develop a Cultural Center on the historic Woodlawn property.

Located at 9000 Richmond Highway and owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Woodlawn property currently includes Woodlawn Mansion and the Pope Leighey House, which are each the National Register of Historic Places. The National Trust’s plan for the future of the 126-acre Woodlawn property envisions adding a number of new uses, including an event space, a restaurant, a “nano brewery,” educational facilities and a trail system.

Black and white map of the northern section of the Woodlawn property
The northern portion of the Woodlawn property. Click to enlarge.

Scott Adams, a lawyer who represented the National Trust at Tuesday’s hearing, says the non-profit preservation group is looking to make the site financially sustainable by using a new model to interpret its history. That model includes partnering with non-profit and for-profit groups “to bring complementary uses onto the property and still meet the core mission.”

“The National Trust for Historic Preservation is really looking to re-imagine and re-envision the way that Woodlawn functions as a historic site,” Adams told the Board. House museums, such as Woodlawn Mansion and the Pope Leighey House, are “difficult to keep … in a self-sustaining manor moving forward.”

Woodlawn of the southern portion of the property
The southern portion of the Woodlawn property. Click to enlarge.

The primary additions planned to the Woodlawn property wound include:

  • An Interpretive Center (Orients visitors to the property, its history and what they’ll find during their visit)
  • An Interpretive Trail System
  • An Outdoor Teaching Kitchen and Dining area (Seasonal restaurant consisting of an outdoor dining area, reception/bar area, kitchen and storage space)
  • Amphitheater (For entertainment purposes, including live theater, dance performances, musical concerts, cinema and lectures.
  • A Greenhouse
  • A Permaculture site (farming use)

Other additions considered secondary to those listed above would include:

  • A Produce Stand (Located at Sharpe Barn Complex)
  • A Farm Café (Restaurant located at Sharpe Barn Complex)
  • A Retail Space
  • Tasting Rooms (Located at Sharpe Barn Complex, for food and beverage produced on site or regionally)
  • NanoBrewery/Beer House and Garden (Will offer limited number of products not for wholesale and a made on-site in small batches incorporating regionally sourced ingredients. Located at Sharpe Barn Complex)
  • Special Event and Program Lodging (Overnight accommodations for participants in site events, and for those who have rented property for special event)

Tuesday’s hearing included a public meeting, but no speakers testified. The Mount Vernon Council of Citizens Associations (MVCCA), the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce and the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation (SFDC) all support the plans for Woodlawn, Adams said.

Woodlawn was built between 1800-1805 on land that was previously part of George Washington’s Dogue Run farm. The first president gave the land to his nephew Lawrence Lewis and his wife, Eleanor “Nelly” Custis Lewis. The mansion is believed to have been designed by William Thornton, who was the first architect of the U.S. Capitol.

Quakers purchased the property in the mid-19th century, using it for a timber operation that was significant for its choice to use free labor — rather than slaves — in pre-Civil War Virginia. Other structures that still remain were added to the site during that era, including the Otis Mason House (1854) and Grandview (1859).

Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck said at Tuesday’s hearing that he was excited for the coming changes at Woodlawn, noting that they fit in with plans to turn that section of the district into a larger “historical corridor” that includes the Mount Vernon estate and other sites. Storck put together a tourism task force last year to look into ways to increase tourism in the area, and in September the Board approved $100,000 to further fund the initiative.

At the end of his remarks Tuesday, Storck thanked the National Trust and county staff for working through many changes since the original proposal was brought forward. Storck said the final product “was an outstanding one.”

“We’ve had … many, many iterations to get to where we are today,” Storck said.

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