Saturday, April 4, 2009

Woodburn Estate: Loudoun County

Woodburn Estate (3 miles SW of Leesburg on Rt. 704, off Rt. 15)

This 240-acre Loudoun County estate contains a fine 13-room brick Federal farmhouse and an important collection of ancillary structures. The property was patented in the mid-18th century by George Nixson (born 1730 in Enniskillen, Ireland), who put up the oldest buildings, including the 1777 log “patent” house. In colonial times, construction of a 16-by-20-foot cabin was a requirement for obtaining a “patent” (title to the property).

Nixson also built the stone and frame gristmill in 1777 and the stone miller’s house in 1787. Nixson’s son George had the main brick house built by William Benton around 1820 (aside: two years later Benton also built the Oak Hill estate house for President James Monroe, six miles farther south). The unusually large scale of the house, including its extensive rear wing, earned it the name “Dr. Nixson’s Folly.” The main house is distinguished by magnificent brick work laid in Flemish and American 5-course bond, as well as interior features such as molded plaster cornices and fine mantels. Contemporary with the house is the springhouse and an impressive elaborate brick barn with an arcaded ground level and brick lattice vents. The barn is considered the largest and finest of its type in existence (in the 1970s I had a friend who rented the miller’s house, so I was able to see this remarkable barn up close; it was unusual for such architectural detail and costly construction materials to be lavished on a barn).

A small village grew near the estate house, but by the year 1900 the village of Woodburn boasted only 15 residents.

Thomas Hawkins Clagett, a physician, owned Woodburn during the years of the Civil War. He was successful in warding off a Union soldier burning raid in 1864 that resulted in tremendous destruction of property in Loudoun County. Union Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan was ordered to carry out a “Burning Raid” to root out John Mosby and his Rangers. Sheridan burned barns, mills and many other structures suspected of harboring John Mosby and his supporters. Clagett sent several of his slaves to inform Sheridan that Mosby was lying in wait to ambush them, and Sheridan’s troops thus passed Woodburn by – it was all a successful ruse to spare Clagett’s property.

Owners of the Woodburn estate in modern times were the ballet superstar Rudolph Nureyev and Hugh Peal, Esq., who was successful in getting the property listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 (main house and six ancillary buildings: log patent house, stable, mill, smokehouse, barn and miller’s house). A notorious time for the estate was when it was leased to political extremist Lyndon LaRouche (1985). The house remains in private hands and cannot be visited, although it is clearly visible from the bend on Rt. 704.

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