Women saved the Washington family’s Kenmore from destruction 100 years ago | State and Area News
BY WENDY MIGDAL FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR
There have been a number of times over the years when Fredericksburg’s ties to George Washington have thrust him into the national spotlight.
There was the protracted effort to build a monument to Mary, his mother, which finally culminated in its dedication in May 1894, in the presence of President Grover Cleveland.
There was the battle to save Ferry Farm, his childhood home in Stafford County, from becoming a Walmart mall in 1996.
And there was also the effort that began in 1922 to save Kenmore, the home of George’s sister Betty, from being demolished and replaced with modern housing. (Betty Washington Lewis, wife of colonial shipping magnate and Revolutionary War arms manufacturer Fielding Lewis, is buried in Culpeper County on private property. At age 17, her brother, George, began his career in 1749 as an appointed surveyor in the newly formed county. .)
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In July 1922, Fredericksburg found itself at the height of a fundraising campaign to save the old colonial home from destruction. The vice president and his wife, among other dignitaries, came to town for a launch celebration. But this was only the first phase of the campaign, which would take another three years.
The story began in early 1922, when prominent builder EG Heflin, better known as “Peck”, announced plans to build six new homes on the Kenmore property, which he owned. The women of Fredericksburg were appalled and began discussing how to save him.
In March, Dr. Kate Waller Barrett came to Fredericksburg and spoke “in her usual charming, energetic and inimitable style,” according to the Star, urging local women to organize a chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. It was named the Washington-Lewis Chapter, and the members, led by Emily White Fleming, immediately began making a deal with Heflin, who turned out not to be Scrooge (he ended up donating to the country). The purchase price was set at $30,000, with a first installment of $10,000 due September 1.
The women launched an advertising campaign that the George Washington Foundation said relied primarily on personal and handwritten fundraising appeals that were sent around the country. On May 11, two women met First Lady Florence Harding in the Red Room of the White House. Ms Harding was so impressed that the 10-minute meeting was extended to 30 minutes and included a tour of the White House.
Later in May, the Kenmore Association was incorporated by the state to receive funds for the purchase and maintenance of Kenmore. The newspaper began printing letters of support for the effort, which arrived from all over the country. Letters came from Edith Roosevelt, wife of Theodore, and Alva Belmont, president of the National Woman’s Party. Belmont claimed to be related to Fielding Lewis, and in addition to her lifetime dues, she included an offer to speak to the women of Fredericksburg about the unjust laws that still exist in Virginia against women.
The crowdfunding campaign kicked off with a bang on July 6. A crowd of dignitaries, including members of Congress and Vice President Calvin Coolidge and his wife, Grace, arrived on the afternoon train. They were driven to Kenmore for a visit and then managed to visit Gary and Corinne Melchers in Belmont before attending dinner on the lawn at the home of JW Masters, who lived at Charles Dick House on Princess Anne Street .
Then about a thousand people gathered to hear “Silent Cal” and others speak at City Park at 8 p.m., preceded by a short concert by the Fredericksburg Band.
Coolidge’s famous silence must have extended only to social situations, as he had much to say in Fredericksburg that evening. His speech was printed in full the following day and filled four columns. Coolidge spoke of the need to preserve not only the monuments of the past, but also the spirit that moved the people they honor.
“The most fundamental precept of all, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, has yet to be universally applied,” he said. “It’s not our institutions that have failed, it’s our execution that has failed.”
The next day, women from the Kenmore Association spent the entire day canvassing in a fundraising blitz. Some were in charge of hitting all the doctors and lawyers, some the factories, some John Q. Citizen. The newspaper began printing the names of all donors and the amounts donated.
A few more interesting fundraising efforts have taken place, such as ‘Marmion Week’ in King George, when Lewis’s descendants opened the 1756 family home, called Marmion, to curious members of the public. The house was less of its star attraction, however, as six years earlier the black walnut paneling of the seven-sided living room had been removed and remounted in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where it still stands today.
Thanks to these coordinated efforts, the association was able to make an initial payment of $11,000 before the September 1 deadline, which was fortunate because the ladies had promised to return all funds except for dollar subscriptions. if the goal was not achieved.
The ladies didn’t let up for a minute, however. A neighborhood party with outdoor dancing was planned for next weekend. Tango, anyone?
Wendy Migdal is a freelance writer in Fredericksburg.