Lee-Fendall House

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Lee-Fendall House
Lee Fendall House from the street.JPG
The Lee-Fendall House, seen in September 2009
Lee-Fendall House is located in Alexandria, Virginia
Lee-Fendall House
Location 614 Oronoco St., Alexandria, Virginia
Coordinates 38°48′33″N 77°2′46″W / 38.80917°N 77.04611°W / 38.80917; -77.04611Coordinates: 38°48′33″N 77°2′46″W / 38.80917°N 77.04611°W / 38.80917; -77.04611
Area 0.5 acres (0.20 ha)
Built 1785
Architectural style Greek Revival
NRHP Reference # 79003277[1]
VLR # 100-0024
Significant dates
Added to NRHP June 22, 1979
Designated VLR April 17, 1979[2]
Fendall Family Coat of Arms

The Lee-Fendall House is a historic house museum and garden located in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. Since its construction in 1785 the house has served as home to thirty-seven members of the Lee family (1785–1903), hundreds of convalescing Union soldiers (1863–1865), the prominent Downham family (1903–1937), and powerful labor leader John L. Lewis (1937–1969).

The 1785 house, standing on its original half-acre lot, is in the vernacular "telescopic style" of architecture similar to many Maryland homes, but not found elsewhere in northern Virginia. The house was renovated in 1850, adding Greek Revival and Italianate elements to the original structure.

The historic home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for state significance and the Virginia Landmarks Register, and is a documented contributing feature to the National Historic Landmark District of Alexandria, Virginia. The property is now owned and operated by the Virginia Trust for Historic Preservation and run as a museum to preserve the architectural and historic value of the house and gardens and to spread knowledge and appreciation for Virginian and American history.[3]

The Lee-Fendall House Museum and Garden is open for tours on the hour Wed.-Sat. 10-3, and Sun. 1-3. The House Museum and Garden is also available for private rentals.


In November 1784, Major General Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee (1756–1818) purchased 3 one-half acre lots in Alexandria from Baldwin Dade (1716–1783), a merchant. On December 4, 1784, he sold one of these tracts to Philip Richard Fendall I, Esq. (1734–1805), for three hundred pounds, and Philip began building the Lee-Fendall House, for his second wife, Elizabeth (Steptoe) Lee (1743–1789), in the spring or early summer of 1785. The lot was located on the southeast corner of Washington and Oronoco Street, then the edge of the city. At the time, very few structures were near, and the Fendalls enjoyed a spectacular view of Oronoco Bay and the ships which docked there. To the north and west lay verdant fields of grass and clover. Alexandria was an up-and-coming thriving social and political center in Northern Virginia. The architect is unknown, but the style is similar to that found at "Hard Bargain", an estate built by the Digges family, and located in Charles County, Maryland, from which Fendall hailed. It consisted of a "telescopic" design, which was synonymous with Maryland, and had three sections. A plat on a 1796 insurance policy shows eight buildings on the quarter block, valued at a total of $11,500, including a "Rabbit House" and a "Pigeon House". The main dwelling house was valued at $5,000.

The house was completed by November 1785, when George Washington wrote in his diary dated November 10, 1785: "Went up to Alexandria to meet the Directors of the Potomack Company and dined at Mr. Fendall's (who was from home) and returned in the evening with Mrs. Washington." The Fendalls are mentioned in Washington's 1785-1786 diaries more than anyone outside his own family, and Washington dined here at least seven times in those years. Elizabeth was a favorite of George and Martha Washington, a frequent visitor to Mount Vernon, and frequent hostess to the Washingtons. Philip was one of the few men who were close friends with Washington and participated in his social coterie.[4]

Home of the Lees[edit]

View of Alexandria, Virginia in 1845, an 1853 lithograph by E. Sasche & Company, Baltimore, MD.

After the Revolution, Alexandria, already known as "Washington's Home Town", became known also as the "Home Town of the Lees". At "Lee Corner", the intersection of Washington and Oronoco Streets, stands the "Keystone", the Fendall-Lee House, as it was known. North across Oronoco are twin houses: 609, where Cornelia (Lee) Hopkins (1780–1818), daughter of William Lee (1739–1795), lived after her marriage to John Hopkins (1795–1873) until her death in 1816, and 607, the last home of Light Horse Harry Lee, and known to the public as "Robert E. Lee's Boyhood Home". Just across Washington Street is the house built by Edmund Jennings Lee I (1772–1843), younger brother of Harry Lee. Directly south of the Fendall-Lee House, on the corner of Washington and Princess, is the house built by Hon. Charles Lee (1758–1815), Attorney General, another of Harry's brothers. Charles and Edmund married Lee sisters, Anne and Sally, daughters of Richard Henry Lee (1732–1794). The Lee-Fendall House is the only Lee family house on Historic Lee Corner that is presently a museum.

