The Lee House
( Originally Published 1932 )
THE Lee House, at 707 East Franklin Street, was built in 1845 by Norman Stewart, a prominent citizen of Richmond. Structurally, it is unchanged since General Lee's family occupied it, even to the worn, nickel-plated door knobs. The Lees rented it furnished, so no furniture of theirs was ever here. After 1865 the house had various occupants.
The Lee family did not remove to this house until 1862. On first reaching Richmond Mrs. Lee rented a house on Clay Street close to old St. Mark's Church. The exact date of removal to 707 cannot be ascertained, but the best account is given by Captain Robert E. Lee, Jr., in his Letters and Recollections of his father.
Writing of General Lee's return after Appomattox he says, "The house he was occupying in Richmond belonged to Mr. John Stewart, of `Brook Hill.' My brother Custis had rented it at the time he was appointed on Mr. Davis's staff. A mess had been established here by my brother and several other officers on duty in Richmond. In time my mother and sisters had been made members of it, and it had been the headquarters of all the family when in town."
Mr. Stewart was anxious that General Lee should not pay rent. When this was declined, Mr. Stewart insisted that he would receive only Confederate money-then a very useless commodity.
General Lee returned from Appomattox, and passing through crowds of cheering Federal soldiers rode up to the front door of his house. At the end of June the family removed to a cottage in Cumberland County, tendered them by Mrs. Cocke of Oakland.
There are numerous pleasant little anecdotes in regard to the general while in this house: how he and Mrs. Lee, when food was very scanty, sent dinners each day to the Federal guards at the front gate who had been placed there by the United States commander to prevent any intrusion; how one day, on the front steps, he called in some boys who were trying to beat the little son of a "Yankee Sutler," and urged them to try to make Richmond happy for the little stranger; how he received the news of the murder of President Lincoln while sitting in the front parlor, and how his old followers in the C.S.A. came to see him here.
The Lee House is the only one now standing which was Lee's home at the time he was rendering services which made him, forever, the idol of the South, and, in time, the subject of praise from all quarters of the world.
In 1892 Mrs. John Stewart and her daughters practically saved the Virginia Historical Society from lapsing into a dormant period by giving the Lee House to that institution.
The building is now occupied by the Society, which is glad to see all visitors. The house has become so crowded with the possessions-soon to be moved, it is hoped, to a fireproof annex in the rear-that only a few rooms can be opened to the public.