George Washington, the father of our country, had no children of his own. Nevertheless, he helped Martha raise her two children and two of her grandchildren at Mount Vernon.
Washington was also a father figure to the extended family of his brothers and sister, including his grand nephews and cousins. And although he was not at home as much as he wanted to be, for a period of time in the middle of the eighteen century, Mount Vernon was the center of the Washington family universe.
Starting in the 1770s, however, some family members began to settle down on the knolls and the mountainous lands of Virginia. Their homes lay peacefully in places like Berryville and Charles Town, impressive in their own right as landmarks, and still not swallowed up by a modern day landscape of sprawling homes.
A few of the homes have historical markers, but for the most part they are a forgotten history. We decided to take a look at three of these homes, situated west of Charles Town, and built by three of Washington’s grand nephews.
Our primary source is a wonderful book titled, “The Washingtons and Their Homes” by John Wayland. Published by Virginia Book Company, it’s an oldie (1944) with a reprint in 1973.
Genealogists, however, have praised the book, saying:
… in this profusely illustrated work, John Wayland, one of the giants of Virginia genealogy, recounts the Washington family history by taking us on a tour of the legendary homesteads they inhabited.
When we think about the Washington family and their homes, we think about Mount Vernon and the ones located on the Northern Neck and in Fredericksburg. Martha’s grandchildren gave us some kind of marvelous Triple Crown with Arlington, Woodlawn and Tudor Place.
We bet some Berryville residents feel proud in knowing four of them ring their town. Winchester and Marshall get in the game, too.
Arguably, however, the brightest constellation in this galaxy is Charles Town, holding a total of five historic Washington family homes. Their bucolic settings provide sweeping views of the Shenandoah Valley, and the nearby town is named for George’s youngest brother. Both Samuel and Charles lived there, and grandsons of Samuel and John Augustine built mansion sized homes nearby.
George Washington is known best as our first President, the General who led the revolting army in war against the British, and a planter who built Mount Vernon.
He first turned heads, however, as a surveyor. His mentor, Thomas, Sixth Lord Fairfax, who owned all the northern Virginia lands, must have been quite impressed in 1748 when his sixteen-year-old neighbor accompanied him to the wilderness and the mountains of Virginia.
Soon enough, Washington knew these lands like the back of his hand. In fact, it’s easy to say he would appreciate today’s real estate agent mantra — “location, location, location.”
Fascinating is the trace of the Washington family. Emigrating from England in 1631, George’s great grand father, John Washington, landed on a part of the colony that would be named the Northern Neck. Still holding on to its rural appeal, Westmoreland County is fiercely proud of the Popes Creek ground where George Washington took his first breath, as well as Bushfield, a bulky Georgian beauty built by George’s middle brother John Augustine.
Fredericksburg is home to his sister Betty’s Kenmore, as well the home George built for his mother. Just outside the original part of the city lies the reconstructed Ferry Farm, where Washington spent some of his childhood.
The world of the Washingtons began to expand in the 1770s when George’s brothers and cousins built on inherited lands where Washington had surveyed.
Of this migration westward, the West Virginia Encyclopedia notes:
More family descendants rest eternally in Jefferson County (Charles Town) than any other place in the country.
In his terrific book, “Riding With Washington,” Philip Smucker echoes this, telling us:
there are probably more Washingtons buried in the Zion Episcopal Church than anywhere in America (The church’s website tells us the number is approximately seventy).
Wayland faced a herculean task. There are 22 Washington homes in his book, all west of Marshall, Virginia. Although we provide a list of these homes, a summary of all of them is way beyond our scope.
We zero in on three homes located west of Charles Town, which will give us a window into the life of George’s brothers, and his nephews and grand nephews.
Also Known As: Berry Hill and Poplar Hill
Location: 3 miles west of Charles Town WVA
Style: Federal with hipped roof and Greek Revival portico with four columns.
Built: Original 1770s, Second 1825
Occupant: John Thornton Augustine Washington (1783-1841), GW’s grand nephew (Samuel’s grandson)
Born at Pope’s Creek, Samuel Washington (1734-1781) was George’s older brother and the second son of John Augustine and his wife Mary. George already had two step brothers — Lawrence and Augustine, Jr. Following Samuel were John Augustine, Charles and Betty.
The whole family was dealt a blow when their father Augustine died in 1742. When George mounted his horse in 1748 and left to start his life as a surveyor, Samuel became the man of the house at Ferry Farm.
