Restoring the Smoke House at Woodlawn
Woodlawn the first historic site owned by The National Trust for Historic Preservation, was originally part of George Washington's "Five Farms" (another one of the five was Mount Vernon). Washington gave the property to his nephew, Lawrence Lewis, and his bride --who happened to be Martha's granddaughter-- as a wedding gift in 1799.
The Federal-style main house was designed by the architect of the U.S. Capitol, Dr. William Thornton, and built between 1803 and 1807. During the Lewis family's years in residence, Woodlawn comprised over 2,000 acres and was worked by over 100 workers, at least 90 of whom were enslaved people of African descent. While documents, such as housekeeping books and farm records, provide tantalizing clues as to the lives of Woodlawn's enslaved families, none of their dwellings survive, and very few original outbuildings remain to bear witness to the working lives spent "behind the scenes" at this Virginia plantation.
This past fall, Woodlawn began the process of restoring the original 1803 Smoke House. Located immediately to the north of the main residence, the smokehouse was used to smoke hams, bacon and other meats for storage and consumption on the estate. While the structure appears as a twin to the dairy on the south side of the house, the smoke house has differences suited to its use: a heavy system of wooden beams was specially designed to bear the weight of hundreds of pounds of meat and extra ventilation was added (for controlling the smoke). When in use, particularly in the fall and winter months, enslaved kitchen workers – often young boys —would have been charged with monitoring the smoldering embers on the sawdust floor to maintain the correct intensity, twenty-four hours a day, for weeks at a time.
Restoration of the smoke house included: replacement of the wood shake roof in historically accurate materials and methods; repointing the brick, which retains embedded salts from smoking practices that occurred nearly two centuries ago; repair to decorative plaster panels that lend the exterior the appearance of a quaint garden pavilion, and repair of the massive interior wood beams and truss system. Upon the project's completion, plantings and landscape elements in the adjacent pond garden area will be enhanced to represent the contrast between the exterior's aestehtic function as a landscape adornment with the practical use of the structure for food preparation.
The project was designed and managed by Davis Buckley Architects & Planners of Washington DC, Davis A. Buckley FAIA, principal. The Graham Gund Architect of The National Trust for Historic Preservation, Barbara Campagna FAIA, LEED is overseeing the work for the National Trust.
A grant from The Historic Sites Fund of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the support of generous donors like The Alexandria Association, The Allegheny Foundation, Nelly's Needlers, and The National Society of Colonial Dames of America, Virginia Chapter, Washington, DC Committee. Woodlawn greatly appreciates everyone who made it possible to restore the Smoke House.