Harry Gray House


Date: Built 1881

Historic Designation:

Current Use of Property: Single-family residence

A unique Arlington property, the Harry Gray House was built by formerly enslaved man Harry W. Gray. It is a rare example of the brick rowhouse in the Italianate style and is the only surviving building of its type in Arlington. The Gray House represents the monumental shift from slavery to middle-class citizenship for African Americans in the decades following the Civil War.

Gray was born into slavery around 1851 at General Robert E. Lee’s Arlington House estate as the sixth child of Thornton and Selina Norton Gray. His mother, Selina Gray, was enslaved in Mary Custis Lee’s household as a trusted personal assistant for nearly 30 years. Harry Gray was documented to have been a mason’s assistant on the property.

Following the Civil War, Gray and his family established themselves at the government-sponsored Freedman’s Village on the Arlington House property while assimilating into their newfound societal roles. In 1880, Gray and his wife, Martha (Hoard) Gray, freed from James Madison’s Montpelier plantation, purchased a nine-acre tract in nearby Johnson’s Hill and it was here a year later that Gray finished building his house. The property remained in the Gray family until 1979, nearly 100 years after it was built.

Architectural Features

Built in the Italianate style, the Gray house is a freestanding rowhouse constructed of five-course American-bond brick with a rectangular footprint. It is two stories tall, has a solid brick foundation, a standing-seam metal shallow-pitched shed roof, and features 2/2 wood windows, two interior-end brick chimneys and a full-width one-story porch. Located in Gray’s subdivision of the Arlington View neighborhood, the house sits on a sloping lot with a grassy yard, brick driveway and landscaping. The property is in excellent condition and has had minor exterior alterations since its construction.

The Gray House retains sufficient integrity of design, workmanship, materials, location, and feeling despite the tremendous mid-to-late-20th-century growth in Arlington. It is also noteworthy because it represents the work of an amateur builder. Gray gleaned the skills and workmanship while he was enslaved at Arlington House and as a freedman working in brickyards.

Significant People

Harry W. Gray

Gray was born around 1851 to Thornton and Selina Norton Gray. Harry Gray was the third-generation of that family enslaved on the property of General Robert E. Lee’s Arlington House estate. Gray began to work for pay as a free man at age 12, farming the land with his family and working at local brickyards. Using the masonry skills he learned at Arlington House, he worked at a brickyard along the Potomac River up until age 20. He was later employed at the U.S. Patent Office in downtown Washington, D.C., where he worked for nearly 40 as a messenger and clerk. In 1878, he married Martha M. Hoard.

In 1900, census records indicate that Harry W. Gray was 48 years old, married to Martha H. Gray and they had three daughters, a son, and a servant. Gray died Nov. 3, 1913 and was buried in the St. Stephens Lodge Odd Fellows Cemetery. In 1964, he was moved to the Coleman Cemetery in Fairfax County near Mount Vernon. In his will, he bequeathed the property at South Quinn Street, which became known as Gray’s Subdivision, to his wife and four children. Martha Gray honored her husband’s legacy by naming two of the streets, Gray and Hoard (now Quinn and Rolfe Streets), when she subdivided the property. Gray’s Subdivision was the first planned subdivision of the Johnson’s Hill property.

More Information


1005 S. Quinn St., Arlington, VA 22204  View Map

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