History of Woodlawn Show

The Woodlawn Needlework has been going on for over 40 years, always through the entire month of March.

Woodlawn is a gracious 126-acre estate that was originally part of George Washington’s Mount Vernon.   The main Federal-style house was designed by the architect of the U.S. Capitol, Dr. William Thornton, and constructed between 1800 and 1805 for Washington’s nephew Major Lawrence Lewis and his bride,  Eleanor “Nelly” Custis Lewis.   During the Lewis’ 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. In 1846, the Lewis’s son sold the property to two families from New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the Troths and the Gillinghams, who were members of The Society of Friends (Quakers).  Ethically opposed to slavery, the Troths and Gillinghams established Woodlawn as a “free labor colony,” selling lots to both free black and white farmers, and employing only free laborers to demonstrate as false the argument that the abolition of slavery would mean the death of the Southern plantation economy. This belief in liberty and equality made Woodlawn a controversial social experiment in its time and place, and its residents became a target of raids and suspicion by Confederate forces during the Civil War.

By the turn of the 20th century, Woodlawn was sadly deteriorated and, in 1896, severely damaged by a hurricane.  In 1901, the playwright Paul Kester moved in — with his mother, brother and 60 cats — and began “restoring” the house to livable conditions.   In 1905, Kester moved on to nearby Gunston Hall, and sold Woodlawn to Miss Elizabeth Sharpe, a Pennsylvania coal heiress who spent two decades lovingly rehabilitating Woodlawn and its grounds to suit contemporary views of an ideal early American estate.    Woodlawn’s final private owners were Senator and Mrs. Oscar Underwood of Alabama.   Following Mrs. Underwood’s death, it was purchased by a private organization to ensure its preservation.  In 1952, Woodlawn became the first historic site owned by The National Trust for Historic Preservation. 

Now about the show

The show was started as I said some 40 years ago by "Nelly Needlers". Nelly Custis was an avid Needleworker. When you go to the show they make sure you see some of her work. " Nelly Needlers" basically started the show as a fundraiser for the house, which was not under the auspices of the National Historic Trust, and therefore coming up with money for repairs was tough at times.
I have been attending the Woodlawn show since the beginning, at about the age or 12. At that time my interest in needlework consisted of Needlepoint, so it was a show of mostly Needlepoint. There was very little crewel or cross stitch back in the 60's. However we did have some celebrities enter the show and attend sometimes. For example: Mary Martin, who was an avid Needlepointer and Julie Nixon Eisenhower. Mrs. Eisenhower entered a large screen she did for her sister Tricia and a pillow she did for her father. As well as Rosie Greer's work in the men's section.
The show has had some ups and downs. Over the past 20 years the amount of entries have waned a bit. Now the weather sometimes causes problems with entries, because they have to be in around the middle of February. An we have had some terrific snow storms her in the DC area around that time. But I also think that is just that people are running around more, therefor stitching time is limited. However with the great recession over the past two years we have seen an increase in entries.