Today we spent the day at Kenmore, the former home Betty Washington-Lewis and her family. Betty was George Washington’s younger sister, who married Fielding Lewis in 1750 at the age of 16. The two moved to Fredericksburg where Fielding grew as a successful businessman. In 1775 they built a new home in town, which is now known as Kenmore. It is a beautiful two story mansion with an attic and a basement, along with two outbuildings on either side. The grounds are gorgeous, and the museum where the tours begin is strategically tucked away in an underground room beneath the landscape.
Our tour, unlike most, began in the kitchen (one of the outbuildings), where Dr. Philip Levy told us a bit about the home and the incredible restoration process that has taken place there over the years. Extreme measures have been taken to preserve and reconstruct every minute detail of the house so that everything from the wallpaper to the lead paint (which is authentic and hand-made) is an exact representation of what it would have looked like in the late 18th century. We then ventured into the HVAC vault, a room about two stories underground which holds the impressive climate control system that feeds into Kenmore. This system came all the way from Europe and was the first of its kind ever installed in the United States. It draws heat and cold from the ground and sends it into the house through the fireplaces, which controls the temperature and humidity inside the house without disturbing the structure of it.
The house itself has a relatively plain exterior, but the interior is absolutely stunning. The front doors open into the foyer, from which the main bedroom, dining room, and the hall that leads to the drawing room and “small room” all branch off from. Each of the rooms are perfectly restored and still exhibit a great deal of the original architecture. The most impressive of this original work is, in my opinion, the spectacular plaster ceilings. They are incredibly beautiful and ornate designs that were sculpted from plaster on the ceilings of the bedroom, the dining room, and the drawing room. There are also some impressive carvings above the fireplaces in those rooms.
We learned that the reason those rooms were so elaborately decorated was because of their significance to the social lives of the Lewis family. For example, the bedroom was also a room that Betty would have used for entertaining guests, so they would have wanted it to be impressive. The dining and drawing rooms were heavily decorated for the same reason, as demonstrating ones social class was of tremendous importance in the 18th century.
Unfortunately we were unable to see the second floor, attic, or basement, but I was very pleased with what we saw and everything I learned from it. I feel that it is important to know as much as I can about the Washington family, as I am working on their home at Ferry Farm. Kenmore is also supported by the same foundation as Ferry Farm, so it is good for everyone this field school to get to see the contrast between the two sites. They are drastically different, but seeing how wonderful Kenmore looks made me very excited to see what Ferry Farm will look like after the reconstruction process takes place there. I’m so happy to be working here, and to be a part of such an amazing project!
(The exterior of the Kenmore house.)
(One of the beautiful plaster ceilings.)
If you’d like to learn more about Kenmore, please visit their website at www.kenmore.org/kp_home.html!