Discover Virginia and American history from three centuries at the Lee-Fendall House Museum. Located in historic Alexandria, this museum interprets the experiences of the people who lived and worked in the house from 1785 to 1969. Explore stories of everyone who has left their mark -- merchants and politicians, enslaved and free African Americans, housewives and actresses, liquor dealers and labor leaders.
Robert Downham grew up down the street from the Lee-Fendall House. In the early 1900s, he had set his sights on marrying the beautiful Mai Greenwell. Mai was close friends with Myra Lee Civalier, who was about to move out of the Lee-Fendall House and deeply wished that Mai could be the next occupant. Knowing this, Robert promised to purchase the house for Mai if she would marry him. She said yes.
Robert Downham inherited his father's business of selling liquor. In 1914, the Downhams hosted President Woodrow Wilson for a reception following that year's George Washington Birthday Parade. Legend has it that the party was so successful Downham had to open up his private stock of liquor to serve his thirsty guests.
After Virginia passed state prohibition in 1916, Downham tried to make a living by opening a haberdashery (a store selling men's clothing and accessories) on King Street. However, he struggled to compete with Washington, D.C.'s large department stores. In the 1920s, Downham and other Alexandria business owners purchased an ad in the Alexandria Gazette encouraging people to support their local businesses. Unfortunately, it did not prevent Downham from having to close his shop. By 1929, Downham was forced to downsize and move his family to a smaller home.