In 1804, George Carter focused his substantial resources on wheat production and construction of a MANSION at Oatlands. A scholar and astute businessman, Carter likely designed the house himself, possibly with the help of builders and pattern books. Enslaved people dug up clay from local riverbanks to mold and fire bricks for a three-story structure with a basement and cupola. Both enslaved people and paid laborers worked on the house until the mid-1830s, adding side stairwells, removing the cupola, applying stucco to exterior brick, and building an impressive two–story columned portico. The finished house showcased elements of Georgian, Federal, and Greek Revival architectural styles.
After purchasing Oatlands in 1903, Edith and William Corcoran Eustis made only a few changes to the mansion. They added a porch to the north facade, moved the second floor staircase, and combined two small bedrooms into one large room. In family correspondence, they often referred to the mansion as “Oatlands House.” Because of their preservation efforts, the mansion still remains true to George Carter’s vision for his home.
George Carter, 1844
George Carter’s inheritance in 1798 was unusual for the time period and his social class. Although he inherited 3,400 acres from his father, Robert Carter III, George did not inherit enslaved people because of his father’s change in belief about the institution of slavery. In 1791, Robert Carter III filed the Deed of Gift which gradually emancipated over 500 enslaved people at his plantations throughout Virginia. Sadly, he lived to see his son hold people in bondage. By 1801, George Carter was calling his land “Oatlands”, basing the plantation and milling operations completely on the use of enslaved people.
Elizabeth Osborne Carter, c. 1847
A wealthy widow, 39 year-old Elizabeth Osborne Lewis married 58 year-old George Carter in 1835. They had two sons, George Jr. and Benjamin. After her husband’s death, Elizabeth O. Carter remained at Oatlands until part way through the Civil War. Her diary is a great resource, listing individual names of enslaved people at Oatlands, many of whom would otherwise be unknown.
Oatlands, c. 1890
This sweeping landscape captures Oatlands at the turn of the century; in disrepair and uncertain of its place in the new era. The Eustis family saw potential in the old house and grounds. By 1903, they began improvements to make it their country estate.
Summer boarders at Oatlands, c. 1890
The Carter family’s fortunes declined following the Civil War. Beset with debt, George Carter Jr. and his wife, Katherine Powell Carter, operated Oatlands first as a girls’ school and later as a summer boarding house. Eventually, they sold the house and grounds in 1897 to Stilson Hutchins, one of the founders of The Washington Post newspaper.
Margaret Eustis at Oatlands, c. 1918
In family albums, Margaret is often photographed outdoors, including this scene of her and a playful peacock on the mansion portico. Margaret later married David Finley, first Director of the National Gallery of Art and one of the founders of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Margaret and her sister, Anne Eustis Emmet, donated Oatlands to the National Trust in 1965.