By Matt Webster, Restoration Project Manager
George Washington's Fredericksburg Foundation (Kenmore)
Fielding and Betty Lewis built a new brick plantation house around 1770. The house, known today as Kenmore, is a classic example of late Georgian architecture. Their plantation was on the outskirts of the growing city of Fredericksburg, an important tobacco port where the Lewis family built a profitable trans-Atlantic trade network that enhanced their wealth and social standing.
(Picture to Right: Scaffolding was placed in 2000 to allow workers to reach the roof and upper walls.)
Vernon Edenfield, president of George Washington's Fredericksburg Foundation, commented that houses in colonial America were "organic outgrowths of their environment." He was referring to the local materials gathered to produce 18th-century buildings.
During the construction of a house the base materials were gathered on site and -- through a long and arduous process -- eventually developed into useable materials. White oak for framing members, yellow pine for paneling, and several other woods were harvested from the nearby forests to construct the house. Bricks used to construct the house were likely produced using clay from the excavated cellar. This clay was then placed into molds forming green bricks, which were fired on site. The lime putty necessary for mortar and plaster was produced by burning shell, on site, from local rivers and streams. Sand from the river was mixed with the lime putty to produce mortar, and various types of hair were added to bind the plaster for the walls. Local Aquia sandstone was used for steps.
(Picture to Left: Abandoned Aquia sandstone quarry in Stafford County.)
The craftsmen who built Kenmore came from many cultural, economic, and social backgrounds. Joseph Smith, an indentured painter, traveled from Scotland, using his skills to acquire a four-year indenture with the prospect of a new start in the colonies. Other craftsmen, such as George Hamilton, the carver to whom the carved overmantels are attributed, traveled from the competitive city of London, likely in hopes of gaining a better life.
There are many tradesmen about we know little or nothing. The plasterer, known only as "the stucco man," created three of the most ornate 18th-century plaster ceilings still in existence in America. The only information we have on "the stucco man" is in letters between Fielding Lewis and the Washingtons, and through the study of the plaster ceilings. We have yet to find information on the carpenter, mason, turner, and stone carver. Countless unnamed slaves played a key role in the construction of the house. Many of these slaves were likely responsible for digging the cellar, forming and firing bricks, cutting trees, and providing a strong labor force to move materials. However, several of the slaves have been found to be highly skilled craftsmen. For example, Pompey, the blacksmith, was likely the craftsman responsible for making hardware for the house in the form of hinges, locks, and thousands of nails. His skill as a blacksmith made him the most valuable slave listed in Fielding Lewis's probate inventory. The contributions of many skilled African-American artisans to the construction of Kenmore went unrecorded, but remain in the legacy of bricks and mortar and fine workmanship.
(Picture to Right: List of slaves owned by the Lewis family in 1782.)
Each day, however, we learn more about the materials and people who created Kenmore and forged a new nation. Research continues to uncover more about the lives of the people who created the house, as when a newly-discovered newspaper article yields information on a craftsman. Even the materials that form the house provide clues -- the nail hole that indicates a long removed architectural element, or the fingerprints of an unknown craftsmen pressed into an unfired brick. (Picture to Left: Examination of 18th century wallpaper.)
Today, George Washington's Fredericksburg Foundation is restoring not only the house, but also the story of the people who created it. Visitors to the Lewis's home have a special opportunity to view ongoing restoration and research in progress. Guided tours (from 10:30-4:30, running every 45 minutes) are constantly updated with new information. Behind-the-scenes tours with a staff preservation specialist, curator, or archaeologist are offered on Tuesdays at 2:15. For more information about Kenmore, visit the George Washington's Fredericksburg Foundation web site: http://www.kenmore.org/.
Visit the Kenmore Restoration web site, http://www.madisonfilm.com/kenmore/, for a closer look at the restoration process.