1925 Dedication Day: A (Block) Party from the Past

Spring is a busy time of year for historic house museums, as we see an influx of school groups, vacationers, and families taking advantage of the beautiful weather. This spring is an especially exciting year at Historic Kenmore since we are preparing to celebrate our centennial anniversary! As discussed in our previous blog post, it is thanks to the efforts of Emily White Fleming, her daughter Annie Fleming Smith, and the Washington Lewis DAR chapter, that Kenmore was saved from development in 1922. In honor of the centennial, we have installed a new exhibit in the Crowninshield Building Visitor Center that explores Kenmore’s preservation history. One image currently on display is a photograph from May 9, 1925, Kenmore’s dedication day.

Dedication Day 1925

On May 9, 1925, a dedication was held to celebrate Kenmore opening to the public. People flocked to Washington Avenue for the day’s festivities. According to the Richmond News Leader, “automobiles from all parts of the state and from other states” brought people to Fredericksburg, and “every train was crowded.”[i] Articles advertising the event can be found in local papers ranging from The Evening Star (Washington, D.C.) to the Gloucester Gazette and Northern Neck News, as well as in larger publications like The New York Times. In large block print, the Times declares: “BETTY WASHINGTON’S HOME HAS BEEN SAVED; Women of Fredericksburg, Va., Will Dedicate Kenmore on May 9.”[ii] Dedication day activities included a large parade, costume contest, and brass tunes played by the United States Marine Band. Fredericksburg school children danced the minuet; students from the Virginia State Teachers College hosted a maypole dance, and the mayor and governor gave remarks. The widespread publicity that Kenmore’s reopening received was a reflection of Americans’ growing interest in the historic preservation movement of the day. Notably, many of these early twentieth-century preservation efforts were led almost entirely by women.

As part of our centennial celebrations (and reminiscent of Kenmore’s original dedication day), we will host a Centennial Block Party at Kenmore on Saturday, April 9th, from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm. This community event will feature tours of the house, games, crafts, stories in the garden, and more! Many of the activity tables will highlight different elements of the house that, thanks to twentieth-century preservation efforts, we are still able to appreciate today.

Stucco Ceilings:

Stucco Ceiling at Kenmore

Referred to in Lewis family letters simply as “The Stucco Man,” not much is known about the craftsperson who created Kenmore’s beautiful stucco ceilings. “The Stucco Man” is responsible for the three elaborate plasterwork ceilings and two over-mantel inlays at Kenmore. In 1882, Kenmore resident William Key Howard, Jr. lay on his back atop scaffolding to clean and repair extensive damage to the original plasterwork ceilings. At our plaster activity table, visitors can try their hand at making their own “plaster” impressions or, like Howard, tracing the intricate ceiling patterns. (Scaffolding not included!)

Flocked Wallpaper

Flocked wallpaper in Drawing Room at Kenmore

Vibrant green flocked wallpaper covers the walls of Kenmore’s drawing room. “Flocked” wallpaper was supposed to imitate the look of expensive damask or velvet hangings. The raised velvet-like texture was created by adhering small powdered textile particles called “flock” to the wallpaper.[iii]  At our wallpaper activity table, visitors can design their own wallpaper swatch using stamps and stencils to mimic eighteenth-century block printing techniques.

In addition to these and other activities, throughout the event, visitors can engage with historic interpreters, curators, and archaeologists to learn more about preservation history, the Lewis and Washington families, and the enslaved men and women who lived and worked at Kenmore.

Kenmore has a long history with many different stories to tell, and it is thanks to the twentieth-century preservation movement that we still have the physical spaces in which to bring these stories to life. Peopling these spaces is important, and our goal is to continue to preserve, uncover, and interpret the histories of all those who have passed through Kenmore. While the historic preservation field has grown and evolved since Kenmore’s dedication day in 1925, we hope that our community block party will spark a similar interest in preservation efforts and will encourage visitors to reflect on why historic preservation still matters today. What places in your own community have special meaning to you? What stories would you choose to preserve and protect for future generations?

Ann Waters

Manager of Interpretation and Visitor Services

[i] ”Kenmore” is presented to U.S. as shrine. (1925, May 9). The Richmond News Leader, Number 8690 Page 1.

[ii] Betty Washington’s home has been saved: Women of Fredericksburg, Va., Will Dedicate Kenmore on May 9. (1925, May 3). The New York Times, Section XX, Page 6. https://www.nytimes.com/1925/05/03/archives/betty-washingtons-home-has-been-saved-women-of-fredericksburg-va.html

[iii] Victoria and Albert Museum. (n.d.). Flock Wallpaper. https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/flock-wallpaper