Idlewild Mansion

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The Idlewild mansion in Fredericksburg, VA is also called Downman House. Idlewild mansion was built in 1859 and served as Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s headquarters on May 4-5, 1863, during the Civil War’s Chancellorsville campaign.

Idlewild has been in ruins since it burned in April 2003 after vandals set it on fire. Idlewild again suffered damage from a smaller porch fire in August 2006.

The property has been added to the Virginia Landmarks Register and is being considered for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

For more information regarding its history click the link below.


Here I was, walking around uncharted territory. I was visiting family in Fredericksburg, VA and decided to explore. Surrounded by cookie-cutter shaped homes and gated communities, I decided to find something out of the norm. Boy was I in for a trip. Not too far away from where I was visiting was a location known as Idlewild. As I wandered, I first encountered a set of abandoned cars. I knew I was headed in the right direction.

I kept on walking while continuously scanning the surroundings, making sure I was alone.

Few yards down, I stumble across this book, titled Heaven Made. It was such an oxymoron to see this book laying in the ground next to decomposed buildings. For some reason, seeing this book, made my heart beat faster. I made sure to scan my surroundings.

The property was scattered with abandoned houses, mansions, and barns, dating back to early 1860’s.

After wandering around for a while I finally stumbled upon the mansion. My heart was racing with fear and excitement at the same time. Several horror movies flashed in front of my eyes with every step I neared. Knowing that General Robert E. Lee once wandered through the halls once fueled my sense of adventure. Once again, I scanned my surroundings rigorously, looking for any signs of life. Every time I visit an abandoned place I become paranoid. I always think that a serial killer, vandal, homeless person, and/or ghost will attack me.

The classic “Do not enter” sign was posted on the fence that surrounded the entire property. My heart rate increased some more.

I took a big gulp and sneaked in through a hole in the fence, previously made by another. The property contained the mansion and few other smaller buildings.

By this point, I was sh***ing myself. With every noise I heard I instantly jumped. Being in an unfamiliar state, surrounded by a rich history, and signs of recent dwelling, all combined together to make me very anxious. After taking some final shots, I decided it was time to leave. I traced my steps back and stopped by another abandoned house to take some final shots.

Overall, the experience was thrilling. I came out safe with a camera full of history. When I came home I researched the Idlewild mansion and decided never to visit it again.

10 thoughts on “Idlewild Mansion

  1. Why would you “never visit it again”? I go up on a fairly regular basis. It is a very sad site to visit and those camping around it do not make it the most hospitable location but it is beautiful. There are a lot of articles about Idlewild on To get past the real estate garbage, just click archive, Idlewild Donna Chasen and enjoy. I have been drawn to the house since the late nineties. It was beautiful. The front door had stained glass side lights and transoms. The staircase led to a landing with a lancet door with etched and stained glass. There was a beautiful paladian styled window on the front on the second floor. There was so many stairs in the house that my legs ached for days every time I visited it. There was an overall sense of foreboding and sadness even when the house was still intact but I still came to visit several times a week. Please free to contact me with any questions about Idlewild.
    Donna Chasen

    1. Donna,

      I felt uncomfortable being there because I was not familiar with the place. I am from out of state and was visiting family at the time. When I did a quick search on Idlewild, I read how vandals keep setting fires and further vandalizing the property. The property itself was beautiful and I could have spent a whole day documenting it. I guess, I just played it safe by briefly exploring the area. Next time I visit, I will try to take another trip over there to document the area a bit more.

      I would love to read more about the history of the building. I have gather some history from searching the internet. If you have any other links regarding its history I would love to check them out.


      1. Thanks for responding. The property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. You can go to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and read the nomination. Also there are tons of articles I wrote for the Free Lance Star. Keep in touch!

    2. Donna, I would be interested in reading your articles and learning more about the history of the home. I used to live in the Idlewild neighborhood and also have an article and pictures about my experience there. I hope you will check it out.

      It is funny that you wrote about the “overall sense of foreboding and sadness”. I wrote about very similar feelings that overcame me whenever I visited the property. The feeling I received was very eerie, almost like an aura hanging over me, but while eerie, it was comforting as well. It is very difficult to describe but it appears you have felt something similar.

      I had a similar question as another poster. Does anyone have pictures of the inside of the home before it was destroyed? I have heard that the library downtown on Caroline Street does in archives but I haven’t had a chance to explore that yet. I would love to learn more about the home from you.

    1. Tell me more about when your Great Grand Aunt Mattie lived there. I’d love to hear any new stories about the house and its residents.

      1. I would love to hear as well. On a separate note, I am visiting my family again in a few short weeks. I will make sure to stop by again and take some more pictures.

    1. Debbie,
      Unfortunately I do not. From the research that I did I found out that vandals burned it down first in 2003 and then again in 2006. In 2011 a small earthquake damaged the chimneys. Every time I visit my family I try to take some pictures of the building and the surrounding property to document the deterioration.

  2. Damir,

    Thanks for sharing. I also have an article on my blog about the Idlewild Mansion as well as some pictures. I used to live in Idlewild (the neighborhood not the Mansion) and was immediately drawn to the home and location. I took my pictures during the snowstorm of 2009. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts about your visit. The area is so rich in history and what was done to the home was beyond terrible.I loved living in Idlewild knowing that my home once sat on Civil War marching ground. My hope is that I would always find some sort of relic in the ground working in my yard. I hope you will take a few minutes to check out my article as well.

    A long time local told me that the property is haunted but that is likely an old folk tale. I have not heard any other accounts of this.

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