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Janelia Farm

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  Photo of Janelia main house

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Janelia is a 3 1/2 story country house in "modified Normandy manor style" constructed of reinforced concrete faced with brick. The house was originally set amid formally landscaped grounds near the center of a 281 acre farm at the end of a gravel lane leading north from Virginia Route 7, the Leesburg Turnpike (See Broad Run Bridge and Toll House for more information about the turnpike). Janelia is in the National Park Service's (website: www.nps.gov) National Register of Historic Places (86003596).

History of Janelia

Designed by architect Philip Smith of Smith and Walker (Boston) and completed in 1936, Janelia is one of Virginia's last examples of the country house ideal that was fostered in England and spread to America in the late 19th century. The economic conditions of the 1930s and World War II brought the era of genteel country living with live-in servants on large estates to an end for most of America.

Janelia was the creation of Vinton L. Pickens, a professional artist and civic leader, and her husband, correspondent and author Robert S. Pickens. The house and grounds are situated on a corner of Coton, a former Lee family plantation once owned by Ludwell Lee's cousin Thomas Ludwell Lee. (See Belmont Plantation for more Lee family history.) Janelia was named after the Pickens' daughters, Jane and Cornelia.

Much of the acreage of Janelia was farmed and used for horse and dog breeding but farming was just a pastime for the Pickenses. Robert was a writer and Washington correspondent for the Associated Press and had a book published in 1934 dealing with contemporary international relations in the Pacific area. Vinton, a professional artist, had her work shown in Paris, New York, and Washington.

Mrs. Pickens was chairman of the first planning commission in Loudoun Country. It was organized in 1941 and, under her leadership, a 1942 zoning ordinance made Loudoun the first completely rural county in the United States to be zoned throughout. She served on the commission until 1961.

Philip Smith, Janelia's architect, was born in 1890 and graduated Harvard University in 1911. Janelia was his only Virginia commission (he was a personal friend of the Pickenses) and his only building outside the Northeast. It is listed in AIA biographical files among his principal buildings which also include the Tabernacle Church (1923) and the Holyoke Institute Building (1936), both in Salem, MA.

Summary Description of Janelia


Janelia is a 20th century period house of irregular plan with multiple extensions each with a separate steeply pitched hipped roof. The house is set on poured concrete foundations and its brick veneered walls are painted white. Windows are multipaned casements flanked with board and batten shutters. Most first floor openings are French doors.

Aerial photo of Janelia Farm

The exterior is made notable by the combination of angles formed by the multiple extensions from the main block, the repeated diagonals of the various faces of the hipped roofs, the verticals of a half-dozen tall freestanding chimneys and the horizontal accent of a stone belt course at the sills of the second floor openings. The roofing material is gray slate.

The interior of the house has a finished basement, two main floors and a finished attic. All main features, trim, flooring, plumbing and heating fixtures are original. The main entrance opens into an entrance and reception hall floored with hard rubber tiles which closely resemble marble and a curved staircase leading to the second floor.

Other structures on the Janelia Farm property are a garage with servant quarters above it and the original swimming pool.


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