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“Payne Todd genuinely loved his mother and he hoped to provide for her during her old age and widowhood. As Lucie Cutts noted: ‘[Payne] intended his mother to pass the remaining years of her life [at Toddsberth]; spending much money in carrying out his eccentric ideas for her comfort.’ But Todd had never been a careful planner nor was he a trained architect. As a result, the various structures that he had haphazardly erected around the Toddsberth compound proved to be an eclectic array of undistinguished buildings. Lucie Cutts observed: ‘we looked [at] those buildings with sadness, for ridiculous in the eyes of a stranger.’


The central feature of Payne’s estate was a conspicuous, 30-foot diameter “Round House” with a cedar shingle roof. This circular, two-story building housed a ballroom on the upper floor which could be used for entertaining, dancing, and dining. The room’s walls were plastered and lined with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves to house the estate’s phantom library. The basement of the structure contained a wine cellar as well as an ice house. Historian Catherine Allgor speculates that: ‘this fantastical edifice stood as the most obvious sign of his mental deterioration.’


Nearby, Payne built several log cabins for the estate’s enslaved population as well as numerous outbuildings and small cottages. One house was specifically designed for his mother’s use. It was a single story dwelling that featured a bizarre window-door combination to accommodate Dolley’s growing frailties by allowing her to enter via the dining room in order to avoid ‘the fatigue of a staircase.’ By 1844, though, Dolley was residing exclusively in Washington and was reluctant to leave her many friends and intimate social circle. In a letter to his mother, Payne pleaded with her to move to Toddsberth ‘as the country air is likely to be invigorating. Independent of seeing you, it is of great importance that I should impress upon you the relation you bear to [the] property which alone can [a]ffect the success of measures I have taken in your favor.’ It was one of the few requests from her wayward son that Dolley would refuse to honor.” From Scandalous Son



Article in the Fredericksburg Freelance Star, January 28, 1937

Location of the old Toddsberth property Now under private ownership. The “Round House” at Toddsberth Circa 1920 by Bernadette Fitzgerald