Light Horse Harry Lee spent a great deal of time with his relatives at the Fendall home. Philip R. Fendall was Harry's cousin and Mrs. Fendall (Philip's second wife), Elizabeth (Steptoe) Lee (1743–1789), was Harry's mother-in-law. Matilda Lee was devoted to her mother, and many of Harry's letters are datelined "Alexandria", indicating he was at 614 Oronoco. Also Washington's diary includes several entries about going to Alexandria and dining at Mr. Fendall's to meet Colonel Lee. Both Mrs. Fendall and Matilda were in failing health in 1788, and the Lees spent the winter of 1788-1789 with the Fendalls. Harry Lee was still at the house in April 1789, when George Washington left Virginia to become President of the United States. Col. Dennis Ramsay, Mayor of Alexandria, asked Lee to write the farewell address for the first President, which the Mayor delivered at the farewell dinner (201 North Fairfax Street) given for Washington by his fellow citizens. A decade later, Harry Lee was serving in Congress when Washington died. The Senate asked Lee to write the eulogy for the first President. It was in that speech that he penned the famous description of George Washington as "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen."

Elizabeth Fendall lived in the Lee-Fendall House from 1785 until her death in June, 1789, probably from cancer. She died unexpectedly in May 1789, while on a trip that was to include a visit to her daughter, Matilda at "Stratford". Her brother Harry Lee wrote to James Madison, Jr.: "You have heard of the loss we have met with in the death of Mrs. Fendall - better for her to be sure had this event taken place sooner & altho' we are convinced of this truth yet our affliction is immoderate. Poor Mrs. Lee is particularly injured by it, as the affliction of mind adds to the infirmity of her body." Her daughter, Matilda, was prostrated by the loss of her mother, and the Lees remained in Alexandria many weeks after the funeral.

In 1791, Fendall married for a third time to Harry's sister, Mary "Mollie" Lee (1764–1827). He was now related to Light Horse Harry Lee in three ways: as his cousin, step-father-in-law, and brother-in-law. Fendall died in 1805, but Mary Lee Fendall continued to live in the house with her two children, Philip Richard Fendall II (1794–1868), and Lucy Eleanor Fendall (ca. 1795-1872), until her death in 1827.

In 1811 with the assistance of his sister Mary (Lee) Fendall "Mollie" (1764–1827), General Henry Lee was able to rent the stately house at 607 Oronoco, which was owned by William Henry Fitzhugh (1792–1830) (another Lee!). It is certain that Gen. Robert Edward Lee (1807–1870), the son of Henry, was a frequent visitor of his Aunt Fendall's household across the street. The family resided at 607 until Robert left for West Point in 1825. The tragedy of Harry Lee's injuries by a Baltimore mob as he tried to defend a friend who had opposed the War of 1812, and his desperate search for health in Barbados, were too much, and Henry died in 1818.

Lee Family Coat of Arms

Edmund Jennings Lee[edit]

After Mary Lee Fendall's death in 1827, Edmund Jennings Lee I (1772–1843) bought the house, and leased it for many years. In 1836, he moved from his home on 428 Washington, across the street, and into the Lee-Fendall House. Edmund was a brother of Light Horse Harry Lee. His wife Sally Lee (1775–1837) was the youngest daughter of Richard Henry Lee (1732–1794), a senator and signer of the Declaration of Independence. Sally died here in 1837, and Edmund continued to live here until his death in 1843.

In 1843, two of Edmund J. Lee’s daughters, Hannah (Lee) Stewart (1806–1872) and Sally Lee (1801–1879), inherited the House and leased it to Lucy Lyons Turner. Commonly known as "Aunt Turner", she was the granddaughter of Virginia Supreme Court Justice Peter Lyons and confidante of the Cassius Francis Lee, Sr. (1808–1890) family.

The Cazenove Renovation[edit]

In 1850, Louis Anthony Cazenove (1807–1852), a successful Alexandria merchant, bought the Lee family home for his new bride, Harriotte Stuart, daughter of Cornelia Lee Turberville Stuart and great-granddaughter of Richard Henry Lee, signer of the Declaration of Independence. The young couple were joined at the house by Louis' daughters from his first marriage, Frances (1838–1884) and Charlotte Louise (1840–1914), and his father Anthony Charles Cazenove (1775–1852), a French Huguenot immigrant from Geneva. The Cazenoves renovated the home to include the latest styles and technologies. They added Greek Revival and Italianate embellishments to the original 1785 structure as well as the front and back porches and installed the first heating, plumbing, and servant bell systems in the house.

