The land where our DC area resort sits today is rich in history. Dating back to 600 A.D., Algonquin Indians inhabited our current place along the banks of the Potomac River. The abundance of fish and wildlife made this a good spot for these hunters and gatherers.
Fast forward a few hundred years from the Indian occupation to when a young Thomas Lee was appointed Assistant Land Agent for Thomas, 6th Lord Fairfax. As he traveled throughout the colony, Lee was impressed with the unoccupied land where the Potomac River and Goose Creek met. He knew that waterways provided transportation for people and commerce, so he made arrangements to have 800 acres of that land set aside for himself.
Thomas Lee had many notable sons, including two signers of the Declaration of Independence: Francis Lightfoot Lee and Richard Henry Lee. They were the only brothers to sign this important document. They both lived on our land (or very near it) prior to the Revolutionary War. Francis Lightfoot Lee and his brother were also responsible for naming the county seat Leesburg, in honor of their father.
By 1796, the second Thomas Ludwell Lee and his family moved onto our land, built a house, and named it Coton Farm after their ancestral home in England. Thomas made extensive additions to the house and set out to improve the land by switching crops from tobacco to wheat and corn; enlarging the mill, and building a distillery and a meat house.
Thomas Ludwell Lee was only 55 years old when he died in March 1807, leaving his 36-year-old widow Fanny with eight young daughters. Fanny became head of the household, manager of the farm, and in charge of all the business. Fanny and her daughters continued to live on Coton Farm where the children were taught the traditional female skills of knitting, sewing, and sometimes quilting.
Prior to Fanny moving into Leesburg, there was other history surrounding the property. On the night of August 24, 1814, the women stood at the windows on the upper floor of their home and saw flames or the reflection of flames as British troops burned the Capitol in Washington, DC. One morning after the Capital burned, a servant told Fanny that the British soldiers were marching towards Leesburg. Summoning all her courage and presence of mind, Fanny Carter Lee called her household together, ordered every door and window to be locked, and prepared to stand her ground.
Time went by but the British did not appear. At last they could hear the terrifying sounds of approaching troops in the distance. When the suspense had become unbearable, Fanny ventured to lift a corner of a curtain and peer out. Imagine her surprise when she saw the yard full of American soldiers dressed in blue, not the British red coats. The soldiers were in full retreat after defeat at Bladensburg but made time to stop at Coton Farm for hot corncakes, mugs of steaming coffee, fried chicken, batter bread and honey.
Another adventure at the house occurred in August 1825 when General Marquis de Lafayette was ending his tour of the U.S. Lafayette and his entourage began the day at President Monroe’s Oak Hill estate, south of Leesburg. About mid-day, they travelled north on today’s Route 15 and arrived in Leesburg in time for an elegant dinner on the courthouse square. After feasting and drinking to toasts by every important man in the county, the party retired to Belmont, the home of Ludwell Lee. Because Belmont wasn’t large enough to accommodate everyone, some of the group stayed here at Coton Farm. Servants from both plantations formed a double line between the two estates holding lanterns and torches to light the way for guests going from one place to the other.
It might be surprising to learn that our resort in Virginia isn’t the first establishment to welcome travelers to our property. This was a perfect location to offer food and drink to travelers and a place to refresh their horses while traveling west to the mountains or returning to the city of Alexandria. These early rest stops for travelers were called ordinaries or houses of private entertainment. The ordinaries were public houses.
Anyone could come in and the rates for food and drink were set by the state. Houses of private entertainment meant that the operator occasionally opened his home to guests and accepted compensation for whatever was provided such as meals, drinks, and overnight accommodations. Licenses for both an ordinary and a house of private entertainment were issued on our property.
Over the years many people rented, leased, or owned portions of our land. The houses that were here at one time disappeared from the property due to neglect, house fires and road expansion. There are a few historic buildings remaining on the property, including the remains of a historic mill and a dam along Goose Creek.
Today, we’re honoring our past and celebrating our heritage with stories of the land, the Potomac and the people. Our new Leesburg restaurant Coton & Rye is named after Coton Farm on our land. They grew wheat, corn, operated a distillery, and a meat house. While the land exchanged hands many times over the year, it’s always exhibited a history rich in hospitality and still does to this day.
Established in 1758, the Assembly of Virginia selected Leesburg for the location of Loudoun County's courthouse. The town was named in honor of the influential Thomas Lee who once owned thousands of acres in Virginia, including the 300 acres that Lansdowne Resort sprawls.