Planning Division

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Fairfax, VA 22035
Kelly Atkinson

Fairfax County Historic Sites on the National Register of Historic Landmarks

National Historic Landmarks are nationally significant historic places designated by the Secretary of the Interior because they possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States. Four of these landmarks are located within Fairfax County: Mount Vernon, Gunston Hall, Patowmack Canal Historic District at Great Falls, and Woodlawn Plantation. 

Click on a landmark below to learn more about these historic sites.

Location: 10709 Gunston Road, Lorton, VA

Gunston Hall

Gunston Hall was the plantation seat of George Mason IV. The Mason family probably came to Virginia in the 1650s, and by the eighteenth century were clearly members of the gentry. George Mason was born in 1725. In 1749, he was elected to the vestry of Truro Parish and became the treasurer of the Ohio Company. He despised politics and preferred staying at home on his 5,000 acre plantation to traveling to Williamsburg or other distant places. In 1750, Mason married Anne Eilbeck, of Charles County, Maryland. His large family of nine children were raised and educated at Gunston Hall. Following the death of Anne in 1773, Mason remained a widower for seven years before taking a second wife, Sarah Brent, in 1780.

George Mason is best remembered as the author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776), and the Fairfax Resolves, a local version of the non-importation agreements that were so popular in the pre-revolutionary era. In 1787, Mason was one the members of the Virginia delegations to the federal Convention in Philadelphia. He refused to sign the Constitution, however, because it did not include a Bill of Rights. Mason helped lead the Anti-federalist campaign against adoption of the Constitution by Virginia. In June 1788, his side lost. Mason died in October 1792.

Gunston Hall remained in the Mason family until 1866, and was a private residence until 1949. One of the owners during this period was playwright Paul Kester. Another was Colonel Edward Daniels. Daniels, a mining engineer, was the first state geologist In 1950, Gunston Hall opened as a house museum. Gunston Hall has been the subject of three restoration projects during the 20th century. The first was undertaken by Louis and Eleanor Hirtle, the last private owners of the structure. In 1950s, a team headed by Fiske Kimball worked on the house. Restoration guided by Phillips and Buchanon has been progress since 1982. Recent research has led to the installation of historically correct paint and wall coverings, as well as to the recarving and installation of wood work that had been missing form the house since before 1870.

There were at least thirty outbuildings at Gunston Hall in the 18th century; none have survived. The present dependencies were constructed in the 1950s, with the exception of the kitchen which was rebuilt in 1990. The school house to the west of the house is an 18th century structure, originally located in Caroline County, Virginia. In addition to the dependencies, there were two slave quarters at Gunston Hall. A small family cemetery is about one quarter mile west of the house. A formal gardens on two levels is between the house and the river. With the exception of the English boxwood bordering the center alee, which date from about 1760, the garden was planted by the Garden Club of Virginia in the 1950s. The house and gardens have an expansive view of the Potomac River. Other buildings on the site include a museum building and visitors center, three houses for staff members, one barn, and other agricultural buildings.

Gunston Hall is a brick, one and one half story tall Georgian house. It is five bays wide by three bays deep. The structure is on a bluff above the Potomac River. Although the house is orientated towards the river, the main entrance is in the center bay on the land side (south façade) of the house. The main entrance features a panel door topped by a fan light and flanked by side lights. There is a small brick porch on the east end of the house, and a Gothic porch before the center bay on the river side (north) façade. Doors at the east and west ends of the house provide access to the cellar. All corners have sandstone quoins. The first floor has a center hall plan, with a short passage placed between the two rooms to the east of the center hall. The second floor has a barracks floor plan, with a long east-west passage with four rooms to either side. There are four interior chimneys. All windows are nine-over-nine double hung sash. The first floor windows have interior shutters. The gable roof has five dormers on the north and south faces. The interior was designed by William Buckland, who worked at Gunston Hall for four years as an indentured servant.

