January 20th, 2012

Braehead Revisited, introduction

Braehead mansion occupies a prominent place in the beautiful Fredericksburg Battlefield. The home was completed in 1859 by Scottish immigrant, John Howison, for his family of nine. During the War Between the States, Braehead provided shelter to both Confederate and Union troops. General Robert E. Lee established his headquarters and “took breakfast” at Braehead on the morning of December 13, 1862, the date of the first battle of Fredericksburg.

He tied his horse, Traveler, to a black walnut tree that still thrives on the property.

In May 1864, Braehead was occupied by Union troops. A Howison family member wrote that the troops “killed the cows, ate the chickens, smashed the china, tore up dress goods, destroyed or stole the family Bible which had in it…three generations [and] threw the dining room chairs through the window glass.”

period sketch of Braehead depicting scene from the War Between the States

For nearly 150 years, Braehead remained the property of the Howisons and their descendents. In 2006, Braehead went on the market for the first time in its history. Since there had never been any easements or protections of any kind placed on the property, the old house, then in a sad state of disrepair, was in danger of being lost forever. The Central Virginia Battlefield Trust quickly stepped in and purchased the house and surrounding 18 acres. Based on the historical significance of the property, the CVBT promptly registered it with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and put into place easements to protect the property forever. The CVBT then searched diligently for a proper buyer to rescue the house and restore it to its former glory. A perfect match was found in a Fredericksburg family who fell in love with Braehead and has now made it their home.

I have been honored to be part of a team who has worked on Braehead for the past two years. Only phase I, the interior, has been completed. Some landscaping has been done, but the exterior work on the structure will begin sometime in mid 2012. Beginning on Monday, I will present “Braehead Revisited”, a series of posts giving you an insider’s tour of this wonderful old house. I hope you will join me.

Special thanks to Sabina Weitzman for these photographs

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12 Responses

  • Grace said:

    Thanks for sharing this story on Braehead! Can’t wait to see more! What a beautiful home.

  • Cindy Ensminger said:

    You know how much I love history and historic homes! How lucky you are to be a part of this project… how lucky they are to have you! Can’t wait for more on this beautiful home.

  • Kimberly said:

    I can say first hand what a wonderful job Merry has done bringing life back to this beautiful home! So exciting to get to be a part of this venture and so excited to see the upcoming tour!

  • jon morris said:

    hi i would like to say i love the home and like to tell u i live here in fredericksburg and i did some work in the house with willie fleming

  • merry said:

    Hi Jon – Yes, I love Braehead, too. It was quite a project, wasn’t it? Maybe we will work on another old house together someday. Thanks for reading the blog!

  • Pingback: [Interview] Merry Powell, Interior Designer: “Preservation is Contagious” - PreservationNation

  • Russ Kuykendall said:

    The builder of Braehead, John Howison, was not an immigrant. He was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in 1809. His oldest daughter, Helen Mcdonald Howison, was my great-great grandmother. John Howison’s sister was the now-famous Civil War diarist, Jane Briggs (nee Howison) Beale.

    In 1843, he married Anne Richards Lee, a distant cousin of Robert E. Lee through the Hancock Lees, aka “the Ditchley Lees.” When he had breakfast at Braehead before the Battle of Fredericksburg, General Lee was spending time with distant relations.

    John Howison’s father, Samuel Howison, was born in Prince William, Virginia, in 1779. He and his wife, Helen Rose Moore, purchased the house at 1300 Charles Street, Fredericksburg, in 1828. Samuel Howison’s father, Stephen Howison, was born in 1735/36 in St. Mary’s, Maryland. Stephen Howison’s father, John Howison, was born in Braehead, Scotland, in 1682.

    John Howison’s oldest sons both perished in the Civil War. After the war, John Howison could no longer afford to keep Braehead, including the farm and dairy, and he sold it to his younger brother, Robert Reid Howison, a sometime lawyer and, later, a Presbyterian minister, who wrote and published a major history of Virginia in 1846. It was a descendant of Robert Reid Howison who owned the house when it was sold in 2006.

    If anyone would care to follow up with me, I can be reached at russinottawa@gmail.com

  • John Howison said:

    Detail: Robert Reid Howison practiced religion and law simultaneously and profitably. He was a serious chess player and his two folume History of Virginia, published in 1848 in Richmond was a a standard college text (from which he made a few dollars) for decades

    Muller was a mason, not a real estate contractor. I believe you will find that the carpentry work was otherwise contracted.

    Two of John Howison’s surviving sons emigrated to Red River Country Texas after the war, where a cousin or two had already put down boots. Dr. Hancock Lee Howison, discussed in Jane Beale’s book, was with Mosby:s raiders (appears in widely printed picture of Mosby and staff). He and youngest brother Neil McCoul Howison became substantial owners of cheap Texas land. Family tradition had in that Neil held Traveler’s reigns when Marse Robt alighted at Braehead alighted. I would hope that the tree to which Traveler was tethered still stands and is identified, as it was in Mary Graham Howison’s day.

    The report does not mention the privy, which Mary Graham H razed as an embarrassment. It and the ice house were made of brick baked in situ, whereas “the big house” used professionally manufactured brick of higher quality.

  • John McCoul Howison said:

    Born in 1925 am last of Red River Co. TX Howisons. My three childrem are Martha Lynne, John Neil, and Stephen Carney Howison.

  • merry said:

    Thank you for your fascinating insights, Mr. Howison! It is an honor to “meet” you. I have forwarded the information you provided to the owners of Braehead. They will be over-joyed to hear from you. Yes, the “Traveler Tree” is still thriving on the property and was protected like the treasure it is during the renovations. There is a picture of the tree on my last blog entry about Braehead. Thank you, again.

  • Russ Kuykendall said:

    I had dinner in August, 2013, in Arlington, Virginia, with my distant cousin and last Howison descendant to own the home, Dr. Graham Stephens. Graham indicated that Robert Reid Howison alternated between the practise of law and serving as a Presbyterian minister. Also, his history of Virginia was published as early as 1846 as this link to a reprint of the 1846 edition will show:

  • Russ Kuykendall said:

    My layman’s interest in classical architecture and its ancient roots has led me to an insight as to the plan of Braehead. It appears that the massing (“footprint”) of Braehead is in keeping with a Roman country villa. As with Braehead, a Roman country villa might well have two structures linked by a covered porticus.with Roman arches open to the air. One structure was for owner and family. The other structure was for servants and workers. At Braehead, the two structures were connected by an enclosed hyphen or gallery with windows. One side was for the owner and family. The other accommodated servants. Braehead was constructed as a mid-19th-c. American rendering of an ancient, Roman country villa.

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