The house was built by John Potts after Washington asked him to become secretary of the Potomac Canal Co. Potts lived there for only a year before selling it to William Fitzhugh, a wealthy plantation owner. Washington, who was friendly with both men, dined at the home several times and spent the night there, as well.
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Lee’s father, Henry, rented the house in 1812. Robert E. Lee lived there from age 5 until he left for West Point in 1825. He later visited the home in 1870. For eight decades, members of the Lee family resided there.
Royd R. Sayers bought the house in 1932 and undertook an extensive restoration but left its essential character undisturbed. Sayers, who was chief of the Bureau of Mines, entertained many officials from Franklin Roosevelt’s administration in the home.
Ada Hitchcock MacLeish used an inheritance to buy the house in 1942. Her husband was the ninth Librarian of Congress and worked with Adlai Stevenson to establish the United Nations. He won Pulitzer Prizes for his poems and verse drama. Their daughter Mimi was married there in July 1945.
The Stonewall Jackson Foundation, later Lee-Jackson Foundation, acquired the house in 1967 and opened it to the public as a museum. Unable to financially maintain the house, the foundation sold the home to Mark and Ann Kington in 2000.
By the time the Kingtons bought it, the house was in bad shape. The roof was failing because of water damage and termites. The original plaster moldings and woodwork also had significant water damage. The house needed new electrical, plumbing and mechanical systems.
It took three years of painstaking effort for the Kingtons to bring the home back to its original state. They removed 43 layers of paint. They carefully restored to their original condition the masonry, woodwork, ornamental plaster, windows, interior shutters, doors and hardware. They replaced pieces that had been removed by previous owners with period-appropriate elements.
“It’s a new house inside an antique envelope,” Mark Kington said.
They also kept the imperfections. The hardware on the entry door was originally installed upside down. Rather than fix it after all these years, they kept it as is. It’s these flaws that give the house its character.
Yet, for all its sophistication and refinement, this is a family home. In the nearly two decades they’ve lived here, the Kingtons raised two children and a rambunctious dog while embracing the house’s past. At her daughter’s slumber parties, Ann organized treasure hunts with clues relating to the home’s history. Now they hope the next family to live there will be similar stewards of its past.
“We want to share the history of the house,” Ann Kington said.
The six-bedroom, six-bathroom, 8,145-square-foot house is listed at $8.5 million.
Listing: 607 Oronoco St., Alexandria, Va.
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