View of Lee-Fendall House from garden

Civil War experience[edit]

When both Louis and A.C. Cazenove died in 1852, Harriotte was left with Louis' two daughters, her infant son, and the house to take care of. In 1856, Harriotte moved her small family to her new country home three miles up the road at Seminary Hill. Named "Stuartland" after her family, the new two-story house had eight rooms, plus a kitchen, and was in a similar telescoping style to the Lee-Fendall House she left. When the Civil War brought invading forces to Harriott's door, she fled with her son to her mother's home in Chantilly, Virginia. Union forces occupied Seminary Hill and probably turned Stuartland into a headquarters. General George McClellan may have lived in the home prior to the Peninsula Campaign in early 1862.[5]

Harriotte leased the Lee-Fendall House from the time she left Alexandria into the beginning of the Civil War. From 1861-1863, she rented the house to a New York railroad contractor and his family. In 1863, Edwin Bentley, Chief Surgeon of the Military Hospitals in occupied Alexandria, requested "the rebel house opposite Grosvenor hospital" for use as a medical building. He was "granted the authority to take possession of the withnamed house for a general hospital." The Union Army seized the house for unpaid taxes, but offered to return ownership and pay rent if Harriott would swear the Loyalty Oath to the Federal Government. Harriotte refused to swear her loyalty and the house was turned into and annex of the Grosvenor Hospital. Chief Surgeon Bentley likely moved his quarters to the house and it was here that he performed the first successful blood transfusion. Hundred of soldiers recuperated from wounds, surgeries, and illnesses at the house. Those who did not survive were placed in a dead house, or morgue, built at the back of the property.[4]

View of Alexandria, Virginia in 1863

Fleming Home[edit]

Harriotte eventually recovered the house after the war and in 1870, it was bought from the estate of Edmund Jennings Lee I (1772–1843) by Dr. Robert Fleming (d. 1871), who had married Mary Elizabeth Lee (1827–1903), eldest child of Col. Richard Bland Lee II (1797–1875). Dr. Fleming died in 1871, and according to Mrs. James Lee Sheridan, Mrs. Fleming moved to Washington, D.C, and permitted her three sisters, Myra Gaines (Lee) Civalier (1841–1908), Evelina Prosser (Lee) Morgan (1832–1867), Julia Eustis (Lee) Prosser, and one brother, Robert Fleming Lee (1849) to reside at the house. Myra became a prominent actress and outstanding celebrity on the Alexandria social scene in the 1890s and also performed throughout the United States. She married Charles Napoleon Civalier (1836), of Bordeaux, France.

Front entry way of Lee Fendall House, Alexandria, Virginia

Julia Anna Marion Lee (Holmes), wife of James Lee Sheridan, was born at 614 Oronoco Street in 1890, because her mother, also Julia Anna Marion Lee (wife of William Pinckney Holmes of Baltimore), daughter of Myra Gaines (Lee) Civalier (1841–1908), wanted her child to be born in Virginia. Mrs. Sheridan says she visited here frequently, until the death of her grandmother in 1903.

After the Lees[edit]

Upon the death of Mrs. Fleming in 1903, the house was to be sold to settle her estate. However, Myra loved the house so much that she threatened to burn it down with herself in it if it were sold out of the Lee family. As a result of her worrying, she was put into a hospital. In the meantime, Myra’s mother went to Myra’s best friend, Mai Greenwell, and asked her to buy the house. At the time she had a house that she was content with, and had no plans to purchase the Lee-Fendall House. However, a suitor was at the meeting, and upon hearing this, told Mai if she would marry him, he would buy the house. The suitor was Robert Forsyth Downham, who bought the house for $5,500, thus ending the Lee family’s control of the structure. The couple lived here until 1937. Between 1785 and 1903, the house had been lived in by 37 members of the Lee family.[4]

Lee Fendall House, Alexandria, Virginia

Robert Downham, an Alexandria haberdasher and liquor dealer, presided here for the next 31 years. The Downhams sold the house to John L. Lewis, president of the United Mine Workers. During the next 32 years, the house was the home of Lewis, his daughter Katherine and his wife Myrta. Lewis started life as a coal miner in Iowa and quickly worked his way up the union ranks to be president of the United Mine Workers of America for over four decades. He moved the headquarters of the UMWA to Washington, DC to be closer to the people in power. As president of the UMWA, he increased wages by ten times, started the first safety regulations in the mines, and started health care facilities where there weren't any before. He was also one of the founders of the AFL-CIO. To do all this, he defied two presidents, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, and pulled the miners out on strike in the middle of World War II, causing a major energy shortage. During the strike, Lewis was strung up in effigy at the corner of Washington and Oronoco, outside his home, as a traitor for hurting the war effort so much. After Lewis died in 1969, the Lee-Fendall House was leased until 1974, when it was purchased by the Virginia Trust for Historic Preservation. From that time to the present, it has become a well-known Virginia landmark and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. The Lee-Fendall House serves not only as an educational historic house museum but also as the setting for weddings and gala social affairs.[4]

External links[edit]

  1. ^ National Park Service (2009-03-13). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  2. ^ "Virginia Landmarks Register". Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Retrieved 2013-05-12. 
  3. ^ "Lee-Fendall House". 
  4. ^ a b c d Miller, T. Michael (1986). Visitors from the Past. Alexandria, Virginia: Virginia Trust for Historic Preservation. 
  5. ^ "Seminary Hill History-- Alexandria, Virginia".