For as historic as Old Town Alexandria, Virginia is, they only have two historic homes open to the public year round. Although in many ways, that doesn’t bother me, I like the idea that history lives on and new memories are filling the halls of the ghostly past.
One of these two homes is the Lee-Fendall House. What makes this home historic aside from being family owned through many generations, is that the “Lee” in Lee-Fendall is Robert E. Lee’s family. From the time the home was built-in 1785 until 1903 when the house was sold to the Downham family, it was family owned. Eventually in 1937 John L. Lewis purchased the house and lived there until his death in 1969.
This Victorian home was built-in a country side style, something unique for Alexandria City. Homes as large as this in a city were “urban plantations”. The garden would have been full of stables, laundries, a rabbit house, a pigeon-house. No space spared. Throughout time however, the garden turned into something peaceful and serene, for those who had leisure time. Today the half-acre lot is an award-winning garden maintained partially by the Alexandria Council of Garden Clubs. The council established an endowment fund which continues to support a portion of the garden’s ongoing maintenance and restoration costs since 1974.
During the Civil War, the house, as many grand houses were, was turned into a medical hospital for union soldiers. It is believed this hospital was for the terminally ill men as a morgue had been built-in the garden at this time. This house is probably most historically known for the simple knowledge that the first, successful, blood transfusion in the US was performed here. Now, that is not to say it could be immediately repeated, however, it was finally understood that it could be done.
All of the thoughts and opinions are my own.