Ten Well-Known Visitors to Historic Kenmore

Since its transformation into a historic site, Kenmore has drawn its share of prominent and recognizable visitors including a vice president, a congressman, and numerous First Ladies of the United States. Indeed, the ladies of the Kenmore Association, who worked to save, restore, and operate the historic home during the 20th century, made it a point to reach out to First Ladies and, in turn, several of those First Ladies visited the auspicious brick home of Patriot merchant Fielding Lewis and wife Betty Washington Lewis, sister of George Washington.  For that matter, even during the days that Fielding and Betty lived in the home during the late 1700s, important figures in colonial Virginia and of the Patriot cause occasionally came to Kenmore.  Here is a list of “Ten Well-Known Visitors to Historic Kenmore.”

10. Louise du Pont Crowninshield (1877-1958)

Louise du Pont Crowninshield surrounded by other members of the Kenmore Association.

Louise du Pont Crowninshield surrounded by other members of the Kenmore Association.

Louise du Pont Crowninshield was president and chairman of the board of trustees of the Kenmore Association from 1940 to 1954.  An active historic preservationist, she was also a founding trustee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  Mrs. Crowninshield was born into the prominent Du Pont family and grew up at Winterthur, the family estate in Delaware. The home is now a museum and holds some of most important collections of Americana in the United States.  She helped save and restore Kenmore and visited many times during her term as president.

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Sol Bloom in 1923. Credit: Library of Congress / Wikipedia

9. Sol Bloom (1870-1949)
Sol Bloom was an entertainer, music publisher, and congressman from New York.  He was the biggest producer of sheet music in the U.S. before taking up politics.  Bloom was associate director of the United States George Washington Bicentennial Commission and came to Kenmore for a luncheon with Emily White Fleming and the Kenmore Association.  In 1936, Bloom made a $10,000 bet with Walter “Big Train” Johnson, former Washington Senator’s star pitcher, that Johnson could not throw a silver dollar across the Rappahannock River as legend said George Washington had done.  Bloom lost but refused pay the money.

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Elizabeth Monroe, unknown date and artist. Public domain. Credit: John Vanderlyn / Wikipedia

8. Elizabeth Monroe (1768-1830)
Elizabeth Kortright Monroe was First Lady of the United States from 1817 to 1825.  Elizabeth was born in New York City and married James Monroe in 1786.  She spent time in France and Britain during her husband’s ambassadorship and was even invited to be part of the American delegation that attended Napoleon Bonaparte’s coronation.  Mrs. Monroe actually lived at Kenmore shortly after her marriage to James.  Her husband left town on business and, since they had not yet set up a home in Fredericksburg, she stayed with Betty Lewis until James returned.

 

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Edith Wilson. Credit: Library of Congress / Wikipedia

7. Edith Wilson (1872-1961)
Edith Bolling Wilson was the second wife of President Woodrow Wilson and served as First Lady of the United States from 1915 to 1921.  Some historians argue that Mrs. Wilson became the de facto president after her husband’s stroke in 1919. She did, it seems, act as the only conduit to and from the president and decided which matters important enough to bring to her husband’s attention while relaying his decisions to those who needed to know.  Long after her time in the White House, Mrs. Wilson came to Kenmore for a luncheon in October 1946.

6. Elizabeth Virginia “Bess” Truman (1885-1982)

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Bess Truman in front of the fireplace in Kenmore’s dining room with Robert Porterfield, founder of the Barter Theatre, and an unidentified woman.

Elizabeth Virginia “Bess” Truman was First Lady of the United States from 1945 to 1953.  Elizabeth Wallace was born in Independence, Missouri and had known Harry Truman, her future husband, since they were children.  They married in 1919.  Mrs. Truman detested the lack of privacy and disliked the social and political scene of Washington, D.C.  She was relieved to move back to Missouri.  Mrs. Truman visited Kenmore multiple times and was pictured in front of the mantel in the Dining Room with Robert Porterfield, founder of Barter Theatre, the State Theatre of Virginia, in Abingdon.

