Lee Hall was constructed in 1859 and originally belonged to Richard D. Lee (no relation to Robert E. Lee). Lee bought the property in 1850 and operated a large-scale farm for over a decade, cultivating wheat, corn, and livestock. The Lee family was also one of the largest slave-owning families in Warwick County (presently in the district of Newport News). According to an 1860 census, Lee owned and rented 38 slaves and had eight slave quarters on the property. Unlike large plantation slaves who labored relentlessly in the fields, Lee's slaves worked more so as farmhands, cooks, and craftsmen. A large brick kitchen still stands today separate from the house, so visitors can get an idea of the conditions and settings these slaves worked under.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Lee rented out eight of his mansion's room to the Confederate army. Major General John Magruder and General Joseph Johnston made this house their headquarters from March to May 1862. Here, Confederate staff orchestrated and carried out battle plans to delay McClellan's Peninsular Campaign to Richmond. Confederate troops constructed redoubts and bunkers and planted landmines along a twenty-mile stretch between the James and York Rivers to slow down the Union's progress. One of those redoubts was built on the Lee Hall Mansion property and was the site of a small skirmish. The Confederate army was ordered to retreat from Yorktown to Williamsburg on May 3, 1862. On May 4, Union troops occupied the earthworks surrounding the town and pursued the enemy towards Lee Hall. Waiting in redoubt on the property were members of the Mississippi infantry. As the 5th US Cavalry approached the house, the Confederates opened fire. Armed with only sabers and pistols, the cavalrymen retreated, out-numbered and out-gunned. Once regrouped and more heavily armed, the Union marched back towards Lee Hall, only to find the house abandoned. It remained under Union control for the rest of the war. Richard Lee reclaimed the property in September 1865, only to declare bankruptcy in 1871. The estate passed between various owners over the next 125 years until it was bought by the city of Newport News in 1996.
Lee Hall is a very nice place to visit. The grounds and the house itself are particularly stunning. Inside, the basement has been transformed into a small military museum full of many amazing artifacts and relics. The first and second floors have been restored to their former Antebellum glory, featuring pieces of furniture and household wares from the period (including a bench from the home of President John Tyler). Photos weren't allowed, so you'll have to see for yourself. All in all, it's a nice place to visit, but I would suggest pairing it with another destination if you're spending the day. The tour of the grounds and the house took a maximum 45 minutes. But don't worry! There are plenty of places around Newport News to check out, such as Endview Plantation, the Virginia War Museum, and Yorktown.