Location: 3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Alexandria, VA

Mount VernonGeorge Washington inherited Mount Vernon from his half-brother, Lawrence Washington. Their father, Augustine Washington, began construction of a modest farm house for his son Lawrence in 1741, completing construction in 1742. Lawrence and his family moved into the dwelling in 1743. Upon Lawrence's death in 1752, George was probably already living at Mount Vernon and managing the farm. He leased the house from Lawrence’s widow, Anne Fairfax Washington, until he acquired clear title to the property after her death in 1761. Washington operated Mount Vernon as a tidewater tobacco plantation. This was the dominant form of farming in the tidewater region of Virginia during the eighteenth century. The Washington family owned the home until 1859, when it was purchased by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, an enterprising group of women who wished to see Washington’s home preserved as a national shrine. Their work, but not their passion, was interrupted by the Civil War. Mount Vernon is listed on both the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places, and is designated as a National Landmark. It is significant for its association with George Washington, and for its role in the development of the historic preservation movement in the United States.

Mount Vernon is located on a bluff overlooking the Potomac River. The house is surrounded by a sprawling lawn, over 20 dependencies, and a formal garden and landscaped areas. George and Martha Washington are buried on the property. Also located on the grounds are the offices of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, maintenance buildings, a museum, shops, a restaurant, a library, etc., associated with the daily operation of the museum.

The original portion of the frame building constructed in 1741/42 was one and one half story. The exterior wood has been rusticated to give it the appearance of stone, a common 18th century practice. Lawrence Washington enlarged the modest house in the late 1740s. In 1757-58 the roof was raised to two stories. Further renovations in 1776-1779 lengthened the house from five to nine bays. Two dependencies are connected to the house via curved colonnades on the land side of the house. The piazza was added in 1778 and the cupola in 1787. The original structure had a center hall plan. It is now two-and-a-half stories high, with dormers in the roof slope. The roof is hipped and the cornices have dentils. There are two interior brick chimneys. Due to some of the additions and alterations, the building is no longer strictly symmetrical on its primary, east elevation. This elevation has nine bays with a central door. A gable peak, giving the look of a cross-gable is centered in the roof slope over the primary entrance. This gable has an oval window.

Location: 9200 Old Dominion Drive, McLean, VA

Patowmack Canal Historic DistrictFew ventures were dearer to George Washington than his plan to make the Potomac River navigable as far as the Ohio River Valley. Opening the Potomac required cooperation of Virginia and Maryland. The Patowmack Company, organized on May 17, 1785, drew directors and subscribers from both states. Delegates from Virginia and Maryland, meeting at Washington’s’ home in 1785, drew up the Mount Vernon Compact, providing for free trade on the river. Virginia and Maryland legislators ratified the compact and then invited all 13 states to send delegates to a convention in Annapolis in 1786 “to consider how far a uniform system in their commercial regulations may be necessary to their common interest.” Physical obstacles created a tough project. The Potomac River drops over 600 feet in 200 miles from Cumberland to sea level. Spring rains swell the river to dangerous heights. To make the river navigable by even shallow draft boats, the Patowmack Company had to dredge portions of the riverbed and skirt five areas of falls. By far the most difficult task was to bypass the Great Falls of the Potomac where the river drops nearly 80 feet in less then a mile. Construction on the Patowmack Canal at Great Falls began in 1785 and took seventeen years to complete. During the construction of the canal, the town of Matildaville served as headquarters for the Patowmack Company and home for the workers.

The greatest obstacle to the Patowmack project proved to be financial. High construction costs, particularly at the Great Falls section, and insufficient revenues bankrupted the company. Extremes of high and low water restricted the use of the canal to only a month or two each year. The Patowmack Company succumbed in 1828, turning over its assets and liabilities to the newly formed Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company. In 1930 Congress recognized the importance of this area in its historical role and its natural beauty, and authorized the creation of a park. The National Park Service took on responsibility for its management in 1966.

Patowmack Canal Historic District / Lock Ruins is located within the Great Falls National Park.  Extant portions of the canal are approximately two feet deep, although originally the depth would have been about four feet. The locks are constructed of stone and wood. The wood portion of the bottom of one lock is on display in the Great Falls Visitors' Center, along with the remains of a Virginia canal boat.

