Out of the Attic: Life with the Lees

Out of the Attic: Life with the Lees
Photo/Library of Congress

One of two stately Federal-style houses located just a block south of the famous “Lee Corner” at North Washington and Oronoco streets is the former home of William Hodgeson, an Englishman, who had married the daughter of William Lee — one of the first American envoys abroad during the Revolutionary War.

This house at 609 Princess St. was built along with its partner at 607 in the mid-1790s by John Potts but soon passed to Lee family members eager to live adjacent to their relatives. The two homes demonstrate the graceful simplicity and elegance of the period, each boasting a crenelated cornice and central pediment sheltering an oval lunette projecting ever so slightly on the front facade.

In 1820, one of Alexandria’s most remarkable educators, the Quaker schoolmaster Benjamin Hallowell, opened his first school at 609. One of his earliest pupils was Robert E. Lee, who had moved next door to 607 after the death of his father, Henry “Lighthorse Harry” Lee. Educated earlier at the Alexandria Academy, Robert E. Lee was prepared at Hallowell’s school for his eventual enrollment in the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

Hallowell recalled in his journal October 17, 1825, that he and his wife of one day were standing on the front steps of the school when the Marquis de Lafayette passed by on his way to give his respects to the widow of Henry Lee, his former comrade-in-arms next door. Hallowell wrote that Lafayette “made us a graceful bow, not knowing it was to a lady who had been married the day before, and whom her husband had named his Lafayette wife.”

Check these pages again next week for more on 607 Princess St.
-Out of the Attic is provided by the 
Office of Historic Alexandria.