- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 12, 2000

The new owners of Robert E. Lee's boyhood home in Alexandria, Va., yesterday agreed to help repair the aging museum and keep it open to the public until someone willing to buy the house can be found.

Mark and Ann Kington of Alexandria said the plan, drawn up after consulting with several preservation firms, gives interested buyers up to three months to make a credible offer for the boyhood home.

Potential buyers must provide tangible plans to restore the building and create an endowment to ensure its operation into the foreseeable future.

"Our primary motivation throughout this process has been the saving of this home," said Mr. Kington, who originally had planned to use the building as his family's residence.

The Federal-era town house, located in the 600 block of Oronoco Street in Old Town, served as the Confederate general's childhood home and has been open to the public for the past 30 years under the ownership of the Lee-Jackson Foundation in Charlottesville, Va.

When the home was sold on March 3 to the Kingtons for $2.5 million, angry Alexandria residents and historical groups quickly mobilized to reverse the decision.

Opponents argued the sale of the museum, which served the public good, had been conducted without their input.

The controversy caught the attention of Virginia Attorney General Mark L. Earley, who is investigating whether proper sales procedures were followed.

Among the groups that have been contacted by the Kingtons for advice on the restoration project are the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Virginia Historical Society and the Civil War Preservation Trust.

Places like Stratford Hall, the Lee family home in the Northern Neck, are potential candidates for buying the home or chipping in to help out, but the board there hasn't even considered the matter, said Stratford's executive director.

Since the Kingtons softened their stance, several state and national groups have expressed an interest in buying the home and restoring it for public display, said George Kundahl, chairman of the Committee to Save Lee's Boyhood Home.

Mr. Kundahl has yet to reveal the names of any would-be buyers, though. His committee's Internet site (www.leeshome.com) has attracted on-line entreaties from as far away as England, Japan and Belgium, he said.

Mr. Kington indicated he would fund immediate repair needs, particularly to patch the leaky roof and a collapsing wall. The total repair coast could climb to $2 million, he said.

News of the family's change of heart has brought relief to concerned preservationists.

"With so many Civil War sites gone and many more threatened we are delighted that a way has been found to save General Lee's boyhood home," said James Lighthizer, president of the Civil War Preservation Trust.

The boyhood home dates back to 1795, according to the Alexandria Historical Society.

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