Location: 9000 Richmond Hwy., Alexandria, VA   

Woodlawn Plantation

Part of Woodlawn’s significance lies in the story it reveals about the evolving history of historic preservation in the United States. It is clear that as early as the 1890s the site was considered an important historical landmark worthy of preservation and even a tourist attraction. Although owners in the early twentieth century altered the hyphens and wings, their changes demonstrate an effort to adapt the house to their lifestyle while maintaining a sense of this historical architectural character. Woodlawn is also nationally significant for its architecture as one of Dr. William Thornton’s surviving domestic designs. Woodlawn is closely associated with George Washington, both as Eleanor Lewis’ benefactor and adoptive father, and for the role it played it in the powerful iconic significance of Washington after his death. The 2000 acre estate was carved out of Mount Vernon, located on a site selected by Washington himself, designed by an architected that Washington selected, and paid for with funds Washington provided. Following the death of Major Lewis and the family's departure in 1839, Woodlawn stood abandoned for a number of years. In 1846 the Lewis family sold Woodlawn to Troth-Gillingham, a ship building company based in NJ, owned by Quakers determined to prove to southerners that one could run a successful business and farm without using slave labor. In 1848 the property was divided between the Troths and the Gillinghams , with the Troths retaining the mansion. In 1850 Paul Hillman Troth and his wife Hannah Maria sold Woodlawn to John and Rachel Mason, who were from Maine. The Masons were Baptists, and founding members of the Woodlawn Baptist Church. Their son, Otis Tufton Mason, provided the land for the construction of the church (see Inventory file for Woodlawn Baptist). Woodlawn was therefore the nucleus of two abolitionist religious communities. The Quaker and Baptist settlements conducted their business operations without slaves and offered schooling, farming and other opportunities to former slaves and free blacks. In 1892 Woodlawn passed out the of Mason family. Some of its later owners included playwright Paul Kester, Senator Oscar Underwood of Alabama, and Secretary of War Harry H. Woodring. In 1949, the Woodlawn Public Foundation purchased the mansion, opening it for tours on April 10 of that year. Through a leasing agreement, the National Trust for Historic Preservation assumed the administration of Woodlawn, its first museum property, in 1951. It was opened to the public on May 9, 1952. Ownership of Woodlawn was transferred to the Trust in 1956. (Much of the foregoing from a history written by Craig Tuminaro, Curator, in 2001.)

Of the buildings closest to the mansion, only the smokehouse to the north of the Mansion, and dairy, necessary, and archaeological remains of the icehouse on the south side presently exist. There are formal gardens to the southwest. To the northwest, the construction of new base housing on Fort Belvoir visually intrudes on the property. Woodlawn encompasses a 126 acre parcel of land, divided roughly in half by United States Route 1-Richmond Highway. The Woodlawn Mansion, situated atop Grey’s Hill, overlooks the Potomac River and Mount Vernon, three miles southeast. A tall clump of trees seen from Woodlawn's second story marks the site of Mount Vernon. Currently the site is accessed by a drive which enters through wooden gates near the north end of the property and U.S. Route 1.

Woodlawn is a five-part brick mansion with a central pavilion, flanking hyphens, and flanking side wings. Its outdated Georgian plan executed by a Federal-style architect during the Federal period may be due to the Lewis ownership. The house bears a striking resemblance to Kenmore, Lawrence Lewis' childhood home. He may well have influenced the final design. The central pavilion is a central hall, double-pile, two-story structure with four interior end chimneys and a jerkin-head roof. It is five-bay, with a central door, and the brick is laid in Flemish bond. Windows are twelve-over-twelve double-hung sash topped by Aquia sandstone jack arches with prominent keystones and are flanked by louvered blinds painted black. There are rectangular panels between the upper and lower windows. The central upstairs window on the land (northwest) side is arched, with decorative tracery in the top of the arch. On the river (southeast) side the central aperture is a door leading to a balcony above the entry door. The porch is tetrastyle, with Doric columns and a balustrade surrounding the flat roof. The entry doors on both elevations are topped by fanlights. Both elevations have decorative gables above the center bay, each with an oval window. To either side of the central pavilion is a one-and-a-half hyphen. Each hyphen has two dormer windows in the roof slope and three tall round-arched openings (windows or doors) on the lower level. Connected to each hyphen is a one-and-half story gable front wing with a single opening at the ground level and a circular window above. All cornices have dentils.

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