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General's home a piece of history

LEESBURG, Va. — He was a five-star general who helped plan the invasion of Normandy, secretary of state and of defense under President Truman, and winner of the 1953 Nobel Peace Prize. As the U.S. Army chief of staff, he organized an army of 8.5 million Americans during World War II.

But Gen. George C. Marshall was best-known as the architect of a sweeping economic recovery program for postwar Europe. The Marshall Plan provided $13 billion to rebuild, stabilize and unite 17 war-torn nations — including Germany and Italy, the very countries that had just been defeated by the U.S. and its allies.

Yet despite all these accomplishments, Marshall led a very private and simple personal life. Now Dodona Manor, the historic Virginia home where he lived from 1941 to his death in 1959, is opening to the public following a six-year, $7 million renovation undertaken by The George C. Marshall Center.

Supporters of the restoration of Dodona Manor in Leesburg hope the house will give history buffs and Marshall fans further insight into the life of one of the most famous and influential men of the mid-20th century — a man whose name is still revered in Europe.

"There have been many times when I've said, 'I know you don't want us to do this,' because he was a very modest man," Marshall Center Director Anne Horstman said, looking at a bust of Marshall in her office. "We will use this house as a means to showcase a remarkable figure of the 20th century, who did remarkable things for the world."

The restoration of the manor was funded in part by 11 of the 17 nations that participated in the Marshall Plan, with Germany contributing the most of any European country, and other major donations from Austria, Great Britain, Italy and the Netherlands. That financial support underlines just how strongly Marshall's legacy still resonates with Europeans.

The three-story Federal-style building, which has an open veranda framed by four white columns, was built in the early 19th century. The house had some structural damage; wallpaper had peeled off, furniture was rotting, the grounds were overgrown.

"A lot of the furniture was actually in very bad shape," said furniture conservator Ron Sheetz, who has worked on 35 to 40 pieces for the restoration. "Veneer lifting, veneer missing, mold, mildew — you name it."

The project has also included work on the interior, exterior and still-unfinished garden, Horstman said.

Leesburg — located 40 miles northwest of Washington — is now suburban, but in Marshall's day, it was largely countryside. The view from his bedroom window looks over a muddy dirt patch where his prized vegetable garden used to be, and another spot where his wife had a rose garden. His office has a view of the roughly four acres that surround the house.

The furnishings and decor are simple, in keeping with the way it looked when Marshall and his wife lived here. Marshall's lightly painted bedroom has little clutter, little furniture and a single bed tucked in the corner along the far wall. The library is filled with a soft yellow couch, a rugged brown reading chair, about 500 original family books and a vintage television in a huge cabinet with a tiny screen the size of a rearview mirror.

Twenty-first century Americans accustomed to bad news about international policies may find it difficult to imagine, but experts say the Marshall Plan achieved its goals of promoting unity and economic recovery.

"The Marshall Plan compelled the nations of Europe, who for centuries had made war against each other, to band together for their own common good. It was a brilliant step in the right direction, and the journey toward unification, however arduous, continues to this day," said Rachel Thompson, director of education at the Marshall Center.

Keith Wauchope, a career diplomat and former U.S. ambassador to Gabon who serves on the Marshall Center's board of directors, agrees that the Marshall Plan's impact is still being felt. "Perhaps the most profound legacy of the Marshall plan was the foundation it laid for economic integration, which was the precursor to today's European Union," he said.

Dodona Manor will be open to visitors the first three weekends of December. It will close for the holidays and reopen weekends starting Jan. 7.

If you go . . .

GEORGE C. MARSHALL CENTER AT DODONA MANOR: 217 Edwards Ferry Road, Leesburg, Va.; or 703-777-1880. Open Dec. 3, 4, 10, 11, 17 and 18. Closed for the holidays. Reopening weekends beginning Jan. 7. Hours: Saturdays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sundays, 1 p.m.-5 p.m. Adults, $10; seniors, $8; students and children 9-17, $5. Tours not recommended for children under 8.