Homes with histories like the Lafayette house in Old Town Alexandria usually wind up as museums. This stately Federal dwelling is one of the few that remains a private residence.
The house was built between 1815 and 1817 by Thomas Lawrason, a son of a prominent Alexandria merchant. Although Lawrason died before the home was completed, his wife, Elizabeth, and their five children lived there for many years.
When the Revolutionary War hero the Marquis de Lafayette visited Alexandria in 1824, the city council asked Elizabeth Lawrason if she would lend the general her home because it was deemed the most elegant in the city. She graciously moved out of the house while he stayed there. The bedroom he used now bears a plaque on its door that reads “This is the bedroom occupied by the Marquis de Lafayette October 1824 during his last visit to America.” A plaque commemorating the visit is also displayed on the house.
From 1828 to 1830, Thomas, Third Lord Fairfax leased the house from Lawrason before purchasing a house on Cameron Street. Nelly Custis Lewis, Martha Washington’s granddaughter, rented the home in 1831. William C. Gardner, a wealthy merchant from Newport, R.I., leased the home before purchasing it in 1835.
Williams Cazenove, a two-term member of the Virginia House of Delegates and a captain in the Confederate quartermaster’s department, bought the home in 1854 and remained there until his death in 1877. Charles Calvert Smoot, a prominent Alexandria merchant, and his heirs lived in the home the longest, from 1883 to 1947.
The house suffered from neglect by the time Nathan N. Wallack and his wife Edith purchased it. They restored the home, replacing Victorian embellishments with period pieces. They also modernized the house, adding heating and ventilation. The Alexandria Association presented them with an award of merit for the restoration.
Although faithful in their restoration, the Wallacks apparently couldn’t help but leave their own mark on the house. The story goes that Edith, using her diamond ring, carved “Nat and Edith Wallack Oct 1947” into a glass window in the Lafayette room. If you look closely, you can still see the etching.
Thurman Arnold, a U.S. Court of Appeals judge and founding partner of the law firm Arnold & Porter, owned the home from 1960 until his death in 1969. His widow sold the house in 1973 to Howard W. Smith Jr., a former commonwealth’s attorney. The current owners purchased the home in 1986.
The ornate entrance to the home, with its elliptical limestone archway, peacock-like lunette and marble steps, hints at the architectural delights to come.
The grand entrance hall, which measures 42 feet long and 10 feet wide with 12-foot ceilings, features a Zuber mural of Lafayette watching West Point cadets pass in review and a floating staircase that spirals three stories high. The seamless curved door at the end of the hall is believed to be original to the home.
The detail in the wainscoting and crown molding in the front and back parlors is exquisite. The fireplace mantels are believed to be reclaimed from the Jonah Thompson house nearby. The shutters in the front parlor appear to have their original sterling silver latches. Ten-foot pocket doors bisect the parlors.
The house is remarkably symmetrical. The front and back parlors are the same size, which are the same size as the master bedroom and Lafayette room above them, and the two bedrooms above them. Each of the 12 rooms in the home has a fireplace, save one.
The more than 2,000-square-foot basement has tall brick arches and a brick floor.
The brick-walled courtyard with a gazebo and pond was designed by well-known landscape architect John Magruder. The property has parking for three cars.
The three-story brick house is listed at $6.8 million.
Listing agent: Kate Patterson, McEnearney Asociates
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