Celebrity Homes,  Inspiration

Villa Lewaro: Madame CJ Walker’s Residence Is Restored to Perfection

Villa-Lewaro HistoricNewEngland_DavidBohl
Villa Lewaro, the exquisite mansion of Madame CJ Walker, is a monument to her brain, hustle and energy as well as her  accomplishments.
“I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South.
From there I was promoted to the washtub.  From there I was promoted to the kitchen cook.
And from there I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations.”      
Madame CJ Walker
Madame Walker waist up
Perched on the banks of the Hudson River just 20 miles outside of NYC stands Villa Lewaro, the sprawling estate of America’s first female millonaire, Madame CJ Walker.  The 34 room mansion, grounds and carraige house has been beautifully restored to its former glory by the current owners Ambassador Harold E. Doley, Jr. and his wife Mrs. Helena Doley.  You can tell the restoration was a labor of love.  The Doley’s have owned Villa Lewaro since 1993.
Construction of Villa Lewaro began in Irvington, NY in 1916 under the guidance of Vertner Woodson Tandy, the first registered African American architect in New York State.  It was completed in 1918 and cost $250,000 to build.  Vertner Woodson was a founding member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first intercollegiate Greek letter fraternity for African Americans.
Madame Walker called Villa Lewaro her dream of dreams.  It was built in one of the countries most exclusive neighborhoods, Irvington-on-the Hudson.  Billionaires John D. Rockefeller and Jay Gould built estates there and were her neighbors.   Villa Lewaro is a monument to the brain, hustle and energy of what this remarkable woman was able to accomplish.
I read her biography, On Her Own Ground, the Life and Times of Madame CJ Walker written by her great-great granddaughter A’lelia Bundles a few years ago.  I was fascinated by what she was able to accomplish inspite of the racism and sexism she constantly faced.  What struck me most was how Madame Walker had a clear objective to lift herself and as many black women as possible out of poverty to a better life.  I admire her for her mission and accomplishments.   I’ve been a fan ever since.
Madame CJ Walker in car ~1916
Madame CJ Walker was born in Delta, Louisiana as Sarah Breedlove on December 23, 1867.
She was born as a free person but her parents and siblings were born as slaves.

There are some widespread misconceptions about Madame Walker and her company that I’d like to correct:

1.  The Walker System she created was not cosmetic.  It was designed to treat scalp desease that was common during the early 1900s when women only washed their hair once per month.

2.  Madame Walker did not invent the straightening comb (which was created for white women by the way).  However, The Walker Company did by the rights to a patent for the straightening comb after Madame Walkers death and sold straightening combs.
3.  Madame Walker was a major philanthropist and sociopolitical benefactor of her time.  She contributed significantly to many causes especially the NAACP anti-lynching campaigns.
Madame CJ Walker ointment
Madame Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower was one of the company’s original products,
 The Guinness Book of Records records Madame CJ Walker for being America’s first, self-made female millionaire, of any color.
Here is a look at Villa Lewaro, the exquisite home of Madame CJ Walker and gathering place for black intelligentsia during the Harlem Renaissance.
 Villa Lewaro view Madame CJ WalkerVilla Lewaro was designated as a historical landmark in 1976 due to its architectural significance.
All photographs are from the New England Historic Society – David Bohl, photographer.
Music room Villa LewaroLook at the elaborately carved medallions set in this room’s coffered ceiling.  Just as stunning today as during Madame Walker’s time.
 Music room Villa Lewaro full view The music salon hosted many distinguished guest including W.E. Dubois, A. Philip Randolph and Zora Neale Hurston.  The original Ester Organ is still functional.
interior by stairs Villa LewaroWish I could see that hand painted coiffered ceiling upclose.  Madame Walker clearly had a designing eye.
 The Walker Company sales group photo This photo from the archives shows sales associates from The Walker Company at Villa Lewaro.  Her company trained more than 23,000 saleswomen to serve communities across America, the Caribbean and Central America.  (Photo Courtesy Madame Walker Family Archives /A’Lelia Bundles)
Stairs at Back of house Villa LewaroThe view from the rear of the mansion.  Look at those amazing, sweeping steps.
 Pool on gorunds Villa LewaroThere’s a swimming pool off the terrace.  Madame Walker planned for every convenience in her home.
 There is a 4,000 square foot carriage house on the grounds also.
Madame Walker believed Villa Lewaro was not merely her home, but a Negro institution that only Negro money had bought.
Unfortunately Madame  CJ Walker only lived in this majestic home for one year before she died in 1919.  She was only 51 years old.  During her brief time on this earth she became one of Americas wealthiest self-made millionaires.
Today, the National Trust is exploring strategies to protect and preserve Villa Lewaro for the future because it is currently privately owned.  Villa Lewaro was designated as a national landmark in 1976.  To contribute to the campaign visit Saving Spaces.
On Her Own Ground - Life and times of Madame CJ WalkerThere is so much more to learn about the life of this amazing woman.
I found On Her Own Ground to be a compelling story wrapped in history.
“I am not merely satisfied in making money for myself, for I am endeavoring to provide employment for hundreds of women of my race. … I want to say to every Negro woman present, don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them”
Madame CJ Walker
Consider reading the book.  You’ll definitely be inspired by her story.
Until next time …
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  • Jamala

    I can’t thank you enough for posting this beautiful story. I’ve been her fan ever since I watched her biography “a dollar and a dream” which was very fascinating. I must get the book. Her determination and strength was compelling and yet even today sets the standards as a role model for women.

    • Elle


      Thank you. So glad you enjoyed it and yes she is an amazing inspiration. Do all you can to share her story and legacy – EVERYONE should know the beauty and determination of Madame CJ Walker.



    • Elle

      Hello A’Lelia Bundles,

      I thank you for your kind words and reaching out. It was a pleasure to support the story about your great-great grandmother’s home and your book, On Her Own Ground. I hope everyone reads it and learns more about the amazing things she accomplished.

      Aslo, I hope the preservation of Villa Lewaro is a success. I want to see it with my own eyes one day.

      Best Wishes,

      Elle Gibson