The Washingtons owned land on the Northern Neck and at Little Hunting Creek plantation (Mount Vernon). When Lawrence Washington (1718-1752) married Ann Fairfax (daughter of Colonel William Fairfax) in 1753, he gained access to some of the western lands owned by Thomas, Sixth Lord Fairfax. After Lawrence died, the lands he had acquired went to his younger half brothers - Samuel, John Augustine and Charles. Samuel inherited a fifteen hundred acre tract in what became West Virginia. Planters and farmers would soon look to these more fertile lands, leaving behind fallowed fields in the Tidewater.
Samuel also had to endure the early passing of his first four wives. After his fourth passed away, he moved to Charles Town (not yet named after him) and acquired almost 4,000 acres. In doing so, he was the first of the Washingtons to live in present day Charles Town.
Samuel would ultimately live in the shadow of his brother George, but he distinguished himself in many roles — political, religious, military and commerce.
In 1770, Samuel built Harewood an impressive stone Georgian home a few miles west of the town. Residents there would soon see four more impressive homes built by a Washington. In 1780, Charles built Happy Retreat, about a mile south of the town.
Samuel Washington’s eldest son with his second wife was Thornton Washington. Around 1770, he built a house of log and plank just south of Harewood, and named it Berry Hill, in honor of his wife Mildred Berry.
Thornton Washington and his first wife Mildred had two children. Sadly, Thomas Berry died in childhood.
Their other son was John Thornton Augustine Washington, born in 1783 at Berry Hill. He married Elizabeth Bedinger in 1810. Her father was Daniel Bedinger, a General in the Revolutionary War.
Sara penned an ode to Cedar Lawn, its first stanza saying:
O Cedar Lawn, I love thee well,
With all thy trees and flowers;
For never can my heart forget
The home of childhood’s hours.
It’s worth noting what Sara Washington was feeling. In terms of their surroundings, mansion homes today have little in the way to compare to some of the ones of yesteryear.
The surrounding land was sometimes more than a few hundred acres. The country estate contained orchards, gardens and ha-ha walls to protect against grazing goats and animals. The doorbell was the dust kicked up by a carriage entering a long dirt path leading up the house. Outbuildings doubled as a spillover place to sleep. A stream of clean waters might have ran close by or nearby.
In some cases, a manicured circle fronted the home. A large central room was the place to greet and hug the kinfolk, with two hands need to count the number of children and cousins. If you didn’t sit down for the big afternoon meal, you went hungry.
The marriage of John Thornton and Sara produced five sons and eight daughters. The first seven were born in the original plank house.
After it was destroyed by fire, John Thornton Augustine Washington built a new home (c. 1825) on the same spot and called it Cedar Lawn. Privately-owned, it stands today just off Earle Road.
The National Register for Historic Places nomination form for Cedar Lawn points out four of John Thornton Augustine Washington and Mildred’s children led notable lives.
Perhaps the most famous was Lawrence Berry Washington. According to Albert Welles (The Pedigree and History of the Washington Family), he never married.
Lawrence Berry Washington distinguished himself in several ways, including practicing law in Charles Town, serving as an officer in the Mexican-American War, and like Charles Snowden Fairfax, 12th Lord Fairfax, headed to California during the Gold Rush.
Lawrence had literary talents, too. In 1853, he penned a novel, “A Tale to Be Told Some Fifty Years Hence.”
The Bedinger family blog has an interesting take on the novel. They draw parallel lines between the main female character and a belle of the county that caused Lawrence’s heart to go boom, boom, boom, as well as Lawrence and the main male character.
Wayland tells us Colonel Forrest Washington Brown (1855-1934) lived at Cedar Lawn. In the mad dash to the bicentennial of Washington’s birthday, Brown provided family information and documents. Brown’s wife, Annie S.C. Washington (1831-1911) was born at Harewood. Her great grandfather was Samuel, George’s brother.
Houses get old and they need repair. In the early twentieth century, R.J. Funkhouser purchased Cedar Lawn and gave the sagging home the care it needed. We talk more about his purchase of other homes in our look at Claymont.
Also Known As: Claymont Court
Location: 3 miles sw of Charles Town
Style: Georgian, brick, stone and stucco
Occupant: Bushrod Corbin Washington (1790-1851), born Westmoreland County, GW’s Grand nephew, John Augustine’s grandson
Destroyed by fire 1838 and rebuilt.
George Washington had an appetite for land. When he was just 18 years old and surveying the lower Shenandoah Valley for Thomas Sixth Lord Fairfax, Washington acquired his first batch of land just west of what we call Charles Town.
