The construction of George Carter's mansion began about 1804, having inherited the property on which it sits from his father in 1798. The house is considered George Carter’s personal interpretation of early 19th century architectural styles. Although no original architectural plans have been found, it is thought that Carter probably designed the house himself, possibly with help from builders and pattern books.
Carter’s original plan (seen right) was for a Federal or Adam style mansion consisting of a central block and symmetrical bays to the east and west. The house stood on a full basement and contained three main living floors and a small attic. A cupola topped the building. Construction continued for approximately 5 years. By 1808 the mansion likely had some rooms finished on the first floor, but was only framed in on the upper two floors and attic.
Events leading up to the War of 1812, which brought on a financial recession and an embargo against trade with Britain, halted construction at Oatlands. After the end of the war, Carter – always the businessman – put his money and effort into building a mill complex on Goose Creek, the southern boundary of his property, rather than completing his mansion. When Carter again turned his attention to finishing the house, his vision for its appearance had changed. Greek Revival style swept the country in the 1820s, and George Carter was not immune to its pull. The red brick walls were covered in stucco and scored to resemble stone; half-octagonal staircases were added at either end; and a grand portico rose on the face of the mansion. Carter also added a parapet wall along the roofline at the front and sides of the house, thus emphasizing the linearity of Greek Revival style rather than the vertical focus of Federal architecture. Inside the house, Carter made one last change. By enclosing two corners of his drawing room, he created an octagon, a very popular shape throughout early 19th century architecture.
The 20th century owners of Oatlands, William and Edith Eustis, made hardly any structural changes to the mansion. Sensitive early preservationists, they retained George Carter’s floor plan and architectural features with only a few exceptions. A porch was added to the north face of the house, the second floor staircase was moved, and two small bedrooms on the second floor were joined to form one large room.
Today Oatlands remains true to George Carter’s mature vision for his home.