Restoring Kenmore’s Gardens

Kenmore's Gardens 1

While the various restorations of Kenmore itself over the years are usually the star attraction for visitors to the site, there was another restoration, equally as important, that occurred on the property in its early years as a museum.  Kenmore’s gardens are well-known for their beauty now, but when the Kenmore Association acquired the property in the 1920s, the grounds were in a sad state.  It would take generations of work and ingenuity from a variety of people and groups to return the gardens to their former glory.

Perhaps the most important moment in the history of Kenmore’s gardens was when the Garden Club of Virginia decided to tackle them as their first-ever restoration project in 1929.  The Garden Club established Virginia Garden Week specifically to raise funds for the project.  Their success in both completing the first restoration of Kenmore’s gardens, and in creating a significant annual event across the Commonwealth of Virginia lead to more than 50 historic garden restorations since, and the celebration of its 83rd Historic Garden Week next week.

In 1940, the next phase of Kenmore’s garden restoration began when the Garden Club agreed to fund the implementation of designs by the renowned Southern landscape architect Charles Gillette.  His plans included the “secret garden” area in the northeast corner of the grounds, the brick wall that currently surrounds the property, and Kenmore’s iconic brick gate on Winchester Street. Gillette would continue his work at Kenmore into the 1950s.

Garden Letter 1

Page 1 of a letter from Hetty Harrison to Annie Fleming Smith dated June 26, 1940 informing the Kenmore Association that the Garden Club of Virginia had selected Kenmore as its restoration project and that renowned Southern landscape architect Charles Gillette would provide the design.

Garden Letter 2

Page 2 of the Harrison-Smith letter

Tree Planting

Ceremonial tree-planting on the Kenmore grounds, 1938.

Most recently, the Garden Club of Virginia undertook another restoration of the gardens in 1992.  The Club remains a vital supporter of Kenmore’s landscape efforts to this day.

During Historic Garden Week, enjoy Kenmore’s gardens and experience the house in a new way! On Tuesday, April 26, try a specialty tour highlighting one of three topics—the restoration of Kenmore at 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., American Revolution at Noon and 3:00 p.m., and ceramics at 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.  For more information and to view the specialty tours monthly schedule, click here.

Meghan Budinger
Aldrich Director of Curatorial Operations

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Kenmore’s Famed Gingerbread

Historic Kenmore was associated with gingerbread for decades.  Many people’s first memories of Kenmore involve the square of gingerbread and a cup of tea that used to be served at the end of every tour.    The dessert welcomed visitors to the world of colonial Fredericksburg, it comforted soldiers on their way to war in Europe or the Pacific, and, most important of all, it helped save the historic house itself.

The ladies of the Kenmore Association, which owned and operated the historic home in the 20th century, took on a great challenge when they accepted stewardship of Kenmore.  Raising the money to purchase the house was not the only obstacle they faced.  They also needed funds to restore and staff the house. Unfortunately, the ladies drive to save Kenmore coincided with the Great Depression and the Second World War.  Led by Annie Fleming Smith or “Miss Annie,” the ladies triumphed, kept Kenmore running, and even used the grounds to assist Fredericksburg in the war effort.  They did all this with their indomitable drive and patriotism and with a little help from gingerbread.

The beneficial partnership between gingerbread and Kenmore began in the early 1930s when the Dromedary Cake Mix Company launched a nationwide search for gingerbread recipes new and old.  In the search, Mary Washington’s personal recipe was found in a cookbook owned by the Washington-Lewis Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. It was tried and well-liked.  The firm approached the chapter about producing the recipe as one of their mixes.  Because the Washington-Lewis Chapter worked closely with the Kenmore Association in saving, restoring, and caring for Kenmore, Miss Annie and the ladies, being astute business women, brokered a deal with the company to benefit the historic home.

Dromedary Ad

An 1940s-era advertisement for Dromedary gingerbread mix “made from the 200-year-old Recipe of George Washington’s Mother.”

