US Army Quartermaster Foundation
Fort Lee, Virginia


The Davis House:  Fort Lee’s Oldest Building  

Dr. Steven E. Anders
Quartermaster Corps Historian
(From the July 2008 US Army Quartermaster Foundation Newsletter)
 

Anyone coming onto Fort Lee 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:  A Avenue 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 B Avenue 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. 

Photo of Davis House undated. Can 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 Camp Lee 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 Davis House.  

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 , Virginia .  A beehive of activity followed as construction crews moved in, and Camp Lee quickly became the third largest “city” in Virginia , next to Norfolk and Richmond .  It was home to some 60,000 Soldiers, including members of the 80th Blue Ridge ” 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.” Photo of General Cronkite

Photo of Walter CronkiteLegend 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 New York 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.”   

Between World Wars I and II, the original Camp Lee was torn down, and the property returned to the Commonwealth of Virginia , 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.   

Photos of the Davis House from 1918, 1972, and 2002In 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 Advocacy Program.  

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 Fort Lewis .  Nor an imposing icon like Fort Leavenworth ’s Grant Hall.  Or anything quite up to the scale of Fort Benning ’s fabulous old Infantry School Headquarters Building , or the “Cuartels.”  

No, instead Fort Lee ’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.

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