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Plans For Virginia's Woodlawn Plantation Do Not Include Horses

Virginia's Woodlawn Plantation will survive, but not with the horses that have called it home for decades.
WAMU/Michael Pope
Virginia's Woodlawn Plantation will survive, but not with the horses that have called it home for decades.

In Virginia, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has a new vision for Woodlawn Plantation — and it's a vision without horses.

For decades, visitors to Woodlawn Plantation have heard about George Washington giving part of the Mount Vernon estate to his granddaughter, Nelly Custis, as a wedding gift when she married Lawrence Lewis. But John Riley, interim director of the Woodlawn Museum, says many aspects of the history have been left out.

"Why this was part of Mount Vernon originally, how Washington farmed this area, why he thought that this particular site where we are standing now, as he called it, would be a great seat for a gentleman," he says.

That's why the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which owns the site, has entered into a new agreement with Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food, which will operate the property and transform it into a place where visitors can eat, learn and garden. That means that dozens of horses that now roam the fields along Route 1 will be evicted.

"The trust is going to look at the agricultural history though Arcadia and with Arcadia, which predates, I'm afraid, equestrian facilities by 100 years here," he says.

The future of the horse stables at Woodlawn was called into question last year, when the Federal Highway Administration announced it would be widening Route 1. Federal authorities eventually decided that the road needed to be re-routed in a way that would require the demolition of the stables. The federal government offered money to build a new facility, but leaders at the National Trust have now decided they no longer want horses.

"Naturally, we are disappointed," says Cynthia Mitchell, the owner of Woodlawn Stables. "It does seem as if our roots have gotten pushed a little further away from us. We tend to be pushing businesses such as this one that provides jobs in the local community out further and further."

Horse enthusiasts hope the federal money will be used to build a barn at an equestrian facility at Laurel Hill, now that the trust has decided horses will not have a future here at Woodlawn.

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