5. Lou Hoover (1874-1944)

Lou Henry Hoover was First Lady of the United States from 1929 to 1933.  Lou Henry was born in Iowa in 1874 and married Herbert Hoover in 1899.  She majored in Geology at Stanford University, was fluent in Chinese and Latin, assisted in the Belgian relief during WWI, and worked a great deal with the Girl Scouts of America.  Mrs. Hoover, as First Lady, toured Kenmore in September 1930.

4. Colonel Sanders (1890-1980)

Colonel Harland David Sanders founded the restaurant chain Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) in 1930.  Sanders was born in Indiana in 1890 and, after a number of jobs, he started selling fried chicken at a roadside restaurant in Corbin, Kentucky during the Great Depression.  The restaurant, Kentucky Fried Chicken, was a success and, in 1952, he started franchising across the country.  In 1964, Sanders sold the company and used his stock holdings to create several charitable organizations.  He promote these organizations as well as KFC by touring the country dressed as the Colonel.  He came to Kenmore and took a tour in the summer of 1977.

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Calvin Coolidge (left) enjoys gingerbread at Kenmore.

3. Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933)
Calvin Coolidge was born in Vermont in 1872.  After college, he became a lawyer and went into politics becoming the governor of Massachusetts from 1919 to 1921.  He was the 29th vice president under Warren Harding and the 30th President of the United States from 1923 to 1929.  Vice President Coolidge came to Kenmore in July 1922 to launch a fundraising campaign aimed at raising money to purchase the house and make it a historic site. He enjoyed some gingerbread during his visit.

 

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Eleanor Roosevelt in 1932. Credit: Library of Congress / Wikipedia.

2. Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962)
Eleanor Roosevelt was First Lady of New York from 1929 to 1933 and First Lady of the United States from 1933 to 1945.  She was born in New York City to the socially prominent Roosevelt and Livingston families and married Franklin D. Roosevelt in March 1905.  After her time in the White House, she chaired the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in the late 1940s and early 1950s and John F. Kennedy’s Presidential Commission on the Status of Women.  When she was First Lady of New York, Mrs. Roosevelt visited Kenmore on several occasions with various groups who came from the New York state capital of Albany.

1. George Washington (1731-1799)

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Bust of George Washington (c. 1786) by Jean-Antoine Houdon and based on a life mask of Washington. Public domain. Credit: Dallas Museum of Art / Wikipedia.

George Washington was the first President of the United States (1789-1797) and the older brother of Betty Washington Lewis.  Construction of Kenmore was complete late in 1775. George would not stay in the house until 1784.  Including this 1784 visit, Washington stayed at Kenmore at different times during the years 1785, 1787, 1788, and 1791.  The final visits in April and June 1791 were the only times he stayed at Kenmore while serving as president.[1]

Heather Baldus
Collections Manager

[1] Paula Felder, Fielding Lewis and the Washington Family: A Chronicle of 18th Century Fredericksburg. The American History Company, 1998: 216.

Kenmore’s New Beginning: How the Ladies of the Kenmore Association Saved the Lewis Family Home

January and the start of the year are always a time of new beginnings.  Recently, while digging through archival material, I came upon an exciting collection of newspaper clippings and photographs that detailed the New Year’s purchase of Kenmore and the beginning of the old home’s transformation into a historic site to be enjoyed by all.

On January 1, 1925 — ninety years ago — a group of well-dressed women in hats and long fur coats assembled at Kenmore to hand over the final $1,000 payment and gain full possession of the house and land.  This meeting was the culmination of thirty-two months of persistent work and determination by the ladies of The Kenmore Association to save the historic property from destruction.

Emily White Fleming (identified in the newspaper caption by her husband Vivian Minor Fleming’s initials) makes the final payment to purchase Historic Kenmore on January 1, 1925.