These fertile acres were known then as Bullskin, the name of the waters that flowed through them. Despite being more than 75 miles from Mount Vernon, Washington established a plantation here.
Three of Washington’s brothers — Lawrence, Samuel and Charles would own land here. Samuel and Charles built mansion-style homes, as did the grandsons of Samuel and John Augustine.
Let’s take a look at two sons of John Augustine.
As mentioned earlier, John Augustine built Bushfield in the 1750s. Waddy Butler Woody (1916) enlarged the single-pile dwelling with a colonial style appearance.
Founders Online tells us John Augustine Washington (1736-1787) was Washington’s favorite brother. He married Hannah Bushrod (1735-1801) in 1756. They lived at Mount Vernon before moving to Bushfield in 1759.
At Bushfield, Hannah gave birth to a son, Bushrod Washington. Allied with Chief Justice and fellow Virginian John Marshall, he became an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court from 1798 to 1829. After Washington and Martha passed away, Bushrod inherited his uncle’s papers as well as Mount Vernon. He was laid to rest there.
A second son for John and Hannah was Corbin Washington (1765-1799).
Before he passed away in 1799, George Washington, knowing that tobacco had depleted the soils in and around Fairfax County, had advised his Corbin to settle down on the farmland west of Charles Town. Corbin instead chose to stay in Fairfax County. He lived at Selby, a home (destroyed) that was located a few miles northeast of Fairfax Courthouse.
Corbin Washington and Hannah Lee had two sons — Bushrod Corbin and John Augustine. In 1812, they married Blackburn sisters and built homes facing each other near Harewood and Cedar Lawn.
In 1820, Bushrod Corbin Washington and his wife Thomasina built a brick home on lands he inherited from his grandfather, John Augustine Washington of Bushfield. He called it Claymont. The setting was heavenly, a knoll caressed by the waters Bullskin Run and sweeping views of the mountains. The house contained 34 rooms, easily the biggest in the area at that time.
the original walls were largely preserved and the reconstruction no doubt followed the general style and dimensions of the first edifice.
Although it is not in the best shape right now, the house has been praised as one of the largest in the area and “one of the finest colonial homes in America.” The Claymont Society is currently restoring the home.
A primer for the home points out Claymont may be the northernmost example of the Virginia Plantation Style mansion, with wings, courtyards and dependencies.
Wayland also noted that the old garden was beautiful and extensive, with a rare charm.
After Claymont passed out of the family hands, Charles Dawson acquired the mansion and property. According to the primer, he added a second story to the wings, extended the ballroom and dining room. and added oak and chestnut paneling.
The novelist Frank R. Stockton (1834-1902) acquired it in 1899. He lived there for his final three years, passing away in Washington on his way to New Jersey.
The Pennsylvania Center for the Book tells us Stockton had a long-lasting career as an author for children’s books, publishing in many of the most prestigious magazines of the time. Stockton’s most famous story was the Rashomonesque “The Lady or the Tiger” (1882).
His widow, Marian Edwards Tuttle Stockton, eulogized her late husband in the Introduction to “The Captain’s Toll-Gate,” which was his last book.
Stockton loved The Holt, his New Jersey home, but longed for something more pastoral.
but in his heart there had always been a longing for a home, not suburban — a place in the real country, with more land.
Marian Stockton also tells us “his soul delighted in the big, old terraced garden. Compared to the one he had, the new one was like paradise to the common world.
At Claymont Stockton wrote John Gayther’s Garden, Kate Bonnet and The Captain’s Toll-Gate.
An ad in 1902 describes Claymont:
the beautiful country home of the late Frank R. Stockton, is one of the most attractive places in the Shenandoah Valley. The north front has a colonial porch, the south front an upper and lower piazza.
Before the National Trust for Historic Preservation got going in the second half of the century, preservation of historic homes depended on the pockets of wealthy individuals. Fortunately for Claymont and others like it near Charles Town, a knight in shining armor marched in.
Raymond J. Funkhouser purchased Claymont and several others. An article in the Washington Evening Star ("Reviving Homes of Other Days," Vincent Dwyer, December 8, 1946) tells us Funkhouser, an industrialist turned farmer, acquired a total of 16 farms in and around Charles Town.
His desire was to “make the area an important stock-grazing center and show place.” In 1943, he bought Claymont and Blakeley. He and his wife lived in the former (34 rooms) while his son Justin lived in the latter (20 rooms). Claymont had sat empty and vunerable for 15 years. Funkhouser added a fitting barn and sales arena for the Herefords he stocked. He named his firm O’Sullivan Farms.
