Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Oatlands Plantation

On Saturday I drove to meet a couple of friends at Oatlands Plantation in Leesburg which every year decorates the mansion for Christmas. It was a freezing cold day and as I drove there snow started falling and I desperately hoped that it wouldn't be so bad at Marshall that I wouldn't be able to get back up the hill later. But I was in Leesburg now and resolved to put it out of my mind.
The mansion is a magnificent building made of brick with huge poplar wood columns, the details on which are repeated throughout the house on the door frames and fireplaces. Built in 1804 by George Carter, who owned a fifth of the arable land in Virginia and grew primarily wheat, using slaves as labor and increasing their number to 128 just before the Civil War, the largest slave population in Loudoun County. After the war, the family fell out of prosperity and had to eventually sell the house. It was vacant for 6 years then purchased by William Eustis. He and his wife were new wealth socialites. William had a love of horses and also collected anything owned by George Washington, while his wife, Edith, concentrated on restoring the gardens. The property was donated to The National Trust in 1964 by her children after she passed away.
There were only a few people around so we were fortunate to have our tour guide all to ourselves, making it feel like a private event.
The snow was falling fast when I peered out of the window...
We weren't allowed to photograph inside the house for obvious reasons but he did let us grab a couple of shots of the Christmas decorations downstairs. The house was beautiful inside with ornate ceilings and doorways. It was nice to see the original furniture, many historical houses I've visited have had to acquire furnishings that would have been fitting for the time period but most of them here actually belonged to the house. There was also a fine art collection including a painting in the hallway of a standing William with one of his shoes facing out, the tip of which always pointed towards you wherever you stood in the room. Our guide took us around downstairs then let us explore upstairs on our own. The rooms were cordoned off but we could see inside all of them easily.For photos of inside the mansion, click here.
Then we went outside to roam around the grounds.
The gardens were very pretty, little terraces with secluded patios and grassy corners tucked behind hedges, small benches and statues surprising us around corners. Christmas decorations and ribbons adorned small trees and ornaments. But we didn't stay out here too long. Only a few of the paths had been cleared of snow and there was still plenty of ice to slip on, which we all did at some point.
Behind this wooden door was a wonderfully warm little greenhouse, an oasis in the winter landscape. We walked about relaxing in the warmth and letting fingers and faces thaw out.
A return trip in the spring will be a must to see the gardens in full bloom but for now we scurried back to the gift shop where I purchased a couple of tree ornaments and then dashed to my car. The snow was still falling and by the time I got back to Marshall it was turning to an icy mix. I quickly grabbed my mail, too quickly as I slipped and fell hard on my behind. But I was OK and gratefully climbed back into a warm Stuart, but then had to make 4 attempts to get up the hill, pushing recyclable grocery bags under the front wheels to get a grip. I was very glad to get indoors where I watched the hill become shrouded in a heavy thick fog as more snow and ice fell.

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