If houses could talk, Braehead Manor would be singing the praises of its revival. An extensive renovation has it looking its best, and its use as a bed & breakfast and wedding venue have brought visitors from all over who have discovered its revered place in Fredericksburg history.
When current owners Diana and Robb Almy bought the property at 123 Lee Drive in 2008, they became only the second family to own it since it was built in 1859. They bought it from the late W. Graham Stephens, a descendant of the home’s builder, John Howison. It’s said that Howison built the house for $15,000—an enormous sum at the time.
The house was only four years old when Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee stopped in for breakfast on Dec. 13, 1862, tying his horse, Traveller, to the black walnut tree next to the house that’s grown huge and remains healthy today. One wonders if he could have imagined the historic toll that would be taken at the Sunken Road battlefield that day, carnage that would later elicit one of his most famous quotes.
Though the Almys are proud to have owned and cared for Braehead for the past 10 years, they are ready to pass it on to its next steward. Robb Almy, who is with EXIT Realty Group, is the listing agent. The asking price is $1.795 million.
The house is listed with six bedrooms, three full bathrooms and a half-bath. There are eight fireplaces, three converted for gas. There are more than 6,000 square feet of finished living space. It sits on 19 acres with another nine contiguous acres available for sale separately. Visit Braeheadforsale.com for more details and information.
No events have been scheduled and no reservations accepted for beyond the end of 2018. A new owner is not obliged to continue the B&B or wedding businesses, but they are certainly welcome to.
“We love this place and are definitely going to miss it,” Diana Almy said during a recent tour. “A lot of blood, sweat and tears have gone into it.”
Early in their ownership the Almys called on contractor Jay Holloway, whose company Habalis Construction has a ton of experience rehabbing historic area homes, to work his magic on Braehead.
Habalis proceeded to renew the house from top to bottom. Standard roofing shingles were replaced with faux slate shingles that mimic the original Buckingham slate shingles with a fraction of the weight. The lower level was given an all new concrete floor (and the periphery of the house excavated) to eliminate a moisture problem and expedite the installation of all new utilities.
In between, rooms were cleaned up and refinished. Trim was repaired and replicated where necessary. Duct work for the retrofitted central heating and air conditioning was cleverly hidden, and windows were replaced. The house is now served by an extremely efficient, multi-zone geothermal heating and cooling system.
Also added were large slate front and side porches that serve both small family gatherings and large wedding parties. New copper gutters and downspouts were installed. Throughout the house, original window and door frames and heart pine floors were cleaned up, but not sanded, repainted or refinished.
The Almys took advantage of the State Rehabilitation Tax Credit Program administered by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources to mitigate the cost of the project.
One of Graham Stephens’ fundamental desires toward the end of his ownership was that Braehead be preserved and protected from development in perpetuity. Working with DHR and the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust, Stephens established a conservation easement that removes any concerns about future development of the property while providing federal and state tax advantages for current and future owners. Significant changes to the house inside or out require DHR approval.
The property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register. Being within the National Battlefield Park means the land surrounding Braehead will never be developed.
When Howison built Braehead in 1859, the property covered 1,000 acres. He had grown up in a small, cramped house, the story goes, and wanted a larger home for his family now that he could afford it.
The brick house has two three-story towers joined by a two-story connector, or hyphen. According to information collected for previous Free Lance–Star stories about Braehead, Stephens believed the house was completely original except for two porches that were added, and that many of the bricks used to build it were finished in a kiln on the property.
The house was built facing an old carriage road to the east, which means the rear of the house faces Lee Drive. On what was originally the front of the house a more finished variety of brick was used and laid in Flemish bond with more formal looking thinner mortar joints. Elsewhere a less expensive six-course American bond was used.
THE BASIC TOUR
The main level of the main, formal tower holds the formal living and dining rooms, which are separated by massive pocket doors. The living room still has a huge antique Knabe piano that Stephens had restored and left with the home. The piano and other mostly antique furnishings are available to a new owner for a negotiated price.
The bedrooms on various floors have been used by the family or B&B guests. One is used by resident caretaker Mary Windsor Cline.
On the upper level of the formal tower is a totally new bathroom and the master bedroom, which is known as the Jane Beale room. Beale, whose home on Prince Edward Street behind the Kenmore Inn has been under restoration, was the sister of Braehead’s builder Howison. She fled to Braehead with her children to escape the Civil War fighting in downtown Fredericksburg.
The lower level of the formal tower is primary family living space with the kitchen and family room. The handsome kitchen has a marble-topped island, soapstone countertops and a hammered copper sink. The kitchen cabinets look old, but aren’t. They and much other custom cabinetry throughout the house was made by Mills Cabinetry of Bridgewater.
The current family room is said to be where Gen. Lee took his breakfast on the morning of Dec. 13, 1862. It was during the day’s fighting that Lee, observing the brutality from his nearby headquarters now known as Lee’s Hill, uttered, “It is well that war is so terrible. We should grow too fond of it.”
Off the lower level hyphen hallway are a new bathroom, playroom and mudroom. The mudroom once housed part of the dairy operation that was run at Braehead. These lower-level rooms retain the original Aquia sandstone door sills that were discovered beneath the old concrete floor.
During the second Battle of Fredericksburg in 1864, the house was used as a hospital by the Union Army. The Yankee soldiers left the place standing, but they tossed furniture through the windows, carved their names in walls and trim, broke the china, and ate or otherwise killed the livestock.
The floors were left so blood-soaked that it was easier for the Howisons to cover them with a dark stain than to clean them. It’s the reason why the floors have not been sanded or refinished.