The arrangement allowed Dromedary to produce gingerbread mixes based on Mary Washington’s recipe.  In exchange, the Kenmore Association got all the gingerbread they could serve to visitors.  The company also donated mixes to be sold by the Association and various DAR chapters for 25 cents a box.  The Association got half of the money realized from these sales minus the shipping costs.  This agreement, in the end, earned the Kenmore Association over $38,000 – a hefty sum in the mid-20th century – and provided countless visitors with a yummy Washington family treat.

In 1941, the United States entered World War II.  Fredericksburg became a hub of activity with thousands of soldiers stationed at the A.P. Hill Military Reservation in Bowling Green visiting town to get a break from military life.

The Association’s ladies knew that Kenmore, with its historical and patriotic legacy, had a unique opportunity to welcome soldiers who would be fighting for the country and ideals that the Lewis and Washington families helped create. So, they threw open the gates, set out the picnic tables, and recruited local women to put on their colonial best and greet the men of the United States military. At the heart of this hospitality was iced tea and Mary Washington’s gingerbread.

Gingerbread (1)

Servicemen enjoy gingerbread and tea on the grounds at Kenmore.

During the war years, Kenmore hosted over 60,000 soldiers making sure each one was fed and knew his service was greatly cherished.  The ladies of the Washington-Lewis DAR even took time to write each serviceman’s mother, wife, or sweetheart about their loved ones.

Gingerbread (2)

C.R. Murphy, Sr. of Coolidge, Georgia wrote The Free Lance Star to express his gratitude for Annie Fleming Smith’s (identified in the letter as Mrs. H.H. Smith)  hospitality towards him and his son during a visit to Fredericksburg from a nearby military post where the son was stationed.

The humble gingerbread recipe from Mary Washington’s cookbook gave Kenmore a perfect tangible link to its colonial past and bright future.  The gingerbread that resulted assisted the ladies in their community outreach, their historic preservation, and their national patriotic duty.   It was a sign of nostalgia, of hospitality, and most of all appreciation.

Today, when you tour Kenmore, our guides will happily take you through the reconstructed colonial kitchen that functioned as the Kenmore Association’s tea room.  Regrettably, gingerbread and tea are no longer served to visitors because we do not have a fully-functioning kitchen.  Gingerbread mixes and teas specifically created for The George Washington Foundation are available for purchase by anyone who might wish to relive their first taste of Kenmore’s famed gingerbread.

Heather Baldus
Collections Manager

Kenmore’s Kitchen: Then & Now

The brick kitchen building next to Historic Kenmore is not original to the property. It was built in the 1930s in the colonial revival architectural style popular at that time.

Kitchen01

The brick construction does not reflect the kitchen building seen in the earliest known photo of such a building at Kenmore.  That image, taken around the time of the Civil War, shows a large wooden kitchen to the north of the house as well two enslaved people standing in the kitchen yard.

pre-1862kitchen02

The wooden kitchen can be seen to the left of the house in this Civil War-era photograph.

The Kenmore Association, a group of women who saved the mansion and transformed the property into a historic site open to the public, built the brick kitchen in the 1930s.

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Inside the brick kitchen just after construction was completed in the 1930s.

Throughout much of the 20th century, visitors sat around the table in the photo above to enjoy gingerbread and tea served by the ladies of the Kenmore Association.

Recently, we decided to highlight these ladies and their efforts to preserve Kenmore even more during our tours. We felt the most logical of places to do this was in the kitchen where they served their famed gingerbread and tea.

We placed a tea set and faux gingerbread on the same table used to serve visitors for so many years. We surrounded that table with many of the same ladderback chairs, though most of their seats have been re-caned. We returned some of the china and the china cupboard that had stood for so long in the kitchen back to that space.

While we cannot serve actual gingerbread and tea – modern-day museum guidelines prohibit food service inside historic structures – we can discuss the Kenmore Association’s monumental efforts to save Kenmore and make the mansion accessible to the public. You can read about these efforts here.  Although it does not date back to Kenmore’s very beginning, the 80-year-old brick kitchen is still a part of the site’s centuries-long story.

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