A History of the Property
In 1805, John Drish purchased eight acres at the top of a knoll just east of Leesburg on land that had originally been owned by Landon Carter, son of Robert “King” Carter. Although not mentioned in the deed of sale, it is likely that an early 19th-century two-story, two-bay-wide brick building already stood on the property that Drish purchased.
Between 1805 and 1826, Drish constructed an elegant two-story Federal-style residence that adjoined the earlier building. The Federal-style structure is noted in the 1826 deed to Wilson J. Drish and in the 1829 deed to Fayette Ball, whose elder brother, George Washington Ball, was a nephew of George Washington.
Both the 1829 sale price and the building’s footprint, identified as the ‘G. W. Ball residence’ on 1856 Yardley Taylor map of Loudoun County, clearly indicate the presence of a substantial building. However, by 1859 the residence had undergone two major alterations: a two-story brick service ell had been added on the east side, and on the north side the early 19th century building had been encapsulated.
An advertisement appearing in the 1859 Democratic Mirror of Leesburg announced that the residence, then known as Oak Hill, was for sale. Describing a 16-room house with good cellars, the public notice also mentioned several outbuildings including carriage, ice and meat houses, cow shed, stable, and a building for servants.
The Marshalls and Their Leesburg Home
Except for three significant changes: a late 19th-century two-story brick bay window, an early 20th century Colonial Revival front porch, and the 20th-century bathrooms – this advertisement from House and Garden magazine describes the manor house as it appeared in 1941 when the Marshalls purchased Dodona Manor from Northcutt Ely as a retreat from their public life in Washington.
The Marshalls made certain interior cosmetic changes to the home, including new wallpaper for the living, dining, and breakfast rooms, and fresh paint for the trim and walls in other rooms. On the exterior, they added a stone patio to the rear of the house, a two car brick garage to the north, and a wooden garden shed at the eastern edge of the property.
While Dodona Manor retains its early 19th-century architectural details, present day furnishings and decorative arts reflect the tastes of the 1940s and 50s when the Marshalls lived there. General Marshall, a student of history, appreciated the historic character of the fine old building and its location overlooking the Town of Leesburg.
Ever the peripatetic career Army officer, Marshall remarked to his wife Katherine upon returning from a trip abroad in 1942: “This is Home…a real home after forty-one years of wandering.”
The Gardens & Grounds of Dodona Manor
The Marshalls were committed gardeners. In 1941 they bought Dodona Manor to serve as a weekend retreat from their public life at Quarters Number One at Fort Myer, Virginia. In buying the residence they sought a quiet place to retire to for relaxation and gardening, which along with reading, were their favorite shared pastimes. To enjoy and work in the garden as much as possible, they lived at the Marshall House during the warm months, between April and October after 1945. Many stories and letters exist that illustrate General Marshall’s keen interest in gardening. Even during the dark days of World War II, General Marshall’s thoughts turned to gardening, indicated in his March 27, 1942 letter to David Burpee:
“The business of seeds and flowers tantalizes me because I have been an amateur gardener, both flower and vegetable, since a boy of ten. There is nothing that I would so much prefer to do this spring as to turn my mind to the wholesome business of gardening rather than the terrible problems and tragedies of war.”
On December 27, 1943 in another letter, the General requested a catalog of flowers and seeds, noting that he was “particularly interested in phlox.” Later he ordered poppies, calendula, cornflowers, coreopsis, delphinium and Shasta daisy.
Proud of his garden, Marshall says he has been successful with everything except asparagus, which he says Mrs. Marshall cut too soon. (From the Washington Star.)
When the Marshalls acquired their Leesburg home, they made cosmetic changes to the residential interiors to customize the house to their taste. The overgrown garden, however, immediately became the focus of their “spare” time. Mrs. Marshall described work at the new home:
“I had made a contract with a Mr. Brown, who did the forestry work on the places around, to take out the many dead trees, prune and doctor the oaks and elms, thin out the shrubs, and replant the lilac that had grown as high as the second story.”
One of two construction projects during the Marshall residency was the construction of a stone patio partially covered by a shed porch and pergola. Located on the east side of the house, the patio quickly became their summer dining room. Under the shade of the porch, the Marshalls could survey the landscape, approving of their work while no doubt discussing future gardening projects.