Preserving Alexandrias Past For Future Generations

Preserving Alexandrias Past For Future Generations

As a descendant of three Mayflower pilgrims, it is perhaps no surprise that Ruth Lincoln Kaye not only embraced history from a young age, she turned it into her life-long vocation and avocation.
Music, travel and researching Alexandria have accented Ruths 70-plus year career, which has culminated in the November 1 release of The History of St. Pauls Episcopal Church: 1984-2009, the second volume of research that coincides with the 200th anniversary celebration of the historic church.

Although she has called Alexandria home since the early 1940s, Ruth was born in Buffalo, N.Y. When she was 6, her family moved to Daytona Beach for her fathers job as a Congregational minister. Initially, Ruth began her education at Floridas Rollins College on a full academic scholarship, but ended up transferring to Randolph Macon Womens College in Virginia.  Ruth worked hard and completed her degree with a certificate in piano and a double major in history and English.

My passion for history just came naturally from studying America and ancient history in college and then living in a town as historical as Alexandria, which was founded long before the Revolutionary War, said Ruth, who did not fashion a career out of her interest in history until later in life. I found it fascinating that in the 19th century, there were clipper ships docked in Old Town and upon departing here, they sailed all around the world.

Upon graduation, Ruth settled in Alexandria and married Frank Boan in 1941. They moved into a one-bedroom apartment in Hunting Terrace with a rent of $62 per month. The Boans became parishioners of St. Pauls Episcopal Church and both worked at the Alexandria National Bank until Ruth started teaching piano in 1948.

Her love of history and music became intertwined when Ruth acquired an 1885 Steinway grand piano in the early 1950s. A classified ad, by someone from St. Pauls, announced that a fine, old Steinway grand piano was going to be sold the next day but no one would be allowed to see the instrument until 5 p.m.

I was the first in line at his house at noon, Ruth said. I brought a chair. By 5 p.m., the line was quite long. I was the first to see it and I spent all of my childhood savings $500 on that piano.

Although the Steinway had to be re-strung after some water was accidentally spilled on the strings, Ruth still has that same piano and enjoys the rich sound of the instrument.
In 1950, Ruths marriage to Boan ended and he died two years later. It was then that Merwin Witcomb Kaye entered Ruths life and swept her off her feet. The two married in 1953 and moved to her present home on Shuters Hill behind the Masonic Temple. Merwin was a lawyer for the State Department and then the Department of Agriculture. Their marriage lasted 34 years, ending with Merwins death in 1987.

Merwin served with the State Department in South Korea from 1958-1962, which meant a move half way around the world for the young family and their two children, Merrie and Arthur. During the tour, they circumnavigated the globe twice. The youngest of their three children, Larisa, was born in South Korea, and at the time, the Vice Consul at the American Embassy was required to sign the birth certificate. In an amazing coincidence, Ruth discovered years later that the former Vice Consul was none other than Vance Hall, a fellow St. Pauls parishioner and Alexandrian.

In 1962, when the Kayes returned to Alexandria, Ruth switched careers. Genealogical research beckoned and she stopped teaching piano. Ruth became a well-respected member of the National Genealogy Association for her efforts creating family trees and writing genealogical reports. In 1980, she retired from researching families and turned to writing and compiling Old Town house histories.

For the past 29 years, Ruth has scoured city records, deeds and old photos as part of her efforts to compile the histories of more than 265 Old Town homes. In addition to her 1920s bungalow on Shuters Hill, the home she has enjoyed researching the most is that of Dr. James Craik, George Washingtons doctor. She loves the related story of his neighbor, George Coryell, two lots down the Duke Street block from Craik.

Coryell didnt research the title and began building on what he thought was his lot, next to Craiks, Ruth explained. However, Coryell had to forfeit the house when he finished it because he found that hed actually built it on the lot beside his property.   

But the Alexandria historic site that she appreciates most in Old Town is the 200-year-old Benjamin Latrobe designed St. Pauls Church.

Through the years, Ruth has published many articles and several books. In 1975, she published The Legends and Folk Tales of Old Alexandria, which chronicles many old tales and ghost stories.
For the past eight years, when she was not perusing documents and photos for clients house histories, Ruth poured herself into researching and writing two volumes called The History of St. Pauls Episcopal Church 1809-2009.  She dedicated five years to writing the first volume of photos and stories of St. Pauls from 1809-1984. However, the second volume, The History of St. Pauls Episcopal Church II: 1984 to 2009, took only two years to complete. A number of different little-known stories about the 200-year-old church came to light through her research.

One of my favorites is about the second minister, Dr. William Hollin Wilmer, Ruth said. He was the owner of a tavern called The White Swan in Chesterton, Md., before he became an Episcopal priest. You can stay in the Wilmer Room at the White Swan even today.

The second volume of St. Pauls history is dedicated to Viola Barrett Greenberg Pope, a long-time St. Pauls parishioner. Her daughter, Bruce Rodenberg, said, Im thrilled that Ruth Lincoln Kaye dedicated her second St. Pauls volume to my mother because St. Pauls was such an important part of her life and she was an avid reader.

The Reverend Oran Warder of St. Pauls stated that the church and indeed, the entire community of Alexandria, owes a great debt to Ruth Lincoln Kaye. With ardent zeal, determined accuracy and a steadfast passion for the town she loves, Ruth has devoted much of her life to faithful research and the sharing of all she has discovered to the end that we all benefit from the history her efforts has preserved.

Ruth continues to remain involved in the community and recently took on another historical home research project.

I thoroughly enjoy delving into the history and lives of the people of Alexandria, Ruth said.  There is no shortage of interesting material.