Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens was the home of businesswoman and philanthropist Marjorie Merriweather Post. Located in Northwest Washington, DC near Rock Creek Park, this magnificent 25-acre estate holds one of the finest collections of decorative arts from 18th Century France and imperial Russia. The Georgian mansion on the estate, built in the 1920s, is surrounded by beautifully designed garden spaces, exhibit buildings, a visitor center, and cafe. Every inch of the mansion shimmers with finery, down to the switch plate covers. The museum features historic antique furniture, paintings, silver, porcelain, icons, tapestries and an impressive collection of pieces from famed jewelry company Fabergé, including two imperial Russian Easter eggs.
The museum isn’t just a place to tour – it’s a place to be enjoyed. In addition to touring the mansion, you can easily spend a day here relaxing with family and friends, taking a stroll though the gardens and enjoying lunch at the upscale cafe. It’s an excellent place to take out-of-town guests after they grow weary of touring the stone monuments in Washington, DC. Throughout the year, the estate hosts lectures and special events, like the Russian Winter Festival. Historians, gardeners, collectors, architects, and anyone who enjoys the finer things in life will love a visit to Hillwood.
Enter the estate at the Visitor Center. Parking is free. Purchase a ticket inside, or check out all the benefits of becoming a member. If you live in the area, you should consider a membership to enjoy all the events and seasonal changes in the garden.
There are several options for touring the estate. You can take a self-guided tour, audio tour or docent-led tour. If you want to get a head start, download the excellent Hillwood audio tour mobile app, which you can enjoy before, during or after your visit.
Before walking the grounds, be sure to watch the short orientation film which plays regularly throughout the day to lay the groundwork for what you will be see. Or, you can watch the movie here to save time during your visit.
Inside the Visitor Center, there’s also a wonderful gift shop with a nice collection of books, apparel, decorative arts, stationery and jewelry. If you’re looking for a unique gift, try shopping here. The Hillwood Museum has published a nice collection of books over the years providing more in depth information on her various collections and their provenance, which are also available in the gift shop or online.
Exit the top level of the Visitor Center to begin your tour of the mansion and garden. Plan to spend at least three hours here. There is so much to see that it’s difficult to absorb in one visit.
In order to appreciate the museum, you must know a little about the owner. Marjorie Merriweather Post was the only child of C.W. Post, founder of the Postum Cereal Company. Inspired by his own health problems, he created a line of food products beginning with the coffee substitute Postum and Grape Nuts Cereal, and launched a successful company with an innovative marketing campaign. Upon his death in 1914, the 27-year-old Marjorie, who had grown up with the business, inherited and managed the company. During her long and industrious life, she married and divorced four times, and had three daughters, including actress Dina Merrill.
Her second marriage to financier E.F. Hutton in 1920 led to the Postum Company’s great expansion. They took the company public and made numerous acquisitions, including Jell-O, Maxwell House, and Minute Tapioca, just to name a few. After acquiring the frozen foods company Birdseye, they changed the company’s name to the General Foods Corporation.
As Marjorie’s wealth grew, she began her lifelong passion for purchasing the finer things in life. While living in New York, she began collecting 18th century French furniture and decorative arts to furnish her home under the tutelage of famed art dealer Sir Joseph Duveen. (Duveen had also worked with Andrew Mellon and Samuel Kress to build what became the core of the National Gallery of Art.) While married to Hutton, the couple purchased a succession of yachts and built Mar-a-Lago as their Palm Beach, Florida home, later purchased by billionaire President Donald J. Trump. She intended for the home to be used as a winter White House after her death, but high maintenance costs forced the government and Post’s heirs to release the property into private hands.
Her third marriage to lawyer Joseph Davies marked a new direction in her collecting efforts. While Davies was serving the U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1937 to 1938, she began collecting exquisite items from imperial Russia that were being sold off to finance the Russian Revolution and its industrialization efforts. That included pieces from the Fabergé company, probably the most famous jeweler of the imperial Russian court. Over the decades that followed, Post acquired thousands of Russian artifacts creating the largest collection outside of Russia, including two imperial Fabergé Easter eggs that were gifts from the ill-fated Tsar Nicholas II to his mother.
When the Davies returned to the United States, they purchased a home in Washington, DC where they became know for their elegant parties. As their marriage fell apart, Marjorie purchased the estate in 1955 known today as Hillwood and continued to generously open her home to all kinds of guests, from heads of state to wounded veterans returning from Vietnam. She purposefully renovated the home and garden for entertainment and to display her fabulous collections. With great foresight, she prepared her home to be opened as a museum upon her death so that she could share her invaluable collections with the public for generations to come. She died in 1973 and Hillwood opened to the public as a museum in 1977.
Throughout her life, Post believed that her wealth should be put to good use. Her philanthropic work spanned for decades. For example, she funded a U.S. Army hospital in France during World War I; opened a dignified soup kitchen for women and children during the Great Depression; and generously contributed to the Boy Scouts and National Symphony Orchestra. For that, Lake Merriweather at the Boy Scout Camp Goshen in Virginia, and the concert venue Merriweather Post Pavilion in Maryland were named after her. She also donated several jewels to the Smithsonian Institute, like the Napoleon Diamond Necklace, on display in the National Museum of Natural History Gem Collection.
To learn more about her, check out this Biography Channel feature here.
When Marjorie Post purchased the Hillwood estate, she renovated it to be more suitable for hosting parties and display her remarkable collections. Here are some of the rooms:
Marjorie Merriweather Post’s renovations to the home included creating outdoor garden rooms, each with a distinct character, and space for entertaining. Here are some of the rooms, which are a delight to visit in any season.
The granite column in the Rose Garden holds the ashes of Marjorie Merriweather Post.