The stately Georgian home at the intersection of North Washington and Oronoco streets in Old Town Alexandria — often referred to as “Lee Corner” — bears a plaque acknowledging the house’s pride of place in the city’s history.
The home belonged to Edmund Jennings Lee. Though he often was overshadowed by his more famous brothers — Henry or “Light-Horse Harry,” Revolutionary War officer, Virginia governor and father of Gen. Robert E. Lee; Charles, U.S. attorney general from 1795 to 1801; and Richard, Northern Virginia’s first congressman — Edmund was a well-regarded lawyer, mayor of Alexandria, warden of Christ Church and founder of the Virginia Theological Seminary.
Edmund’s brother Henry bought the lot in 1784, one of seven he purchased in Alexandria as a real estate investment. After Henry became governor, he sold the lots to his wife’s uncle, and this lot was leased to a local butcher, Beale Howard, who began constructing a brick house there.
Another of Edmund’s brothers, Charles, bought the lot in 1795. Six years later, he sold it to Edmund for $5,000. The house was completed in late 1801, and Edmund and wife Sarah moved into it.
When it was built, the three-story house was nearly square with a side-hall floor plan. Among its Georgian features are a detailed cornice, a gable roof, stone lintels with keystones above the windows and a classic arched pediment around the front door.
A two-story ell was added later along Oronoco Street. In the 1930s, the ell was extended.
Edmund lost the house in 1837 during a financial downturn. His son Cassius bought it back in 1838. Edmund returned to the home a year later and died there in 1843. Cassius remained in the home until moving to Canada in 1864.
Part of the home’s lore is its supposed role in the Civil War.
Alexander J. Wedderburn, who produced a souvenir booklet in 1907 for Alexandria’s tricentennial, was one of many to perpetuate the story. He wrote that the house was “where General Lee was first notified that he had been appointed Commander in Chief of the Armies of Virginia at the outbreak of the war.”
But Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Douglas Southall Freeman, the author of a four-volume biography of Robert E. Lee, debunked this myth. Freeman wrote that although many believed Lee was offered his command at this house, “the chronology of events, however, disproves this.”
Nonetheless, because of Lee’s close relationship with his cousin, Cassius, he undoubtedly spent much time there. The plaque on the house says Lee “considered this his second home.”
The house, which is on the market for the first time since 1989, has been carefully preserved throughout the years. Many features are believed to be original to the home, including an etched, bell-jar light fixture that hangs from a hand-plastered ceiling medallion depicting tobacco leaves in the foyer and the floors and fireplace mantel in the drawing room.
Other features may not be original but are period appropriate, such as the ornate brass lock plates with scenes of riders and hounds in chase. The cabinets in the formal dining room are from the Baltimore house of Jérôme Bonaparte, Napoleon’s nephew. The Argand sconces above the fireplace in that room are reproductions of ones Marquis de Lafayette gave George Washington.
The exposed brick and stone walls in the lower level tavern room are thought to be the ones laid back in the 1790s. The walled courtyard that runs along the side of the house includes a rarity in Alexandria — an in-ground swimming pool. The carriage house has been turned into a garage.
The four-bedroom, seven-bathroom, 6,963-square-foot home is listed at $3.5 million.
Previous House of the Week