Library marks Golden Anniversary

Written by Nancy Moore

Fifty years ago this month, the Central Rappahannock Regional Library was launched as a demonstration library serving Fredericksburg and surrounding counties.

Trustees of Fredericksburg’s Wallace Library, established in 1908, realized that the small city library could not adequately serve the area’s growing population. The Wallace trustees considered building a new library on Washington Avenue but instead chose the vacant Lafayette Elementary School building at 1201 Caroline Street.

(Photo above: Lafayette School sign being taken down.)

The new library—the proud offspring of Fredericksburg’s Wallace Library—was dedicated on July 18, 1969. “I predict you will wonder from this day forward how you ever got along without the services we are starting here today,” said State Librarian Randolph Church—a prophecy that has certainly come true, as the regional system continues to grow and add services.

In 1969, however, the regional system had only the Fredericksburg library to serve customers in the member counties. To fill the gap, bookmobiles took the library on the road to even the most rural communities.

(Picture above: Bookmobile at the library in 1970.)

It was not long before branch libraries started to spring up—1972 in Colonial Beach (now Cooper), 1978 in North Stafford (Porter), 1981 in Montross, 1983 in Spotsylvania (Snow), 1985 in Hague (Newton), 1994 in Spotsylvania (Salem Church), 2010 in Stafford (England Run—now Howell), and 2018 in Spotsylvania (Towne Centre) and Stafford’s Fried Center. And, in the bookmobile tradition, satellite locations now reside in rural Spotsylvania at the Belmont Community Center and Partlow Ruritan Club.

For many years, Fredericksburg’s Headquarters Library was the center of activities. In 2001, it became the site of the system’s first computer lab, thanks to a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Friends of the Library inaugurated annual book sales that were initially held outdoors in a paved area in front of the Caroline Street building. The popular summer Music on the Steps program is still funded by the Friends of the Library with book sale proceeds.

The Virginiana Room has always been an asset for the library system. Virginiana materials were one of the strengths of the Wallace Library, and the collection has greatly expanded over the years. Now housed in expanded quarters on the ground floor of Fredericksburg Branch, the Virginiana Room draws researchers from near and far. It has microfilm of Fredericksburg newspapers back to 1788, and a complete index of obituaries from those papers, not to mention books, maps, and city directories.

The room is an important stop for members of the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation’s Marker Committee as they study the history of Fredericksburg homes and use the newspaper microfilm collection to tell the story of the people who lived there. Copies of the completed Marker reports are available in the Virginiana Room.

Reflecting on the library’s continued growth, Library Director Martha Hutzel said, “For 50 years, Central Rappahannock Regional Library has served the community’s education, information, and technology access needs. We have enjoyed incredible community support from our localities, and we are planning for the future of library service as we strive to meet our goal of lifelong learning for everyone in our community.”

Nancy Moore is on the board of Historic Fredericksburg Foundation Inc. and serves as Virginiana Manager at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library.

“The Falmouth Canal and Its Mills”

“The Falmouth Canal and Its Mills”

“The Falmouth Canal and Its Mills: An Industrial History” is an article by John Janney Johnson that can be found in the second volume of the Journal of Fredericksburg History. It focuses on the seemingly forgotten industrial past of Fredericksburg and Falmouth, Virginia. Here is a summary of that article done by Erin Adams, an HFFI intern, for your enjoyment.

The portion of the Rappahannock River between Fredericksburg and Falmouth is characterized by an extremely powerful water flow that falls 22 feet within 1 mile. This made the area an appealing site for construction of hydro-powered mills on the river’s banks. Beginning as early as the 1720s, dams were constructed so that the Rappahannock water power could be harnessed to fuel the mills that had already begun operation.

Between 1775 and 1800, the Falmouth Canal was built, prompting construction of four more mills. Between the 1720s and the 1880s, numerous mills and warehouses with varying purposes (primarily grist, flour, and iron) were constructed and operated along the canal and river bank. The passage of time, however, has eroded any trace of these once-mighty industrial structures. Upriver, the canal and its stone retaining wall are still visible, but mostly washed out or covered by greenery, and the only building ruins that remain are at the site of the Rappahannock Forge.

