Clio Logo
The home known today as Kenmore was built by prosperous merchant and Revolutionary War patriot Fielding Lewis and his wife, George Washington’s sister Betty, either in the early 1750s or around 1775. The Georgian-style mansion is noted for its intricately-designed plasterwork, said to be some of the grandest in the United States. The Lewis family owned the property until Betty’s death in 1797; it was eventually purchased by the Gordon family, who named the estate Kenmore (after their ancestral home in Scotland). Much of the First Battle of Fredericksburg in the Civil War occurred in the immediate vicinity of the mansion, and it was used as a Union hospital after the Battle of the Wilderness. Kenmore was heavily damaged during the conflict but was restored in the succeeding decades by the Howard family. When the estate was threatened by development in the early 1920s, it became the focus of an intense fundraising campaign to preserve the property. The Kenmore Association (now The George Washington Foundation) saved the home and continues to operate it as a museum. Kenmore was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1970.

  • Kenmore
  • The grounds and structures of Kenmore
  • The Washington Avenue entrance to Kenmore
  • The dining room on Kenmore's first floor
  • Intricate molding work in the dining room on Kenmore's first floor
  • An extravagant mantelpiece frieze in the drawing room on Kenmore's first floor
  • A detailed ceiling medallion in the master bedchamber at Kenmore
  • The interior of Kenmore's kitchen/north dependency
  • Fielding Lewis (by John Wollaston, circa 1755-58)
  • Betty Washington Lewis (by John Wollaston, circa 1755-57)
  • Virginia Governor Trinkle (third from right) at Kenmore's grand opening in 1925

Fielding Lewis was an exceedingly prosperous merchant when he married Betty Washington, sister of George Washington and Fielding’s second wife, in 1750. Two years later, he purchased 861 acres near Fredericksburg, eventually expanding the plot into a 1,300-acre plantation. Some sources report that he began building the home that would become known as Kenmore almost immediately after this purchase; however, more recent research suggests that the mansion was not completed until around 1775. The home’s exterior was a relatively plain Georgian-style design constructed from brick laid in a Flemish bond. Two simple wooden dependencies—a kitchen and a laundry—sat on each side of, and perpendicular to, the main structure. However, the mansion’s interior was extravagant and gave it lasting significance. The “exquisitely lavish and rich” plasterwork on the ceilings, molding, walls, and mantelpieces, all created by an unknown “Stucco Man,” is widely reported by architects and historians to be one of the grandest and most intricately-designed examples in the country.[20] Motifs include flowers, classical characters, fruits, ribbons, and even a scene from Aesop’s fables.

The Lewises were a very prominent family, even outside of their connection to George Washington. Fielding Lewis was sworn in as Colonel of the Spotsylvania County militia in 1758 and elected to the House of Burgesses in 1760. He also ran very successful farming, trading, and sales businesses, and, by the time of his death, he owned over one hundred slaves. (His store remains in Fredericksburg and is currently the headquarters of the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation, Inc.) The Lewises even commissioned portraits of their family from famed artist C. W. Peale to hang in their new home. Fielding Lewis was also an influential leader in the Revolutionary War. In 1774, he served as the chairman of the Spotsylvania County Committee and was tasked with gathering supplies for Virginia and Continental Army troops. The following year, Virginia’s third Revolutionary Commission appointed him commissioner of a new gun manufactory in Fredericksburg to produce and repair weapons. Lewis was also an integral part of the establishment of Virginia’s navy and the outfitting of its ships. He was so committed to both of these ventures that he spent thousands of pounds of his own money and even sold some of his property, knowing that he would most likely not be repaid. Lewis resigned from the gun manufactory in 1780 due to ill health and near-bankruptcy, and he died in late 1781 or early 1782.

Betty Lewis lived in the house after the war and until her death in 1797, after which her stepson John sold the estate to Seth Barton. It was then purchased by John Thornton, in 1815, and by Samuel Gordon, in 1819. The Gordon family named the estate Kenmore after their ancestral home in Scotland. During the Civil War, it was a central location in the First Battle of Fredericksburg (in December 1862). The home was hit by both Union and Confederate cannonballs. The estate was also the site of action during the Second Battle of Fredericksburg in May 1863. After the Battle of the Wilderness in May 1864, Kenmore was taken over by Union troops to use as a hospital; 103 soldiers were buried on the property until they were reinterred in Fredericksburg National Cemetery.

The shot-through ceilings and blood-stained floors from the war left Kenmore in a severe state of disrepair. Fortunately, William Key Howard, who purchased the home in 1881 (after it served briefly as a boys’ school), was dedicated to restoring it. His son, William Key Howard, Jr., is credited with singlehandedly saving the beautiful plasterwork from destruction and carefully restoring it to as close as possible to its original grandeur. The Howards ultimately sold the estate in 1914. It passed through several owners and was further subdivided, ultimately taking up less than one city block when it was owned by E. G. Heflin in 1921.

