220-Year-Old Garden Wall at Lee-Fendall House Collapses
About 69 tons of 220-year-old bricks are lying in a pile behind the Lee-Fendall House Museum & Garden after the property’s thick, historic garden wall collapsed following a torrential downpour earlier this month.
This weekend, volunteers carefully moved bricks to make space for a temporary, protective wall around the rubble — and launched a fundraising campaign for the $125,000 or more it will take to rebuild the historic structure. The historic property is the only museum in Alexandria that is not funded by the City, relying instead on private donations and an army of volunteers.
“The wall itself post-dates the construction of our house by only about 15 years and was likely constructed by enslaved servants. It tells an important part of our story,” explained Executive Director Martha Withers, as she surveyed the damage and helped volunteers Saturday morning.
Local historians believe the wall dates back to the very early 1800s. The servants who built the wall may have made the bricks, as well, according to Lee-Fendall House Board Member Ed Horn, who will be the project manager on the repairs.
A downpour and strong winds hit Alexandria the night of Friday, June 11, saturating the soil. The next morning, a 70-foot section of wall with more than 2,000 bricks gave way. Aside from a statue and a bird feeder, there was no damage to other property. No one was injured in the collapse.
Because of the historic importance of the wall as part of a National Register Historic Site, the museum will be saving the old brick and stone, cleaning it, and reusing it so that the repaired wall looks like the original. While this increases the cost of repairs, the historic significance of the wall will be preserved.
Insurance is not covering the repairs. The wall is made of hand-formed, soft brick laid over a fieldstone foundation. It is four-layers thick and was built in a Flemish bond pattern for strength. Alternating bricks are laid sideways to tie layers together.
The Lee-Fendall House will have to commission engineers to design the rebuilding of the wall using the historic bricks, do a land survey and soil analysis, clean the bricks for reuse and more. Rebuilding the wall will be a multi-year project. Cost estimates start at $125,000, but if the entire wall — more than 150-feet long — has to be taken down and reconstructed, the cost will increase significantly.
“We are hoping that we can rely on the Alexandria community to help support this project,” Withers said.
The museum’s board is launching a major fundraising campaign that will make it possible to repair the wall using original materials with the work of experienced professionals in historic masonry. Donations will be gratefully received at www.leefendallhouse.org or by mail to 614 Oronoco St., Alexandria, VA 22314.