For approximately 160 years these mills dominated the Fredericksburg waterfront, which might seem like a fairly short time in the grand scheme of things, but they helped establish Fredericksburg and Falmouth as an industrial hub. For example, in 1816, a total of 160,000 barrels of flour were exported through the Rappahannock ports, and during the 1820s-30s, the port was widely used by western farmers in the area. However, the development of railroad technology throughout the early to mid-19th century hurt the once thriving commerce of Falmouth and Fredericksburg.

Fredericksburg, Va. View of town from east bank of the Rappahannock, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Early in the Civil War, the mills saw an increase of business (especially the steam-powered Falmouth Cotton Factory), but once Fredericksburg and Falmouth were occupied by Union troops in March 1862, all of the mills were subsequently severely damaged or destroyed. Many of the businesses attempted to reassemble their mills and continue operation, but the amount of destruction, combined with the rise of the railroad and other technologies in exportation, prevented the recovery of the mills and warehouses.

These industries faced many challenges but provided economic stability to the region before disappearing from the shores of the Rappahannock. They left minimal information behind about their impact on the community.

The full text of “The Falmouth Canal and Its Mills: an Industrial History” is a much more in-depth look into these mills and factories, their purposes and impacts, and the people who owned them (who had their own personal trials and tribulations associated with their businesses). To learn more about Fredericksburg and Falmouth’s fascinating industrial mill past, please visit the HFFI and ask about the Journal of Fredericksburg History: Volume Two.

“Battle of the Silversmith House” fought in 1962

Written by Wendy Migdal, Edits by Linda Billard, HFFI Volunteers

Soon after the Revolutionary War, a small one-and-a-half story wooden house was built on Sophia Street. Its address would not become 813 until years later. It rested on a shelf of shale by the river and had two levels of basements. Other than that, it was not remarkable for its time.

Photo of 813 Sophia Street in HFFI Photo Collection Date unknown.

In about 1786, James Brown and his bustling family—a wife and six children—moved in. Brown was a jeweler and a silversmith, and his occupation gave the house the name it is known by today. The showroom and counting rooms were downstairs, and the family was crowded together in the half-story upstairs. Customers entered on George Street, which, at that time, continued all the way to the river.

The house passed through several generations of Brown’s descendants. The entrance was moved to Sophia Street, and interior stairs were added to reach the basement. Little else changed, even as another war came and went and shells flew overhead.

However, by 1961, this ordinary late 18th century structure had become extraordinary. Everything around it had changed. Ironically, as one of the few surviving commercial buildings in Fredericksburg from the 1700s, it was to be sacrificed for commercial interests of the 20th century. Bought by the city, it was to be replaced by that bane of our society, the parking lot. Downtown merchants, concerned about growing business on Route 1, demanded more parking.

Historic Fredericksburg, Inc. (now the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation, Inc. or HFFI) went into action, and a lengthy battle began. At first, HFFI considered a city suggestion to move the house (by now called the Cole house). This idea was rejected because it would destroy a key aspect of the house’s significance—its location. Then HFFI President Lillian Reed offered to buy it from the City Council. The town merchants resisted; they wanted their parking lot. Other options were considered, such as modernizing the building to use as a shopping destination or making it into public restrooms. Fortunately, a better solution emerged.

In February 1962, the City Council, feeling bound its promises to the merchants, ordered demolition of the house within 30 days. Offers began pouring in from people willing to dismantle the structure in exchange for the irreplaceable, hand-hewn materials. But the darkest hour is just before dawn. In April, HFFI notified the council that it had purchased another house at 1007 Sophia Street and would offer this to the city in a swap. The new location would provide 23 parking spaces versus the measly 5 offered by the Cole house.

Marker on 813 Sophia Street.