Heflin was interested in selling Kenmore for development. This prompted a group, spearheaded by Emily White Fleming, her daughter Annie Fleming Smith, the Washington-Lewis Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and soon the newly-formed Kenmore Association to attempt to save the estate. They began fundraising in early 1922 by simply writing letters; a formal campaign was launched with a speech from then-Vice President Calvin Coolidge in July. They raised enough money to completely pay for the property on January 1st, 1925, and it opened to the public later that year. The Garden Club of Virginia undertook the recreation of Kenmore’s gardens as its first such project, hiring famed landscape architects Charles Freeman Gillette and James Greenleaf to design the grounds. The Kenmore Association built new brick dependencies (a kitchen and an office) over the foundations of the originals, which had been destroyed. They also worked to repair and preserve the home, which has now undergone many restorations. The Association, now known as The George Washington Foundation, continues to operate Kenmore as an historic house museum.

1) About The George Washington Foundation, Historic Kenmore and George Washington’s Ferry Farm. Accessed September 20th 2020.

2) Baldus, Heather. Cunningham, Zac. Dining Room vs. Dining Room, Lives & Legacies. May 13th 2015. Accessed September 20th 2020.

3) Baldus, Heather. Kenmore’s New Beginning: How the Ladies of the Kenmore Association Saved the Lewis Family Home, Lives & Legacies. January 15th 2015. Accessed September 20th 2020.

4) Budinger, Meghan. Kenmore’s Holy Grail, Lives & Legacies. May 3rd 2017. Accessed September 20th 2020.

5) Budinger, Meghan. The Man on the Ceiling: Neoclassical Decorating at Kenmore, Lives & Legacies. September 28th 2016. Accessed September 20th 2020.

6) Cunningham, Zac. The Howards of Kenmore, Lives & Legacies. March 25th 2020. Accessed September 20th 2020.

7) Dillon, James. Kenmore, National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination Form - National Historic Landmark, Virginia Department of Historic Resources. July 2nd 1975. Accessed September 20th 2020.

8) Fielding Lewis Store, Historic Fredericksburg Foundation. Internet Archive: Wayback Machine. December 12th 2010. Accessed September 20th 2020.

9) Fredericksburg Gun Manufactory N-7, Fredericksburg, Stafford, Spotsylvania Historical Markers. March 16th 2008. Accessed September 20th 2020.

10) Hoppe, Geoff. Fielding Lewis (1725–1781 or 1782), Encyclopedia Virginia: Virginia Humanities. December 20th 2016. Accessed September 20th 2020.

11) Kenmore, 1201 Washington Avenue, Fredericksburg, Fredericksburg, VA, Library of Congress. Accessed September 20th 2020.

12) Kenmore; House Sites; The Garden Club of Virginia; Collections, Virginia Museum of History & Culture. March 15th 2011. Accessed September 20th 2020.

13) Kenmore N-31, Fredericksburg, Stafford, Spotsylvania Historical Markers. February 19th 2008. Accessed September 20th 2020.

14) Kenmore, The Cultural Landscape Foundation. Accessed September 20th 2020.

15) Lewis Store-National Register of Historic Places Listing; Resources, Historic Fredericksburg Foundation, Inc.. Accessed September 20th 2020.

16) Meet the Lewis Family: John and Fielding Jr., Lives & Legacies. December 15th 2016. Accessed September 20th 2020.

17) Muraca, Dave. Cunningham, Zac. Time for Some Trash Talk: The Social Role of Garbage at Historic Kenmore, Lives & Legacies. June 27th 2019. Accessed September 20th 2020.

18) Norman, Gary. Kenmore Walking Trail; Trails & Brochures; Plan Your Visit, Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, Virginia (National Park Service). July 24th 2015. Accessed September 20th 2020.

19) Our Namesake, Colonel Fielding Lewis Chapter, Virginia Society, Sons of the American Revolution. Accessed September 20th 2020.

20) Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission Staff. Kenmore, National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination Form, Virginia Department of Historic Resources. June 4th 1969. Accessed September 20th 2020.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Courtesy of The George Washington Foundation (

Courtesy of The George Washington Foundation (

Courtesy of The George Washington Foundation (

Courtesy of The George Washington Foundation (

By Walter Smalling for the Historic American Buildings Survey - Wikimedia Commons (,_FIRST_FLOOR,_DRAWING_ROOM,_DETAIL_OF_CORNICE_AND_CEILING_DECORATION_-_Kenmore,_1201_Washington_Avenue,_Fredericksburg,_Fredericksburg,_VA_HABS_VA,89-FRED,1-39.tif) - Public Domain

By Walter Smalling for the Historic American Buildings Survey - Wikimedia Commons (,_FIRST_FLOOR,_DINING_ROOM,_DETAIL_OF_FIREPLACE_FRIEZE_-_Kenmore,_1201_Washington_Avenue,_Fredericksburg,_Fredericksburg,_VA_HABS_VA,89-FRED,1-44.tif) - Public Domain

By Walter Smalling for the Historic American Buildings Survey - Wikimedia Commons (,_FIRST_FLOOR,_DINING_ROOM,_DETAIL_OF_%27APOLLO%27_MOTIF_IN_CEILING_DECORATION_-_Kenmore,_1201_Washington_Avenue,_Fredericksburg,_Fredericksburg,_VA_HABS_VA,89-FRED,1-45.tif) - Public Domain

Historic American Buildings Survey - Wikimedia Commons (,_Kitchen,_1201_Washington_Avenue,_Fredericksburg,_Fredericksburg,_VA_HABS_VA,89-FRED,1C-2.tif) - Public Domain

Wikimedia Commons ( - Public Domain

Wikimedia Commons ( - Public Domain

Wikimedia Commons ( - Public Domain