Relax, step back in time at Woodlawn estate

Colonel John Black’s grandson George Nixon Black bequeathed the Black House for public enjoyment to the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations in 1928. PHOTO BY LILY CUSACK

Swinging up the tree-lined avenue leading to the Black House, the sight of the Federal-style brick mansion and its white columns brings to mind Scarlett O’Hara’s cherished plantation Tara in the 1939 classic movie “Gone With the Wind.”

Col. John and Mary Black’s original summer home with the croquet course, gardens, carriage barn and sleigh shed, and woodland trails — which the Blacks called Woodlawn — is a window into early 19th century life among the Downeast region’s first seasonal residents. The 180-acre estate also feels removed from the bustle of downtown Ellsworth.

Just a quarter-mile from the city’s historic shopping district and downtown area, Woodlawn is a popular destination for tourists and Maine residents interested in history and experiencing another era. Or, simply to have a picnic or go for a walk.

Woodlawn also has a gift shop with curated items from the estate’s special blend of tea to Maine children’s books.

Portraits of various Black family members line the sweeping staircase at the Black House. The Federal-style mansion’s furnishings reflect three generations.

“Last year, we had people from 43 states and eight foreign countries,” said Phyllis Young, the marketing and development coordinator at Woodlawn Museum.

“We’re trying to get the Dakotas this year,” she continued with a laugh.

The Black House is the centerpiece of the Woodlawn estate. Previously home to three generations of the Black family, the last descendent, George Nixon Black Jr., willed the house to the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations. Black died in 1928, leaving the 180-acre estate as he knew it for the public’s enjoyment.

From May to October, visitors may take a self-guided audio tour through the three-story mansion and marvel at the nation’s only known Empire bed in the master bedroom; a butler’s pantry brimming with many different types of chinaware and a flax spinning wheel in front of the dining room’s fireplace — to name just a few features.

Outside the house “Nixon” Black, as he was called, used to let pheasants, guinea hens and peacocks roam the grounds. Visitors can check out the horseless carriages, buggies and sleighs used by the Black family on their two-mile trail system.

As the Blacks did, subsequent generations of Mainers and visitors from away have enjoyed the wooded trails for exercise and pleasure.

Woodlawn boasts Maine’s only tournament-size croquet court and a lively croquet scene. From 2 to 4 p.m. on Tuesdays, the public is invited to learn to play golf croquet. The cost is $10 per person.

“We come here almost daily,” Jenny Ashmore, the quality assurance coordinator at Downeast Horizons, said as her gray wire-haired fox harrier, Tucker, excitedly sniffed and explored the trail.

Although the Black family no longer occupies the estate, Woodlawn is a year-round hub for classes, workshops and other public events. Come winter, its sloping lawns are a popular sledding hill for children from area towns. In summer, the museum hosts tea-time tours and croquet lessons. In December, the Black House opens for holiday high teas.

Whether a visitor wants to quietly roam the hidden trails or sit down for tea and cookies in the garden, Woodlawn offers a bit of history and a lot of beauty.

For more info, call 667-8671 and visit www.woodlawnmuseum.com.