(The following is one of a series of excerpts we’re featuring from Robert Madison’s book, “Walking with Washington”)
Boyhood home of Robert E. Lee, 607 Oronoco Street
John Potts (1760-1809) who was a merchant, first secretary of the Potomac Company (while Washington was company president), a justice of the peace, and president of the Common Council, built this house in 1795. George Washington brought his family here to dine with Potts in 1797.
William Fitzhugh (1741-1809), who was the largest landholder in Fairfax County, a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses from 1772 to 1775, a member of the Committee of Safety from 1774 to 1775, a member of the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1775, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from 1780 to 1781 and 1787 to 1788, and a Virginia state senator from 1781 to 1785, purchased the house in 1799 for $12,000. Fitzhugh was a lifelong friend of George Washington, and they visited at each other’s homes frequently. Fitzhugh gave Washington two does for the Mount Vernon deer park in 1786.
Washington stayed here two nights in April 1799 while surveying his lands at Four Mile Run. The exterior lines of the Four Mile Run tract were about eight miles long, ran though heavily wooded country, and along the banks of a run with few or no paths. Surveying it was not strenuous work for a man of 67. On Washington’s last recorded visit to Alexandria on November 17, 1799, he attended Christ Church and dined at this house with his close friend, William Fitzhugh. Fitzhugh was the first president of the Washington Society, organized in Alexandria in 1800, and was chairman of the committee in charge of the first Washington’s Birthday Parade that same year. The parade continues as an annual event in Alexandria.
George Washington Parke Custis (1781-1857), grandson of Martha Washington, came here to court Fitzhugh’s daughter, Mary Lee (1788-1858). They were married here and resided at Arlington House. Fitzhugh’s second daughter, Ann, married the son of Washington’s good friend, Dr. Craik (1730-1814)
By 1811, Light Horse Harry Lee (1756-1818) and his family, including young Robert E. Lee (1807-1870) were living here. In 1813, hopping to recover from injuries received in the Baltimore riot of 1812, Light House Harry went to the West Indies and his family had moved to 407 North Washington Street by spring of 1817. Journeying home in 1818, Light Horse Harry Lee died. By 1821, his family was back here, where he remained until Robert E. Lee received an appointment to West Point in June 1824. The Marquis de Lafayette visited the widow of his friend, Light Horse Harry Lee here in 1824. Robert E. Lee’s wife, Mary Anne Randolph Custis was Martha Washington’s great granddaughter, and her father was George Washington Parke Custis. Following the end of the Civil War, Robert E. Lee became president of Washington College (renamed Washington and Lee after Lee’s death).
Poet Archibald Macleish, who won the Pulitzer Prize three times, owned the house from 1942 to 1945 while he was Librarian of Congress and then and Assistant Secretary of State. The house became a museum in 1967; however, it was sold in 2000. It is now a private residence.
(Adapted from Walking with Washington, available in Alexandria museum gift shops)