Way back before Christmas (when I was lost in the holiday non-blogging void), Husband and I took a jaunt down 95 to Fredericksburg.  While he was off doing Husband job things, I decided to visit the Kenmore House, “an icon of Colonial architecture” according to my interior design teacher last semester.

I so did not expect what I saw inside this unassuming Georgian exterior:

gorgeous example of georgian architecture

The 1770s Kenmore House was built by President George Washington’s sister, Betty Washington Lewis, and her husband, Fielding Lewis.  The 1,300 acre plantation stretched over most of Fredericksburg and looked over the Rappahannock River.

Impressive quals?  Sure.  Just wait ’til you see the plasterwork inside!  (and I apologize in advance for the picture-heavy post)

archway in the front entry

The house was an incredible example of Colonial architecture.  And hoo-wee, this was a wealthy house for that time.  The house is bathed in typical wealthy Colonial colors, wall coverings, mouldings, and plaster.

a-ma-zing reproduction wallpaper border

Although from England, Mr. Lewis built and operated an arms factory for the American Revolution.  He lost much of his wealth (and eventually passed) fighting for American independence.

the ceiling plasterwork in the chamber room

Not even 100 years later, the Kenmore House found itself stuck in the middle another war, the “War of Northern Aggression” (haha I had to throw in that Southern term seeing that I’m about to be living in Mississippi…).

beautiful panelling, fireplace and flooring

In December of 1862, the North and the South collided all around Kenmore, with over 18,000 casualties combined.

the front-facing window in the chamber room

Cannonballs were found stuck in both sides of the house – meaning it was struck by both Northern and Southern canons.  (The tour guide joked that this fact helped future fundraisers appeal to the Northerners and Southerners alike, saying that Kenmore was on the North’s side in one breath, and the South’s in another!)

isn't this ceiling STUNNING?!

The entrenched South decidedly won the Battle of Fredericksburg.

amazing original wood flooring

Mr. Lewis died just after the end of the Civil War, and then Betty of breast cancer in 1797.

a plaster swan amidst the chamber room mantle plasterwork

The plantation was sold to the Gordon family after Betty’s death.  They kept it pretty much as is, other than adding the portico off the back and putting on a slate roof.

another angle of the chamber room mantle fireplace

The Gordons name the plantation “Kenmore” after their Scottish ancestral castle, “Kenmuir”.

the entry - the chandelier showed extreme wealth due to the number of candles

A William Key Howard of Baltimore bought Kenmore in 1881, and owned it until 1914.

isn't that stair detailing beautiful?!

In 1922, Kenmore was about to be torn down to make room for city life.

the absolutely stunning dining room

The Kenmore Association was formed to preserve the property.  They fundraised enough to purchase the house and what was left of the plantation grounds.

some mistletoe hanging from the center plaster

The saving of Kenmore wasn’t too much after the National Park Service was established by the Department of the Interior in 1916.  Its purpose was to regulate and preserve historic monuments such as the Kenmore House.

another shot of the ceiling...can you imagine how long this took?!

The Kenmore Association later saved the childhood home of George Washington, Ferry Farm, also in Fredericksburg, along the Rappahannock River.

i loved the wall mouldings

They have no idea who did the incredible plasterwork at Kenmore…they simply refer to him as “the stucco man”.

a close up of the shells in the moulding

The Stucco Man also did the ceiling of the dining room of Mount Vernon, George Washington’s adult home just outside DC.  (I love that families shared their “guys” even back then…makes me laugh seeing that we’re having my cousin’s guy work on our basement this week…he also works for my cousin’s dad, his mother-in-law, my uncle, etc.  Too funny.)

looking from the dining room to the entry

According to the Kenmore site, the dining room used to house “a large oval table, a square table, 15 chairs, china, silver, and glassware.”  I can only imagine how beautiful the room would be in candlelight at Christmas dinner!

how's that for crown moulding?!

The house underwent considerable restoration, most recently in 2001.  It has been restored to its historically accurate prime of 1775-1800.

this blew me away

The scene above the fireplace in the dining room is of Aesop’s Fable of “The Fox and the Crow”, warning diners to beware false flattery!

a closer view of the fable

If you look closely, you can see the fox circling the base of the tree where the crow is tempting him with some cheese.

the mantle below the fox & crow scene

All of the plaster moulding (fireplace mantles included) was either cast or carved in place.  Can you imagine how long this project would have taken?!  The Stucco Man was a true master of the art of plaster.

a view of the back gardens, i imagine considerably smaller nowadays

Out the back of the dining room were meticulously maintained English boxwoods and a brick pathway.

the back portico, added by the gordon family in the late 1800s

beautiful decorative cement work, also added by the gordon family

The drawing room was just off the dining room, was supposedly used to be filled with more expensive and elaborate furnishings…which is not a surprise once you see this ceiling too!

the drawing room, with its *ahem* interesting color choices

The same turquoise-y blue trim from the entry, chamber room, and dining room continued into the drawing room, but these walls were covered in some truly amazing hand flocked (kind of furry to the touch) wallpaper.  It probably wouldn’t have been my first color choice given the paneling, but I’m sure it was EXTREMELY expensive.

a close up of a wallpaper sample

My favorite feature of the room was the ceiling plasterwork, where each of the four corners represented one of the four seasons:

grapes for summer

palm fronds for spring

mistletoe for winter

acorns for fall

a bigger view of the ceiling - it forms a trefoil with the corners one of the seasons

the center of the drawing room

The crown moulding and work above the fireplace were also quite amazing in the drawing room.

another stunning example of wealth above the fireplace

love the shells everywhere - like those we find at the bay house!

And I loved the mantle too.  (I guess I have mantles on the brain with the departure of my little mantle project…)

a close up of the mantle plasterwork

Mr. Lewis’ study/office, a less trafficked area (and therefore less of a need to show off his wealth) had less ornamental work.  I guess it was kind of like the man caves of today.  I can just imagine Betty wanting to plaster it all but Fielding resisting.  I bet it was a similar conversation to those overheard in my house.  🙂

another mantle, this time in the "small room"

I loved the little touches all over the house that made it so substantial, like this lock.

the hardware throughout the house was beautiful too

Going down into the basement of the house, they exposed the wood and plaster lathe to show how the walls were constructed.

exposed wood and plaster lathe

The buildings flanking the house had been rebuilt in brick at some point; originally they were both wood.

the kitchen house, with the herb garden lining the path

inside the kitchen

And to the right is a building that now houses offices (I can’t remember what they said it used to be…).

the offices now

So that’s that!  If you made it through all these pics – high five!  I just couldn’t cut out the pics of the plasterwork, it’s just so stunning!

Thanks for joining me on my little tour of the Kenmore House!

one final view of the kenmore house

More info on the Kenmore House or George Washington’s Ferry Farm can be found here.  For visiting info, here, and to donate, here.