A Visit to Kenmore Plantation

Written by: Lynn Young, President General
January 8, 2015

On Sunday, December 14, Recording Secretary General  Barbara Carpenter, Curator General  Jennie Rehnberg and I drove to Fredericksburg, Virginia for a marvelous day of tours beginning with the tomb of Mary Ball Washington, the mother of George Washington.   

 Since reading about the organizing meeting of the DAR, I’ve been fascinated by the determination of the women who came before us.  On October 11, 1890 when the members met for the very first time to organize, they conducted three items of business.  First, they wisely elected First Lady Caroline Scott Harrison as President General (and she agreed to serve if she had no responsibilities).  Second, they determined the colors would be blue and white and, third, they resolved to preserve the grave of George Washington’s mother which had been severely damaged during the Battle of Fredericksburg and was at risk of being sold. 

Margaret Hetzel wrote the Washington Post, “How better can the mothers and daughters of this country, in this Centennial year, honor the memory of our Washington, who said: ‘All that I am I owe to my mother,’ than by rescuing that mother’s grave from oblivion and raising the monument to her hallowed memory?  One dollar is herewith enclosed as a beginning for the woman’s fund.”  That dollar inspired the founding of the National Mary Washington Memorial Association with Mrs. Hetzel serving as the first secretary of the association.  As you might expect, the Daughters provided three-quarters of the more than $11,500 expended for the monument.  Trainloads of people came from Washington for the grand dedication, including President Calvin Coolidge.

Across the boulevard from the tomb is the historic Kenmore Plantation.  We were welcomed at the gate by President of The George Washington Foundation Bill Garner, Vice President for Institutional Advancement Andrew Barry and Virginia State Regent Ginnie Storage. Kenmore was built in 1775 by Col. Fielding and Betty Washington Lewis, George Washington’s sister.  Our visit began in the museum where Curator Meghan Budinger and Director of Education Alma Withers, shared their extensive knowledge of the family and the home.  Fielding Lewis was first married to George Washington’s cousin, Catherine Washington, with whom he had three children.  Following her death, he married Betty and they had eleven children.  Col. Lewis had a thriving mercantile business with England, which ended abruptly with the onset of the Revolutionary War.  He built a gun factory in Fredericksburg and died shortly after the war ended.

This beautiful Georgian brick home was damaged during the Revolutionary War and the Battle of Fredericksburg.  Kenmore has undergone extensive renovations to restore it to the period of the Revolutionary War and it was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1970.  It is notable because of the remarkable decorative plaster work, which is more typical of fine homes in England.  The Foundation is now striving to refurnish the home with Lewis family pieces as well as 18th century items appropriate to the home.

The DAR has a long history with Kenmore.  In the early 1920s a developer announced plans to subdivide the property and build six modern homes.  Kate Waller Barrett, Virginia State Regent, traveled to Fredericksburg on March 13, 1922 to organize a chapter, stating:  “No town in this whole country has been so closely associated with Revolutionary days as has yours.  Those patriots, soldiers, and statesmen thought and planned and worked and fought with no singleness of purpose, but for the generations to come, and for the general good of all.”  Vivian Minor Fleming agreed to become Organizing Regent, exclaiming “This is our chance to save Kenmore!”  Mrs. Fleming began a letter writing campaign and chapters across the nation contributed to purchase the property.  Featured prominently in the Museum is a photograph of the dedication of Kenmore which was attended by Anne Rogers Minor, President General. 

The Old Trails Chapter in Minneapolis returned a desk which had belonged to Fielding Lewis in 1928.  It was restored by the Washington-Lewis Chapter and is displayed in the downstairs bedroom.  In the same room the textiles were replaced through a DAR Special Project Grant.  In gratitude for DAR’s support, members receive discounted admissions to Kenmore.

The Virginia DAR continues to generously support three other shrines also:  Stratford Hall, home of the only two brothers to sign the Declaration of Independence, Richard Henry and Francis Lightfoot Lee. It was also the home of "Light Horse" Harry Lee, a courageous Revolutionary officer; Woodlawn Plantation, a wedding gift from George and Martha Washington to Nelly Custis and Lawrence Lewis and the Yorktown Custom House.  

Our final visit for the day was at Ferry Farm, site of George Washington’s boyhood home, across the Rappahannock River from Kenmore.  George Washington’s father, Augustine, acquired the plantation in 1738.  Following his death in 1743, Mary Washington remained on the farm, raising her children.  The property was purchased by the George Washington Foundation in 1966 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 2000.  Extensive archaeological research located the remains of the house where the father of our country was raised.  The Foundation has now undertaken an extensive campaign to make Ferry Farm a destination for students and tourists and this summer ground will be broken to reconstruct the Washington home.  Ginny’s state regent’s project is to underwrite a room on the first floor of the replica 1740 house.

David Muraca, Director of Archaeology, showed us the site of the home and then invited us into the lab to see a few of the over 700,000 objects which have been recovered, including arrowheads dating 8,000-12,000 years ago.  Among our favorite items were the shards of Mary Washington’s punch bowl, depicting cherries.

It was a wonderful day and we left with gratitude for the dedication of the George Washington Foundation, the Virginia DAR and many other supporters who have preserved this important part of America’s colonial history.  My hope is that the National Board of Management will visit these sites in October, 2015 as we celebrate the 125th anniversary of our founding.

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