From the St. Paul (Minn.) The Appeal, 7/8/1911, p. 1, c. 6
OLD VAN LEW HOUSE
Noted Virginia Mansion Gives Way to a School.
Home of the Famous Woman Spy is to Be Torn Down and Replaced by Educational Institution.
Richmond, Va. – The purchase of the Van Lew house by the city of Richmond as the site of a public school building seals its fate, and the Richmond home of Elizabeth Van Lew, “the woman who more than any other aided the United States government during the Civil war” will soon exist only as a memory and a tradition.
In 1824 Lafayette was the house guest of Dr. Adams, a former mayor of Richmond, who built the house while Chief Justice Marshall, Governor Smith – one of the victims of the burning of the Richmond theater in 1811 – with the like were frequent visitors there. In 1843 it was bought by John Van Lew of New York, then a successful Richmond hardware merchant.
While the Federal army hovered about Richmond Miss Van Lew was in close touch with its commanders and flowers cut from the beautiful garden in the morning adorned Grant’s table at the evening meal. She spied upon the Confederate agents, civil and military, establishing her deputies as servants in the in the household of Jefferson Davis, and through them acquainting herself with his cabinet conferences. This information, put in cipher and concealed between an outer and inner shoe sole, was smuggled through the lines by a negro employed on a farm below the town. She was in constant communication with the inmates of Libby prison, supplying them with implements with which to work their way out, and harboring them until an opportunity offered to elude the Confederate pickets, and aided Colonel Streight, the noted raider, who tunneled an underground passage, and with 100 men escaped.
Suspected throughout of disloyalty, her intrigues were not fully known until after her death, when ex-Federal officers whom she had harbored came to the house and disclosed the receptacles of her of her correspondence with Grant and the chamber beneath the eaves, entered through an opening cut in the partition and concealed by a piece of furniture.
When Richmond was evacuated Grant sent his aide-de-camp, Colonel Parke, to protect her property.
After the death of Miss Van Lew’s mother in 1870, a brother with his two daughters lived her, but the brother with one of these died, leaving a single niece to share her solitude. After a lingering illness from tuberculosis, she, too, passed away in September, 1900.
She was a suffragist, and on the plea that taxation without representation is tyranny, refused to pay the assessment on the property, the arrears at the settling up of the estate amounting to $5,000. She fell into great poverty and the showy garden and silent house with its solitary taper were spooky places at night.
The house, covered with mortgages, was bought by the Virginia club, and the club continued a popular rendezvous until the expense of its maintenance necessitated the closing of the doors. The house next assumed the role of a sanitarium. The general interest in the place by tourists necessitated the display of prohibited signs.