Built in 1821, the birthplace represents a rare surviving example of a small, plain vernacular house that was once very common throughout Tidewater Virginia. This modest dwelling contains three rooms and is of a type often used by white professionals, craftsmen, and small land-owning farmers in the first half of the 19th century. The house stood behind a store and tavern at a crossroads community at the intersection of Hickory Fork Road (sometimes known as York River Road) and the road to Gloucester Courthouse. When a late 19th-century post office opened here, the crossroads was dubbed ‘Belroi’, a shortened version of the name given to the nearby 1852 home of William Roy and Isabella Taliaferro Jones, “Belle Roi.”
When Lemuel Reed came to Gloucester in 1851 as a Methodist Church circuit rider assigned to Gloucester, Mathews, and King and Queen Counties, his family needed a home. The previous parsonage had recently burned down, and a new one was not yet ready, so the church procured this house for the Reed family. They lived in the small house temporarily, and their 5th child, Walter, was born here on September 13, 1851. Since circuit riders were reassigned every two years, the Reeds left Gloucester in 1852.
Walter Reed attended the University of Virginia when his father took a position near Charlottesville. He received a degree in medicine there and another from Bellevue Hospital in New York City. He joined the U.S. Army as a surgeon and was assigned to Army forts in the Western Territories. During this period of national and imperial expansion, the Army experienced more losses from infectious diseases than warfare, and Reed, among others, became interested in the bacteriology. He was called to Washington, D.C. first to head a commission to study the cause of typhoid fever and later to study the cause of yellow fever. Following the commission’s identification of the Aedes Aegypti mosquito as the carrier of infectious bacteria, cleanup efforts greatly reduced Yellow Fever cases.
After Walter Reed died in 1902, colleagues who recognized his leadership skills lobbied for the new Army Hospital to be named in his honor. Today, the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, continues to carry his name. Gloucester’s community hospital opened in 1977 and was also named in his honor.
The birthplace was purchased in 1926 by the Medical Society Virginia and restored to reflect its appearance in the mid-19th century. It was transferred to the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA) in 1968, and managed by the local Joseph Bryan Branch. In 2004, the Gloucester Preservation Foundation (GPF) was formed to take over care of the birthplace. Since 2019, the Fairfield Foundation has partnered with the GPF to undertake preservation tasks and open the house to the public.
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