House: Fort Lee’s
Dr. Steven E.
Quartermaster Corps Historian
(From the July 2008 US Army Quartermaster Foundation Newsletter)
Anyone coming onto
for the first time in years is apt to be surprised.
And if your time away has been, say, a decade or more, prepare to be shocked
by the amount of change that has occurred. The
basic layout is the same of course:
still forms the outer “horseshoe,” with the Block House at the tip of one
end and the golf course on the other.
But between these points large sections of the once
ubiquitous white-framed, World War II era structures have been steadily torn
down to make way for the new. You
can still get a vague sense of that bygone era with a stop off at the FLOCC, or
in Building 8000 (the former Post Headquarters), or in the one remaining wooden
chapel. It is also possible to catch
a glimpse of what that earlier landscape must have looked like by driving along
Shop and Quartermaster roads, or by taking
across post to CASCOM Headquarters. For
good or ill (and no doubt many will swear it’s the latter) there are still a
fair number of physical reminders of Camp Lee Two all around this installation.
the same be said of Camp Lee One? The
short answer is no. We have, to be
sure, a collection of 90-year-old photographs and postcards showing doughboys
going through their paces. A great
panoramic shot of
dated 1917, also lots of pictures of individual buildings, assorted newspaper
clippings, maps, architectural drawings, and the like.
But there are virtually no physical reminders from that time.
All those many barracks, chapels, theaters, hospitals, infirmaries, PXs,
commissaries, clubs, fire stations, training courses, barns … the hundreds of
buildings depicted in the panorama and period photos, are now completely gone.
All were torn down at war’s end. All,
that is, save one – the
Within weeks after President Wilson delivered his
“War Message” to Congress in April 1917, the War Department decided to build
one of sixteen national cantonments on leased property here in
Prince George County
. A beehive of activity followed as
construction crews moved in, and
quickly became the third largest “city” in
, next to
. It was home to some 60,000
Soldiers, including members of the 80th “
” Division. Their new Commander,
Major General Adelbert Cronkhite, made the Davis House his Headquarters, with
offices on the first floor and his living quarters upstairs.
The locals took to calling this well-built farmhouse, turned Army
Headquarters, “the White House.”
had it that General Cronkhite was the father of CBS anchorman, Walter Cronkite,
that in fact little Walter had spent part of his youth in the Davis House.
However a 1992 letter to his
office brought this response from the veteran newsman:
“The good general wasn’t the handsomest fellow to come down the pike
but I suppose I can’t find fault with your seeing a family resemblance.
Yes, indeed,” he wrote, “he was my Grandfather’s cousin.”
World Wars I and II, the original
was torn down, and the property returned to the
, for use as a game preserve. Mr.
and Mrs. Gordan R. Davis and family lived in the house from 1924 to 1950.
It was from this family that the building received its name.
During World War II part of the Davis House was used for offices.
August 1972, the Davis House was formally dedicated as an historical site and a
new marker was unveiled. It was used
at that time to house the Fort Lee Chaplain’s office.
In the 1980s it was used as a haven for battered spouses and offices for
the Family Advocacy staff. Renovated
in 1989 and rededicated the following year, for most of the time since then the
Davis House was used as the installation’s VIP guest quarters, and for a brief
spell, once again, the Post Commander’s residence.
Currently it is being used to provide office space for the ACS’s Family
From time to time it’s been suggested that the Davis
House should, like so many other buildings, be torn down for the sake of
progress. But that would be a real
shame. Fort Lee does not have an
edifying, historical Main Gate like that which adorns the entrance to
. Nor an imposing icon like
’s Grant Hall. Or anything quite
up to the scale of
’s fabulous old
, or the “Cuartels.”
’s only surviving physical link to its World War I history and heritage is the
Davis House. To knowingly sever that
link, and destroy that heritage, save for the most compelling of reasons, would
be a tremendous loss indeed.