Villa Lewaro was the stately home of Madam C.J. Walker, creator of a popular line of African-American hair care products and the woman reputed to be America's first black female millionaire. Nearly an exact replica of early Italian Renaissance style palaces, this three-story home is also significant as a design of Vertner Tandy, New York's first licensed black architect. Born Sarah Breedlove, Walker was an orphan at age six. She worked as a washerwoman throughout her youth and moved to St. Louis from Mississippi when she was 20 years old. Through years of experimentation, she created a chemical formula useful to African-American women for hair care and styling. Beginning her business with door to door sales, Walker soon began training her own salespeople, known as "Walker Agents" and concentrated on keeping up with growing manufacturing demands. In 1910, she established a factory in Indianapolis. By 1915, the "Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company" employed over 3,000 people and was the largest black-owned business in the United States. Walker built Villa Lewaro as an example for Black Americans "to see what could be accomplished, no matter what their background." Madam Walker often invited intellectuals of all races to meet and debate at Villa Lewaro. Walker also engaged in several philanthropies, donating large sums to both Booker T. Washington's Tuskegee Institute and the Palmer Memorial Institute. Upon Walker's death in 1919, Villa Lewaro passed to her daughter, who honored her mother's request and bequeathed the mansion to the NAACP. Unable to accept the gift due to the cost of upkeep, Villa Lewaro passed through. The property is currently undergoing restoration and was featured in the May/June 1998 issue of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Preservation magazine. Today, the mansion stands today as a reminder of Walker's considerable accomplishments.
Villa Lewaro, a National Historic Landmark, is located on North
Broadway in Irvington-on-Hudson, NY. The property is not open to the
public. You can learn more about Madam C.J. Walker in our Teaching With
Historic Places lesson plan, Two
American Entrepreneurs: Madam C.J. Walker and J.C. Penney.