The Howards of Kenmore

Many families have called Historic Kenmore “home” over its more than two centuries of existence.  In late 19th century, the Howards lived in the grand brick home and one Howard in particular left an everlasting mark on the house and its history.

William Key Howard, Sr. was born in Maryland in 1829 (and was related to Francis Scott Key).  Howard Sr. married twice, first to Agnes Schley and then to Clara Randolph.  He and Clara had three sons: William Jr., Allan, and Clarence.

William Key Howard, Jr., the eldest son and the most important Howard in Kenmore’s history, was born on December 11, 1861 in Richmond but the family lived in Baltimore during his early years.

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A young William Key Howard, Jr.

According to Howard, Jr’s obituary, during the Civil War, both of his parents were accused of being Confederate spies and jailed. Junior successfully appealed for his mother’s release. Another source states that Howard, Sr. joined the Confederate Army in 1861, was captured and imprisoned at Elmira, NY in 1864, and then paroled at war’s end.

After the Civil War, the family moved to an estate near Fredericksburg called “Altoona” and Junior received a private education in Fredericksburg and in Hanover County.

Howard, Sr. purchased Kenmore in 1881.  The Howards found the house’s plasterwork so damaged that Senior considered removing the ceilings.  Howard, Jr. convinced his father to let him restore them instead, even though Junior was restricted to a cast to correct a spinal problem.

William Key Howard, Jr. worked on the ceilings for nearly all of 1882. He lay on his back on scaffolding, used homemade tools to clean off dirt and debris, and injected hide glue behind loose plasterwork.  An adept woodcarver, Howard Jr. enjoyed creating items like a walnut-shaped ring box, a goblet with rings around the stem all made for a single piece of wood, and another goblet carved from a coconut.

When it came time to replace specific decorative plater pieces, Howard Jr. was well-suited to carving the new molds to copy and remake the original plaster shapes.  With great foresight, he also used tinted plaster so future generations could know they were not original pieces.

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The central portion of the Dining Room ceiling at Kenmore. To the extreme left are two plaster leaf replacement pieces made by William Key Howard, Jr.

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A hook and surrounding flowers in the center of Kenmore’s Dining Room ceiling date from William Key Howard, Jr.’s restoration efforts and has been left, in part, as a memorial to his work to save the ceilings.

Along with the ceilings, William Key Howard, Jr. left his mark on Kenmore in one other unusual way. He and the Howard family in general were boating enthusiasts.  Howard Jr. enjoyed rowing in a racing scull on the Rappahannock River regularly. His racing scull is still in Kenmore’s attic today. At the time that Junior was rowing, there was a large tree growing on the south side of the house.  He rigged a rope and pulley system in the tree so that he could hoist his scull up high enough to swing it through the attic window and store it there in the off-season. Unfortunately, the scull was still in the attic years later when the tree came down.  The only other way to reach Kenmore’s attic is up a very narrow, twisty staircase – too narrow and twisty for a racing scull.  And so, the scull remains in the attic to this day, a reminder of Howard Jr.’s life at Kenmore.

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William Key Howard, Jr.’s rowing scull in the attic at Kenmore.

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The Howard family were boating enthusiasts and owned a variety of boats over the years, included the “PDQ”.

In 1887, Howard, Sr. conveyed Kenmore to Howard Jr. for $4,000 to hold in trust.  It appears that both Senior and Clara continued to live at Kenmore while Howard, Jr. took an interest in electrical engineering and headed south to build power plants.  In Georgia, he married Florence Lamar Moore of Griffin about 1895.  They had 4 children: John, Clara, Francis, Agnes (Betsy).

William Key Howard, Sr. died on February 10, 1899.

Howard, Jr. returned to Virginia in 1902 to build an ice plant in Urbanna. Three years later, the Howard family together conveyed Kenmore to youngest brother, Clarence. The 1910 census, however, still lists Clara as head of the household. Living with her were Clarence, then 39, a merchant; his wife of ten years, Mary F., aged 31, a nephew, Clarence Harrison, 30; an aging boarder and a 7-year-old boy.  By March 1914, the Howards decided to further subdivide and sell the property, apparently to settle debts owed to the Conway, Gordon & Garnett National Bank of Fredericksburg.

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An older William Key Howard, Jr.

Junior finally returned to Fredericksburg (but not to Kenmore) in 1909 to be the superintendent of the municipally-owned electric light plant.  Then, he went to South Boston to work at another light plant until his retirement in 1931.  Once more he returned to Fredericksburg, where he died on December 28, 1934. He was buried in the family plot at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.

Zac Cunningham
Manager of Educational Programs

Photos: Historic Kenmore Behind-the-Scenes Tours

On rare occasions, Historic Kenmore offers special behind-the-scenes tours that take visitors into portions of the home not usually open to the public during regular tours. Additionally, Meghan Budinger, Aldrich Director of Curatorial Operations,  leads the tour and shares her expert insights and knowledge into the mansion’s history, furnishing, and ongoing preservation. This past weekend, visitors once again got to go behind-the-scenes!

Video: William Key Howard, Jr. – Saving Kenmore’s Ceilings

In this video, learn about William Key Howard, Jr., who lived in Kenmore with his family in the years following the Civil War and repaired damage to the house’s plaster ceilings in the first restoration of Kenmore.

You can learn more about William Key Howard, Jr. and why his boat is still in the attic while visiting rarely seen rooms and spaces during a special behind-the-scenes tour at Historic Kenmore on October 22-23. Reservations required. Details at http://kenmore.org/events.html.