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The Confederate White House in Richmond, VA

By Edited Jul 25, 2016 2 0

Official Name - The White House of the Confederacy

Historical Marker in Front of the Confederate White House

Step Back in History to the Civil War Period - Visit the Confederate White House

Confederate White House Clay Street(53060)
As you tour this elegant home, the Confederate White House, sitting atop a hill overlooking Shockoe Valley, you can only imagine the sights and sounds that this stately home has experienced. The home was originally designed and built, in 1818, for Dr. John Brockenbrough, who was a prominent doctor and banker. He and his family remained in the residence, until 1844, after which, several different wealthy families purchased and occupied this residence. In 1857, Mr. Lewis Crenshaw purchased the dwelling. Mr. Crenshaw made extensive renovations: including adding a third floor, adding gasoliers, and redecorating to reflect the styles of the period.

In 1861, when Richmond was named the capital of the Confederate States of America, a home was needed for the newly elected President Jefferson Davis and his family. The City of Richmond purchased the residence, and all its contents, from Mr. Crenshaw, paying approximately $42,000 for everything. The City of Richmond then leased the dwelling, with furnishings, to the Confederacy, to be used as the President's Executive Mansion. President Davis, his wife, Varina, and their children moved into the Confederate White House in August of 1861.

Even though it is called the Confederate White House, this stuccoed building is actually painted a pale gray.

When it was evident that Richmond would fall in 1865, the Davis family left the mansion and all its furnishings. Soon after their departure, President Abraham Lincoln visited Richmond on April 4, 1865. While in Richmond, he visited the Confederate White House, since it was being used as the headquarters for the Union Army. (It was just ten days later, on April 14, 1865, that President Abraham Lincoln was shot while attending a play at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C.)

After the Federal troops left in 1870, it was decided, by the City of Richmond, to turn the empty building into a school. Before using it as a school, furnishings and decorations, that had not already been removed by souvenir hunters, were sold at a public auction. The items sold, raised approximately $1,500. The building was then converted to classrooms, and used in this capacity for a number of years.

The Confederate White House was headed for demolition in 1889 when some Richmond women saved it. In 1892, these women sent out an appeal (see the quote below), for items used during the Civil War, which they could display in the Museum:

"The clothes, the arms, the money, the belongings of the Confederate soldier, and the women whose loyal enthusiasm kept him in the field, are properly objects of historical interest. The glory, the hardships, the heroism of the war were a noble heritage for our children. To keep green such memories and to commemorate such virtues, it is our purpose to gather together and preserve in the Executive Mansion of the Confederacy the sacred relics of those glorious days. We appeal to our sisters throughout the South to help us secure these invaluable mementoes before it's too late."

The above quote was taken from The Museum of the Confederacy site: (www.moc.org/site/PageServer?pagename=abt_ov_history).

Items poured in, and in February 1896, former President Jefferson Davis's home, the Confederate White House, was opened as The Confederate Museum. Little changed over the years, and as plans were being made to celebrate the Civil War Centennial, a decision needed to be made on how to proceed. So, during the 1960's, there were many policy changes made to meet the future needs of the growing Museum. It was decided to move the Museum's exhibits from the Confederate White House to a new Museum, and to restore the Mansion as it was during the time of the Civil War, when Jefferson Davis resided there.

And in 1970, the name was changed to The Museum of the Confederacy. In 1976, the new, current Museum was dedicated. Over the next two years, the exhibits were set up. After removing all the items from the Confederate White House, it was closed for restoration. The restored Confederate White House opened to the public, once again, in June of 1988.

As of now, they have been able to get back about 65% of the original furniture pieces and decorations that had been sold at auction or taken. Using a copy of the 1870 auction record, they were able to locate many of the items that had been sold. Many of these pieces have been donated back, placed on loan to the Confederate White House, or they have been purchased back.

Take a Tour of the Confederate White House

Davis Children Who Lived in the Confederate White House

Our tour guide was very knowledgeable, and he shared, not only details about the history of the Confederate White House and its furnishing, but also stories about the occupants. He was able to answer our group's questions, and when in doubt about an answer, he would find out the answer for us. He shared information about President Jefferson Davis and his family, and he told about the sad times the family had suffered during this time, as well as some funny stories about the children.

The only way to visit the Confederate White House is by guided tour. The tour lasts about 40 minutes, and it is well worth the ticket price. (Note:  No pictures may be taken inside the Confederate White House.) Tickets can be purchased next door, at The Museum of the Confederacy. You can purchase tickets for the Mansion tour, or for the Museum, or a combination ticket for both. Another ticket that's offered is the 'Richmond Civil War Pass,' for $15.00. This is what we purchased, since it would allow us admission to The Museum of the Confederacy, a tour of the White House of the Confederacy, and entrance into The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar. Since we planned to visit these anyway, it was the best buy for us.

The Museum participates with the Blue Star Museums Initiative, and has expanded on this program by offering our active military personnel, and their families, free admission all year.

The Museum of the Confederacy, and the adjoining Confederate White House, are located in downtown Richmond at 1201 E. Clay Street. They are open: Monday - Saturday: 10:00 am to 5:00 pm and Sunday: Noon to 5:00 pm. Beginning May 29, 2011 through September 4, 2011, Sunday hours are 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. Parking in MCVH Visitor Patient Parking deck is free, if you bring your parking ticket in to be validated.

To help you plan your visit, and to check the calendar of events for the Confederate White House, visit their website (www.moc.org).

Within walking distance of the Confederate White House, and the Museum of the Confederacy, you will be able to visit other historical Richmond landmarks, such as:  the Valentine Richmond History Center, the Wickham Home, and John Marshall's Home.

In Closing

View of the Confederate White House from the Garden
Thank you for traveling with me on this journey through time, as I visited the Confederate White House. I thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon visiting this site in the historic Court End neighborhood. Over the years, the lovely grounds of the Confederate White House, and the added Museum of the Confederacy, have become enclosed on two sides by the expansion of Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center. Even though it is in the middle of this growing downtown community, take a minute, sit in the Confederate White House garden, and ponder how far we have come.

Resources:

The Museum of the Confederacy

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