The brick walls are again an intense yellow and the tin roof a bright red as a six-year renovation project nears completion at Dodona Manor, the former home of one of Leesburg's most illustrious residents, Gen. George C. Marshall.
The 18-room house is being restored to the period of the 1940s and 1950s, when the five-star general and his wife, Katherine, used it as a retreat from official Washington. The George C. Marshall International Center says it will be ready for public tours June 2 and will have a grand ceremonial reopening on Veterans Day.
"Marshall was a man of monumental achievements," said William Seale, a historian in charge of the restoration. "General Marshall is a wonderful story but one that is not well known because he shunned publicity and refused to write his memoirs. He was a self-effacing man."
Seale said the center paid $2.3 million for the house and its four acres in 1995 but expects the total bill for the restoration of the building, furnishings and gardens to be $5 million. Visitors will be able to see how the private Marshall lived, pruning his apple and peach trees, lunching on the patio with his wife and reading.
Katherine Marshall found the house in fall 1940 while on a day trip to what was then rural Virginia. She later described Leesburg as "quaint and very old . . . about as unreconstructed a place as you can find, replete with tradition and history."
The Marshalls bought the house in May 1941 for $16,000, which Seale said was a financial stretch for them because Marshall's salary averaged only $6,500 a year during his military career and they had always lived in Army housing.
It would be a year until Marshall saw the house again.
As Army chief of staff, he was heavily involved in getting the country ready for what looked like certain war. He persuaded President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and then Congress, to greatly increase the military budget to train more troops. When the United States declared war on Japan, on Dec. 8, 1941, one day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, it had more than 1 million men in uniform.
On a free day in the spring of 1942, Marshall drove with his wife from their home at Quarters #1 at Fort Meyer, a house reserved for the highest ranking officer in the Army, to Leesburg.
In her memoirs, Katherine Marshall remembered the day as warm and their arrival coming at sunset, when the newly landscaped lawn looked its best. She had wanted to surprise him with all the improvements she had made in the past year, from furnishing the house to having the grounds groomed.
Marshall walked around the house and yard, quietly inspecting everything. She recalled that he turned to her and said in a husky voice, "This is home, a real home, after 41 years of wandering."
After the war, there were a few more weekends or days to spend in Leesburg, although he was busy devising the European Recovery Program to help war-torn Europe regain its economic stability. The program, better known as the Marshall Plan, put $13 billion in European hands. In 1953, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts, described in a citation as "the most constructive, peaceful work we have seen in this century."
Marshall also served as secretary of state and secretary of defense under President Harry S. Truman, and between those jobs took charge of the American Red Cross for a year. He retired in 1951 at age 69, and he and his wife spent every available weekend at Dodona.
On Sunday, the home the Marshalls loved so much was open for members of the Preservation Society of Loudoun County to see how the restoration was going. Members toured the two-story house, looking into empty rooms. Only three major pieces of the Marshalls' furniture that came with the house had been brought back by the specialists hired to restore the tables, chairs, beds, cabinets and other items.
The rosebud wallpaper, copied from the original that Katherine Marshall used, is expected to be installed in the next couple of months. The silk drapes are being mended and Marshall's clothes cleaned before being hung again in his closet.
The last phase of the project will be the landscaping. An orchard will be planted at the same spot where Marshall tended his fruit trees, and plans call for the restoration of Katherine Marshall's rose garden.
"This house was the Marshalls' Camp David. He needed a place to putter," Steve Price, president of the Marshall center, told society members.
Price also told them that historians had been wrong for decades when they attributed the name Dodona Manor to Marshall. That was the name of the property when the Marshalls bought it. He said they never referred to the house as Dodona Manor but rather as "their place in Leesburg."
Rachel Thompson, education director of the Marshall center, said Marshall's reputation for his work during and after the war sometimes got in the way of a quiet time at the Leesburg house.
"People would come to the house asking for his autograph or for a picture taken with him," she said. "The Mighty Midget [carryout] was right across Route 7, next to a garage. People would look across at the house and decide to go visit the general."
She said he eventually changed the front entrance from the Route 7 side of the house to the more concealed entrance near Edwards Ferry Road. The wide front porch with its four pillars and impressive front door was saved for visits by dignitaries, she said.
Marshall died at Walter Reed hospital in 1959 at age 78. After the funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, Katherine Marshall said she would never return to the Leesburg house. Her daughter from her first marriage, Molly Winn, lived in the house until 1993 and carefully preserved her mother and stepfather's furniture and possessions.
Seale said Winn never thought of the house as a museum or historic site. To her, it was simply the family home of 50 years, and she was taking care of family things. She sold the furniture with the house.
Katherine Marshall lived in North Carolina in a mountain hotel where she rented a suite until her death in 1978.
Although Seale has the original furnishings and the long interviews with Winn before she died in 1997, he said he had little information about the Marshalls' life at the house or who they entertained there.
"It's hard to document their life in Leesburg," he said. "They didn't act like famous people and keep careful records. They just didn't take that seriously."