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RICHMOND
Stewart-Lee House

Stewart Lee

Stewart-Lee House
Virginia Department of Historic Resources

 

Originally part of a group of five houses built by tobacco merchant Norman Stewart between 1844 and 1849, the Stewart-Lee House is the solitary domestic survivor of what once was one of Richmond’s finest residential blocks. The house ranks among the best-preserved remaining examples of the three-story Greek Revival town houses popular in Richmond from c. 1840 to c. 1850. The building still survives largely because of its brief historical connection to General Robert E. Lee.

When Norman Stewart died in 1856, he left the building to his nephew John Stewart, who rented it to General George Washington Custis Lee, Robert E. Lee’s son, and a group of young Confederate officers. The officers used the house as the “bachelor’s mess” until 1864, when Robert E. Lee’s wife and daughters arrived to live there after the confiscation of their home, Arlington. General Lee retired to the house joining his family on April 15, 1865, following the surrender of the Confederate army at Appomattox. The family left Richmond together for the country in June of that same year. Matthew Brady took his famous photographs of General Lee while he lived in the house.

Stewart Lee2

Stewart-Lee House c. 1906
Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries


Constructed to harmonize with other dwellings on “Stewart’s Row”, the house is a freestanding building. A three-story duplex originally flanked it on the east and a row of 2½-story gable-roofed houses on the west. These tall, “shoe box-shaped” buildings generally had a side hall plan and a full basement. They occupied most of their relatively small lots.

A cast iron fence decorated with Greek frets, fluted posts topped with pineapples, and a diamond and star pattern encloses the shallow front yard. Except for the gate, the fence is identical to that at the Barret House, dating from the same year. An iron boot-scraper mounts a stone block to the left of the front portico, and a stone block set into the red brick façade of the building reads, “The residence of the family of General Robert E. Lee 1864-1865 and to which he retired after Appomattox.”

When a high-rise office building was built next door in 1967, underpinnings were placed under the west wall of the house, and steel beams were driven into the ground near its front. On the east side of the house a brick herringbone wall and granite steps descend towards the rear garden, which now faces a parking lot. Renovated for use as offices, the building now house the Home Builders Association of Virginia.

Plan your visit
The Stewart-Lee House is located at 707 East Franklin St. and now houses offices. It may be possible to arrange a visit. For information, call 804-643-2797.  The Stewart-Lee House has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.
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