Kenmore is a Georgian-style great house in Fredericksburg, Virginia, said to be haunted by its original colonial owner, Fielding Lewis.
Fielding Lewis was a wealthy mercantile and shipping businessman descended from Robert Lewis, a Welshman who emigrated to the American colonies in 1635. The families of Lewis and GEORGE WASHINGTON married in 1747. Lewis’s first wife, Catherine Washington, died in 1750 shortly after giving birth to their third child, who also failed to survive. Three months later, Lewis married Betty Washington, George Washington’s younger, only sister, Catherine’s first cousin, and Lewis’s second cousin. The couple built Kenmore between 1772 and 1775 on a plantation of 1,300 acres. They had 11 children, six of whom survived to adulthood. The elegant house was built to impress and to advertise the family’s wealth and social status.
Like Washington, Lewis was a Freemason. He served as worshipful master of his lodge. Washington—a meticulous record-keeper—wrote of his visits to Kenmore. He dined there on March 29 and 30, 1775, just one week after Patrick Henry delivered his stirring “Give me liberty or give me death” speech (see SCOTCHTOWN). When the Revolutionary War started, Lewis became a colonel in the army and started manufacturing guns. Lewis was driven by patriotism and also assurances that the Continental Congress would make reparations in the event of victory. But at war’s end, the new nation was broke. Lewis was bankrupt and his health was ruined. He contracted tuberculosis and died in 1781. Betty continued to run the plantation for 15 years, then sold it and moved to a farm on the south end of town. After Betty died, Kenmore passed through the hands of 11 owners. For a time it was a boys’ school.
In December 1862, during the Civil War battle of Fredericksburg, Confederate sharpshooters fought from Kenmore’s upper floor. They left on December 11, and Union troops took control of the house. During the fighting from December 13–15, Kenmore took firing and shelling from both sides, but fortunately damage was minor. Bullet holes and a lodged cannonball still scar the brick. There were 18,000 casualties, many of them within sight of the great house. Kenmore was taken over by the Howard family after the war, but they were forced to sell it to pay off debts.
By 1922, Kenmore was in disrepair. Plans were made to either destroy it or turn it into apartments. The Daughters of the American Revolution raised funds for restoration. The Kenmore Association was incorporated in May 1922.
An ambitious restoration program was begun in 2001 to restore Kenmore to its original condition. The house has fine stucco work considered some of the best in the world. Kenmore is privately owned and operated by a nonprofit organization as a tourist attraction.
The ghost of Lewis Fielding has cast a heavy atmosphere throughout Kenmore, with a focal point of activity in the master bedroom on the first floor. Staff have found the fireplace tools in disarray, as though someone has been poking at and stoking a fire. Footsteps have been heard there, as though someone is pacing back and forth. Fielding is said to be worrying over his debts and keeps returning to check on the welfare of his wife and their children.
An apparition believed to be Fielding has been seen reading papers, as though going over accounts. Doors open and close by themselves. Cold breezes have been felt, even during the humid heat of summer. Napkins set out in the dining room have been found mysteriously tossed about. The haunting activity was strong from the 1920s until the 2001 restoration work began. The new work seemed to disrupt the ghostly patterns.
- Taylor, L. B., Jr. The Ghosts of Fredericksburg . . . and nearby environs. Private press, 1991.