January 23rd, 2012

Surely Braehead’s new owners must have thought this many times in the past two years. These pictures illustrate the sad conditions as I was introduced to Braehead.  It was pretty bad. Over 6,000 square feet of broken windows, rotting wood, mold, and standing water were just a few of the minor challenges. No bathrooms or heat, inadequate wiring and plumbing, and adhering to the strict building codes of the Department of Historical Resources were the bigger issues.

Fortunately for me, these were not my areas of responsibility!

But amidst the decay and garbage was a treasure trove of period antiques, many original to Braehead. Furniture, art, books, even a Victorian wedding dress were still inside the main dwelling and adjacent outbuildings.

I was overjoyed to have so much to work with! We inventoried as best we could to determine what we could use, and what was too precious or too far gone.

The owners generously donated many pieces to the Fredericksburg museum, but others you see in these photos were resurrected along with the house. You will see them again, refinished, repaired and reupholstered…continuing in their service to the present day stewards of Braehead.

Thus began the collaborative effort between the owners; architect, Sabina Weitzman;          builder, Jay Holloway and myself.

Our goal: to preserve the past and the future of Braehead.





But things would get worse before they got better…

The large plastic covered table in this photo is actually an antique piano forte'. It was too large to move!

Andy (in the window) and Petty, of Habalis Construction - two of the highly skilled craftsmen responsible for the restoration of Braehead.

Special thanks to Sabina Weitzman for these photographs

Tomorrow: Welcome! We’re ready for company!

January 20th, 2012

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