Lincoln Preservation Foundation
Historical Dates: 1742 - present
Threat Level: Low
Location: Sands Road
Meadowlawn is most famous for its purported use as a stop on the Underground Railroad during the Civil War. The house was once much larger than its current four bedrooms, but an entire 2 story wing “disappeared” many years ago. Meadowlawn has been home to a number of Loudoun County’s well known families, including the Piggotts, the Hirsts, the Wilsons, and the Janneys.
Old courthouse records indicate that Meadowlawn was once part of a much larger tract of land which was one of the original Northern Neck Land Grants in this area issues by Lord Fairfax between 1740 and 1748.
The present day property is located in the southern most portion of the 605 acre land grant which was issued to Edmund Sands in December 1742, and is the namesake of Route 709 (Sands Road),between Lincoln and Hamilton.
The property ownership has changed hands about 17 times in its 270+ years. Though the exact date of this house has not been established, the early deeds mention that some of the owners lived here as squatters—meaning that early settlers lived here, built a log home and started farming before they took out an actual deed to the land. Some early deeds mention “premises, orchards, and other buildings” and that the new owner “might already be living there and be in possession of the actual premises.” This area was once a part of Prince William County, and the court house would have been very far away.
The original part of the house is a standard early log house consisting of one large and two smaller rooms with a loft above and a stone chimney at one end—the present-day centrally located living room.
A 1670 law required a house to be built within three years after purchase of land, and the law stated it should be at least 16x20 feet with a stone or brick chimney—the well-known “patent house. “During this time, if the new landowner did not comply, the property would revert back to the seller. Although it is not documented as a patent house, the original log structure does conform to the required dimensions—being 16x22 feet. The original stairway to the loft was in the NE corner of the original log structure but they are long gone—a square patch on the second floor indicates the old location.
Over the years the house has gained many additions. The present day living and dining rooms were at one time a pantry and a dairy where the milk separator was located. The milk was kept cool in the lower part of the adjacent spring house. It was not until the 1960’s that the owner enclosed a side porch (now the eating/sitting area and fireplace) and a back porch which is now the laundry room and bath. It was on this back porch that that the water pump was located and where people washed up before entering the house.
A former owner from the early 1900’s remembers stairs under a trap door leading down to the cellar from the service pantry (now dining area) and another stair just inside the dining room door (to the outside) leading upstairs. While there is evidence of the cellar stairs, there is no evidence of stairs going up.
At one time the roof on the log house was raised so that it is now 2 ½ stories. Evidence of early windows from the time the house was 1 ½ stories were found in the north log wall in the upstairs bathrooms.
The front hall and library were added in stages in the 1800’s. During the 1800’s and at the turn of the century the house had an additional 2 story wing which was connected to today’s library and ran parallel to the kitchen/utility wing, giving the house a “U” shape. This wing housed a large library downstairs, a small hall with a winding stair to the 2nd floor and a bedroom upstairs. The only evidence of the former addition are the patched clapboards on the outside of the house, marks of patched plaster on the inside, and the famous “door to nowhere” in the upstairs west bedroom.
The house is mentioned in “John Jay Janney’s Virginia” where John Jay, in recording his memoirs for his grandchildren, speaks about the times when he used to visit his paternal grandparents, the Blackstone Janney’s, as a child, and that he could see his one room schoolhouse from there (the historic Oakdale School). John Jay Janney was born in 1812 and Blackstone Janney owned the house from 1808-1825.
Another well-known owner was Samuel Janney who bought the property in 1854. He was a Quaker minister and President Grant’s “Minister of Indian Affairs.” He traveled widely in the Western Territories on behalf of the president who was very much concerned about the welfare of the Indians. Samuel Janney’s portrait which once hung in the hall of this house was donated to the Goose Creek Meeting of Friends by his descendants and can now be seen in the main meeting room next door. Another painting at the meeting house portrays Samuel Janney surrounded by his Indian friends. It was also written that Samuel Janney obtained a letter from Abraham Lincoln allowing him to cross enemy lines during the Civil War when he was working on behalf of those local citizens who had been taken prisoner by the enemy. According to the book “Ye Meeting House Small” this letter was once kept in the attic upstairs but has “vanished.”
According to local lore and previous owners, Meadowlawn was on the Underground Railway during the time of emancipation helping freed slaves escape to the north. Evidently, the small room in the upstairs corner of the barn –close to the road—provided an excellent hiding place when hay bales were stacked around the perimeter leaving a hollow center. It is also said that this barn survived the Civil War because the northern armies knew it was on the Underground Railway (which were usually located next to Quaker cemeteries or Meeting Houses. In this case, both.)
Former owners also tell of an underground tunnel from the cellar of the house to the barn, but we have no evidence of that. There is a small opening in the stone foundation of the cellar which leads to a crawlspace below the front porch and there is also a space behind the paneling under the stairs in the front hall which had no floor and gave access to the crawlspace under the hall and porch.
Meadowlawn predates the 2nd stone Meeting House of 1765 and the present-day Meeting House of 1817. In fact, Stephen Wilson, who owned the house between 1808 and 1825 was one of the persons appointed to the building committee in charge of erecting a “large new meetinghouse” (see: Ye Meeting House Smal,” page 20)
The house and barn are also shown on Yardley Taylor’s early map of 1853. (See the store on the Lincoln Preservation website for purchase of copies). Yardley Taylor was a cousin of John Jay Janney.