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Robinson House

R. E. Lee Camp, No.1
— Confederate Soldiers’ Home —

Between 1885 and 1941 the present-day location of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts was the site of a large residential complex for poor and infirm Confederate veterans of the Civil War. Established by R. E. Lee Camp, No. 1, Confederate Veterans, the camp was built with private funds, including donations from former Confederate and Union soldiers alike. At peak occupancy, residents numbered just over three hundred; altogether a total of nearly three thousand veterans from thirty-three states called the camp home. From the camp’s earliest years, the Commonwealth of Virginia helped fund the institution. When the last resident died in 1941, the Commonwealth gained ownership of the site and designated it as the Confederate Memorial Park.

Throughout the early 20th century, camp administrators and the Commonwealth granted parcels of land to erect the Confederate Memorial Institute (“Battle Abbey,” which later merged with the Virginia Historical Society); Home for Needy Confederate Women; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; and headquarters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

This imposing building was originally a two-story farmhouse built by Anthony Robinson Jr. in the mid-1850s. In April 1865 during the final weeks of the Civil War, Union troops occupied the house and grounds at the invitation of his widow, Rebecca Robinson, in exchange for protection from looting. In 1883 the couple’s son Channing sold the residence and thirty-six acres to establish the Confederate soldiers’ home. The house, renamed Fleming Hall, gained a third floor and cupola. For the next half century, it served as the compound’s administration building and war museum. After the camp’s closing, the Commonwealth granted use of the building to the Virginia Institute for Scientific Research in the 1950s and to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts from 1964 to the present.

A favorite attraction in the camp’s museum was Stonewall Jackson’s war horse, Little Sorrel, who died at the soldiers’ home in 1886. The horse’s preserved and mounted hide was on display—as seen in this 1932 photograph alongside veteran J. C. Smith—until its move to the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington in 1948. It remains on view at the school today. Photo: Dementi-Foster Studios; courtesy Richmond Valentine History Center

Members of the Robinson family assemble in front of their Italianate-style residence in this 1880 photograph. Their estate, with its extensive stand of oak trees, was called “The Grove.” Photo: Valentine Richmond History Center
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