Large historic homes need room to breath. Claymont has the surrounding unspoiled natural beauty but in the 1960s, a developer didn't care about that. He acquired Claymont with the intention of turning the mansion into a country club and building houses on part of the property. After the developer went bankrupt, the English scientist John Bennett acquired and saved Claymont. The Claymont Society for Continuous Education began a loving and long term restoration that continues today as The Claymont Retreat Center, a non-profit effort.
Also Known As: Washington-Chew-Funkhouser House
Location: Charles Town
Builder: John Augustine Washington II
Occupant: John A. Washington II (1789-1855), born Westmoreland Cty, GW’s grand nephew, John Augustine’s grandson.
As noted previously, Corbin Washington and his wife Hannah had a son Bushrod Corbin, who married a Blackburn and built Claymont. Their other son, John Augustine Washington II, one year older than Corbin, also married a Blackburn, Jane Charlotte Blackburn. About a half mile from Claymont, John Augustine build Blakeley.
A Washington family historian, points out Claymont was the largest residence ever built in West Virginia. Blakeley, he said, was “more modest.”
The NRHP nomination offers an explanation for this. John Augustine Washington II was fully aware that he was in line to inherit Mount Vernon, then owned by his childless uncle, Justice Bushrod Washington.
John Augustine Washington II (1789-1855) did inherit Mount Vernon in 1829 and lived there part time. He continued to live part time at Blakeley. The Mount Vernon website notes he created the new family vault there. Washington had desired this.
When he passed away in 1855, Mount Vernon went to his widow, Jane Charlotte Blackburn Washington. In 1841, she leased Mount Vernon to her son, John Augustine Washington III (1821-1861). Jane Washington owned Mount Vernon from 1832 to 1850.
It’s been observed that the Washington men did not live long. Reflective of that is John Augustine II, who died at age 43. His oldest son John Augustine Washington III inherited Mount Vernon.
Wayland tells us John Augustine Washington III was born at Blakeley. He was the last Washington owner at Mount Vernon (1850-1859), selling it in 1859 to the Mount Vernon Ladies Association. He ended the ban on steamboats to the nation’s shrine and contracted with a firm that sent their boats to Mount Vernon three days a week. “Many voters of Fairfax” put a notice in the Alexandria Gazette, stating their desire for him to run for the legislature. They described him as a practical farmer and sterling Whig.
John Augustine Washington III was mortally wounded just two years later during the Civil War. The NRHP form points out his death had a strong psychological effect on the country.
His widow Jane Charlotte inherited Blakely. After she died, the estate went to the younger son Richard Blackburn Washington. He was involved in the chase for some of John Brown’s raiders in 1859 (Harper’s Ferry is just five miles away).
John Washington, a Washington family historian, tells us about Richard Scott Blackburn Washington (1822-1910). The Washington men did not usually make it past 60. He lived to 88.
In 1844 he married Christian Maria Washington, his third cousin. When his brother, John Augustine III died, Richard Scott Blackburn Washington adopted the orphaned children.
Fires were alway a huge concern for mansion homes built away from towns. Blakeley was ablaze in 1864. Lost were the roof and some of the second floor.
John Washington tells us the family moved temporarily to Harewood. Richard rebuilt the burned portion using the same plan. The exception was replacing the roof with metal.
After the home went out of the family hands in 1875, Louise Fontaine Washington Chew, niece of Richard, purchased Blakeley. In 1871, she had married Colonel Roger Preston Chew at Blakeley. Chew rose to prominence after the Civil War, being elected to office three times in Jefferson County.
It’s interesting that Wayland says Mrs. Thomas C. Frazier owned Blakeley, followed by Dr. A.O. Albin, who acquired Blakeley in 1937. The NRHP form does not mention this.
In 1943, Raymond J. Funkhouser, who acquired Claymont and rehabilitated it, did the same with Blakeley. His work on the dwelling including interior work, additions and replacing the one story portico with a two story, decked three bay portico.
In 1989, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority announced it wanted to cover up the ruins of the Abingdon plantation with a new parking garage. Preservationists fought back, a victory that allowed the two large parking lots to be built on either side of the site.
It’s hard to know for sure, but I’m convinced the difference maker in the decision to save Abingdon was the connection with George Washington. Without this, I think the preservation case would have been lost.
I also believe it was the Washington name and connections that kept some of the Washington homes from being neglected or demolished, and motivated their owners to keep them in tip-top condition.
With the special day for Dad’s coming up, we tip our cap to George Washington and his fatherly ways.