This crusade began four years earlier with a brief notice in the Fredericksburg Daily Star from Mr. E. G. Heflin, the owner of the Kenmore property.  The announcement stated: “I have decided to build at once…6 or more modern up-to-date residence [sic] on Kenmore.”  Built on a section of the plantation property, these houses prompted concern among many local citizens at the thought of further loss to the historic site.

By 1922, the destruction of the old Lewis home seemed imminent.  Mr. Heflin placed an advertisement for the sale of the house itself and cut up much of the original estate into smaller building lots to be sold to developers.  If the house was sold, it might be remodel into apartments or just razed to the ground.  This escalation increased the alarm even more and some tried to raise funds to purchase Kenmore.  This attempt proved unsuccessful and the house did look to be lost.  However, salvation appeared in the form of Kate Waller Barrett and the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).

In March of that year, Mrs. Barrett, Virginia Regent of the DAR, came to Fredericksburg with the purpose of organizing a new chapter in the town.  She asked Emily White Fleming to lead the proposed chapter, which would work to save Kenmore.  Mrs. Fleming was 68 years old and, though seemingly small and fragile, she, in reality, had a tenacious and determined spirit.  She accepted the position and with the help of her daughter Annie Fleming Smith, known as “Miss Annie,” began their campaign to save the old Lewis house from destruction.

The ladies approached Mr. Heflin and negotiated an agreement to the purchase the property.  The group had to make a first payment of $10,000 within four months or the deal would be off.  Furthermore, if Mr. Heflin got a satisfactory offer within those four months, he could go ahead and sell the property outright. It was a tough deal but the ladies rose to the challenge spectacularly.

Mrs. Fleming and Miss Annie began fundraising immediately.  They wrote hundreds of letters by hand, stating facts about Kenmore in simple, forceful style and then making appeals for help. Mrs. Fleming recalled, “I could write thirty-nine letters a day and Annie forty-nine. We never had a typewriter until the campaign was over.” In response to one of Mrs. Fleming’s letters, Colonel Isaac Newton Lewis, maker of the Lewis machine gun and a descendant of Fielding Lewis, contributed the first $1,000. Not to be outdone, The Colonial Dames of America in the State of Virginia gave a substantial donation of a $1,000 as well.

Donation from Colonel Isaac Newton Lewis donated the first $1,000 to the Kenmore Association.

In July 1922, the Kenmore Association launched a public fundraising drive with a host of distinguished men and women coming to Fredericksburg for the start of the campaign. Even Calvin Coolidge, then the vice president under Warren G. Harding, made a speech (see below) pleading for patriotic Americans to save this home that was so critical in the history of the country.  “It ought to be preserved for its own sake,” Coolidge demanded, “It must be preserved for the sake of patriotic America.”

Speech made by Vice President Calvin Coolidge in support of the Kenmore Association’s effort to save the historic home.

Through the efforts of this determined group of women, by the first of September 1922, they were able to pay an initial installment of $12,000 on the account.  Impressed with the Kenmore Association’s work, Mr. Heflin made his own gift of $2,000.   By New Year’s Day 1925, the hard work paid off and the ladies made the final payment and took possession of the property.  Historic Kenmore was saved!

Although the purchase of Kenmore nine decades ago certainly marked a new beginning, transforming the house into a historic site for the public to enjoy required many more years of work.  Indeed, in many ways, the work begun by Mrs. Fleming, Miss Annie, and the Kenmore Association continues even as 2015 begins.  In the new year at Kenmore, we will focus on refurnishing Fielding’s office and will soon hang portraits of Fielding Lewis, Betty Washington Lewis, and other family members in the Drawing Room.  You can follow the year’s work here on the “Lives & Legacies” blog and on “The Rooms at Kenmore” blog, which is solely dedicated to the refurnishing project, at www.kenmore.org/wordpress.  Like 1925, the year 2015 should prove to be an exciting beginning!

Heather Baldus
Collections Manager