A History of Paxton

The Paxton Estate was bequeathed for the benefit of needy children by Mrs. Rachel Paxton (c. 1826-1921) upon her death. A trust was established in memory of her beloved daughter, Margaret, so that this vision could be perpetuated.  The 16.75 acre parcel that remains today has, in various ways, fulfilled that charter since the original bequest.  The latest chapter, marked by The Arc of Loudoun at the Paxton Campus, began in 2009.

The “Carlheim” Mansion as commissioned by Mrs. Paxton’s husband, Charles R. Paxton (1816-1889), was designed by the nationally acclaimed New York-based architect, Henry C. Dudley and completed in the early 1870s.  Dudley was a founding member of the American Institute of Architects.  The construction was awarded to a local lumber merchant and builder, John Norris, who used local materials such as sandstone in the mansion and adjacent peacock house, smoke house and barns.

Carlheim was first a summer retreat and then the Paxton’s primary family home for nearly half a century.  The mansion and its original out-buildings were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.  In 2004, the property became a non-contiguous part of the Leesburg Historic District.  Other Paxton-related buildings still stand; the Exeter community club house was the farm manager’s house and the creamery on Edwards Ferry Road was commissioned by Mr. Paxton, on what was then part of his estate.

In 1869 Charles Paxton, a wealthy banker and industrialist from Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, came to Reconstruction-era Leesburg to purchase property on which to build a summer house. He bought a 765-acre piece of land at auction paying $50,000. The 32-room house that was erected was of remarkable size (approximately four times the size of Mount Vernon) and featured many decorative interior details such as silver hardware, elaborate plasterwork and an innovative water collection system.  The exterior reflects the influence of Second Empire and Italian Villa styles, and is considered an unusual example of Victorian architecture in Northern Virginia.  This part of Leesburg and north to the Potomac River is known for its subterranean limestone caverns.  Remarkably, the mansion sits atop perhaps the largest of these caverns and an underground lake.  The Paxton’s eventually amassed approximately 7,800 acres generally from Leesburg east to Broad Run. Most of their land in an around Leesburg was part of the vast 18th century holdings of Lord Fairfax, a portion of which subsequently become the antebellum Exeter Plantation.

From Mrs. Paxton’s death until the early 1950s, the residence was used as a convalescent home known as the Paxton Home for Children, where children recovering from illness or injury would stay during the summer months.  From 1954 until 1980 it served as an orphanage and from 1980 until 2004 it served as a childcare center.  The property was quiet from 2004 until 2009 awaiting its next chapter: the arrival of The Arc of Loudoun and its associated programs for children and adults with disabilities and their families. Now operating under the umbrella of the Paxton Campus, we are serving needy children in ways that Mrs. Paxton could never have imagined, but of which she would surely be proud.

Renovations to Paxton Campus 2009 until now

Since moving to Paxton in 2009, The Arc of Loudoun continues to strive to renovate all of the structures on campus to serve individuals with disabilities and their families.  There are 11 buildings on the 16.75 acre campus, including Mrs. Paxton’s 1872 mansion and barns, a “peacock house,” four brick cottages, and a gymnasium.   The Aurora School building was the first renovation, followed by the Nalle cottage for The Arc of Loudoun offices.  In 2010 the Wright Cottage was converted to the Open Door Learning Center preschool, then in 2011 the Peacock House was renovated to serve as the “Paxton Attraction”—a store run by adults with disabilities, as well as renovating “Maggie’s Closet”, a clothing store run by volunteers and people with disabilities that allows people in need in the community to shop for free.  In 2013, we renovated the Miley cottage for the “A Life Like Yours” ALLY Advocacy Center, and in 2014 we have repurposed the Davis Cottage to expand The Aurora School’s Launch Program and house “STEP Up,” a vocational training program for adults with disabilities.