Idlewild Mansion in Fredericksburg, Virginia is also called Downman House. It is an excellent example of the American Gothic Revival style popular in the mid-1800s. Idlewild was built in 1859 by William Yates Downman, a blue blooded Virginian whose family seat was Belle Isle in Lancaster County.
Idlewild Mansion was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.
It is thought that perhaps the style and name of Mr. Downman's house was inspired by the well-known editor and writer Nathaniel Parker Willis. Willis built a large Gothic styled "cottage" over looking a steep gorge in the Hudson River Valley in 1846. When he first viewed the property, the sellers told him it was nothing but "an idle wild of which nothing could ever be made". As a result, the new home was named "Idlewild". Many of Willis' writings made reference to his beloved home and in 1855 he published a popular book entitled "Outdoors At Idlewild". The book featured a drawing of a large Gothic styled mansion on its cover. William Downman may easily have been inspired to create his own Idlewild when he began building his new home for his growing family.
William and his wife Mary Ann Hayes Downman had three young children when they moved into their new home. Their oldest daughter Anne Hayes (Nannie) Downman would grow up and marry R. Innes Taylor of nearby Fall Hill. Sophia Chinn Downman would marry architect Marion Dimmock of Richmond. First born son Joseph Henry Downman (named after William's father) would die only a few days after his birth. John Yates Downman dedicated his life to the ministry and would be the last surviving member of the family and the last family owner of Idlewild. Rawleigh William Downman was the first son to be born at Idlewild but would pass away at the early age of twenty one while visiting relatives in Baltimore. James Hayes Downman would become a successful New York businessman who came back to Fredericksburg where he died while visiting sister Nannie at her home at Fall Hill. Mary Ann had the first Tiffany stained glass window in St. George's Church in Fredericksburg installed in memory of these two sons. In later years, Mary Ann, Nannie and Sophia moved back to their "city home" on Caroline Street in Fredericksburg. Mary Ann would be Fredericksburg's oldest resident when she died in the 1920s.
Idlewild served as Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s headquarters on May 4–5, 1863, during the Civil War’s Chancellorsville campaign. With its location just west of Fredericksburg, the mansion and its grounds were often the site of skirmishes and occupations by troops of both sides. Mention is made of some of the incidents in the "practice" letters of daughter Sophia who jotted down her correspondence in her father's old notebooks - one volume of which recently found its way back to Fredericksburg. (This little book and its writings was the subject of an article written by local historian and Idlewild advocate Donna Chasen.)