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Braehead had Civil War role page 2
Historic Braehead is on the Candlelight Tour this year.

 Previous owner Graham Stevens framed this Braehead key collection.
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Date published: 12/7/2012


"The good thing is that the previous owners didn't do much to it," Almy said. "But the bad thing is that the previous owners didn't do much to it."


That's where Holloway's challenge came in. He was faced with a house that was largely original and had never had an addition. Work that had been done over generations, however, had generally not been done to any sort of code.

The house is described as having two three-story towers--the formal tower and the service tower--connected by a two-story "hyphen."

"This was my most complex project so far," said Holloway. "It's the project I'm most proud of."

While far from the only challenge he faced, the basement was the most labor-intensive aspect. It was chronically wet and otherwise uninviting. Long ago, a concrete floor had been poured directly on top of the original brick floor in hopes of keeping the moisture at bay. Not only did it not work, but the concrete trapped the moisture underneath, and when Holloway's crews jack-hammered the old concrete, the original brick floor "had turned to mush."

The concrete layer also elevated several inches. To compensate, doors and door frames were cut from the bottom. The last step of the stairs landed just a couple of inches above the floor.

Using modern technology to block the moisture, Holloway excavated around the entire perimeter of the house, added a moisture-blocking membrane and waterproofed the foundation to keep the lower level living space dry.

Beneath the floor is also where new ductwork, plumbing, wiring and tubing for the Waterfurnace geothermal heating and cooling system would be run. Burying those utilities precluded the need for bulkheading them in the living space. And with the exterior walls and many interior walls solid brick, they were not as user-friendly as framed walls would be.

Once that was all in place, a new concrete floor at the proper level was poured. On top of that was laid a floor of reclaimed heart pine.

The lower level of the formal tower is the family's primary living space, with the kitchen and family room. The current family room, Almy is told, is where Gen. Lee took his breakfast on the morning of Dec. 13, 1862.

The handsome kitchen has a marble-topped island, soapstone countertops and a hammered copper sink. The cabinets are painted and distressed alderwood.

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A history of the house written by Mary "Aunt Mamie" Howison, who was born in 1859, recalls that her Uncle John Howison, Braehead's builder and first owner, loved to host his extended family at the house each Sunday, when the dining table would extend through both the living and dining rooms and lively discussions would ensue.

It was a time when a house was where life experiences took place--births, deaths, weddings.

The Howisons enjoyed a relatively high standard of living, thanks to the lucrative dairy plant that John Howison ran from the house. He took in milk from local farmers and distributed it to customers in Fredericksburg.

In just two short years, however, life for the Howisons would change dramatically as the family and community turned its attention to the Civil War. Selling a fine tract of Braehead timber to the Confederate government for the war effort was only the beginning. In 1861, Howison's wife died and three of his sons went to war.

Dec. 13, 1862, was the day Gen. Lee came to take breakfast at Braehead, steeling himself for the day of battle ahead. Lee had positioned his headquarters at a nearby spot now known as Lee's Hill. Viewing the brutality from that vantage point, he observed: "It is well that war is so terrible. We should grow too fond of it."

During the second Battle of Fredericksburg in 1864, the house was used as a hospital by the Union Army. The Yankee soldiers left the place standing, but they tossed furniture through the windows, carved their names in walls and trim, broke the china, and ate or otherwise killed the livestock.

Union cavalrymen's spur marks remain on the risers of the home's stairs. The floors were left so blood-soaked that it was easier for the Howisons to cover them with a dark stain than to clean them.

By war's end, Howison had lost his wife, two of his sons, all of his dairy equipment and was $60,000 in debt. There was also a cannonball hole at one end of the house.

--Richard Amrhine

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