Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Visit to Historic Kenmore: Fredericksburg, VA

Fredericksburg is a special place. If you enjoy history then there is not a much better place on earth. History surrounds you in Fredericksburg. You are never far from a historic building, or a site where something important happened. There is Hugh Mercer's Apothecary Shop (beware the leeches are alive), The Rising Sun Tavern, George Washington's Ferry Farm, The Mary Washington House (George's mom), The Fredericksburg National Battlefield...and the historically tasty Carl's Ice Cream!

One site that I had not visited until yesterday is Historic Kenmore Plantation. I had heard about it, but I had never seen it in person or even knew who lived or what happened there. It was a real pleasure to actually find out.

Kenmore (named so by a later owner from Scotland) was the home of George Washington's sister, Betty and her husband Colonel Fielding Lewis. The home, built in 1775, is truly a historical treasure. Fielding Lewis was a "second son" whose father set him up as a shipping merchant in colonial Fredericksburg. Lewis did very well and prospered in the growing community. We were informed that only the richest two percent of the population would have had a home such as Kenmore. The estate was purchase in 1752 by Lewis and had around 1,300 acres that grew corn, wheat, and some tobacco. Our guide informed us that Lewis used both indentured servants from Ireland and over 120 African slaves as laborers on the plantation.

Lewis supported the Revolutionary cause as a militia leader and by building an arms factory. These activities and the war ruined Lewis financially, and he died shortly after Cornwallis's surrender to Washington in 1781. Betty died in 1797 and their son John, who did not posses his father's head for business, sold the home and land to the Gordon family who named it Kenmore. The house survived the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862, but did receive some damage. There is a cannon ball in each of the walls of both the front and rear sides of the house, put there by later owners to help raise money from curious tourists. The house has been restored inside by painstaking paint and wallpaper analysis. The most fascinating decorations of the house to me was the plaster work on the walls and ceiling. The skill, time, and cost it must have taken to accomplish this art is simply amazing.

The house is the only original structure on the grounds. A kitchen has been reproduced to give visitors a better idea of what cooking was like in the 18th century. The visitor's center/museum has a wealth of information on the Lewis/Washington family connections as well as numerous examples of furnishings from colonial Fredericksburg. The gardens on the grounds are beautiful as well.

As I mentioned, Fredericksburg is a special place; Kenmore and its history makes it even more so. There is so much to see and do in this old colonial town. After visiting numerous times in the past there are still things that remain to be see. I hope my future travels take me back there soon and often.

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