The house was saved, and HFFI won a major battle. The organization immediately leased (and later sold) the property to the Fredericksburg Gallery of Modern Art, now called the Fredericksburg Center for the Creative Arts. Just as important, that February 1962 meeting resulted in the first discussion of a proposal that eventually became the Historic District Ordinance and marked a turning point in the city’s attitude toward historic buildings.

May is National Preservation Month. Take the time to celebrate our historic buildings, visit some of your favorite locations, and support organizations that protect Fredericksburg’s historic character.

(This article can also be found in the Front Porch May 2019 edition.
https://issuu.com/frontporchfredericksburg/docs/fpfmay2019?fbclid=IwAR2bog7hJ47VA_4MMc16Jxvyrx-OFoL-fF2yv_vGA4mj2wqOvUakk6DecH4)

It Takes a Village…To Save an Old House

It Takes a Village…To Save an Old House

By Wendy Migdal, HFFI Volunteer

Sometimes houses, like people, fall on hard times. Life throws challenges their way, and they don’t always have the resources to keep up. If they have a network of people willing to labor on their behalf, they can bounce back. If not, there isn’t much hope.

The house at 818 Sophia Street, named the Wells House after its most famous occupant, is a success story. Built in 1812 for Reverend William James of the Fredericksburg Baptist Church, the house is a 2-1/2 story Federal style structure with walls of brick nogging covered with beaded weatherboarding, which surely stood it in good stead during the bombardment by Union forces 50 years later.

The Benjamin Wells family most likely leased the house during the Civil War. Fifteen-year-old daughter Geno Wells became the subject of a wartime romance with a supposed federal spy—a story that captivated the generation following the Civil War.

By 1966, the house had served as a tenement for many years and was in a dilapidated condition. Historic Fredericksburg Foundation, Inc. (HFFI) raised $10,000 to purchase it and received another $10,000 in a special appropriation by the Virginia General Assembly. The restoration task was daunting: HFFI’s director Boyd Graves was unable to name a single thing that didn’t need work. A cinderblock kitchen and chimney added in 1940 were removed, flooring was restored or replaced, and new wiring and heating systems were installed. Even the pillars on the front porch, which had been boxed up, were returned to their original round shape.

HFFI operated the house as a museum and as its headquarters for several years. In 1975, the organization sold it to a private owner, although HFFI maintains a perpetual covenant, or easement, on the property. Since then, the house has been sold to several people who have operated businesses out of it: a bridal shop, a bakery, and most recently, an accounting firm. You can see the beautiful interiors in a marketing video on YouTube created by a realty company.

In contrast, at 1407 Caroline Street a bit of sidewalk leads to nowhere, mute testimony to the two-story Georgian style house, originally constructed about 1787, that once stood there. The Civil War was especially unkind to this home, but it appears to have been almost completely rebuilt by 2 years after the war.

However, the 21st century witnessed the demise of this house. First, a storm-related fire in 2003 damaged it, and it sat vacant for 7 years. Another fire in November 2010 struck the death knell. The following February, the city declared the structure unsafe under a state code, which gives the owner the right to tear it down. He did just that in June 2011, prompting a vigorous protest and the passionate resignation of the president of the Architectural Review Board.

But perhaps a phoenix will rise out of the ashes. Although a house has yet to be built on that site, the city and HFFI work to prevent “demolition by neglect” so there are no future irreplaceable losses. To support these efforts, become a member of HFFI by visiting HFFI.org to join.

(Also published in the March 2019 issue of the Front Porch.)

(CONTINUED) Feature on Candlelight Tour House – 704 Prince Edward Street

(CONTINUED) Feature on Candlelight Tour House—704 Prince Edward Street

Blog Post by Wendy Migdal

Edited by Linda Billard

Principal Marker Researcher: Roger Engels

Kaufman and Hannah Hirsh were not the original owners or builders of the house, however. That distinction belongs to James Turner, who worked as a manager for a local merchant and later a foreman in a foundry. In 1854, Turner bought an irregular piece of land from William Mitchell that fronted Prince Edward Street for 60 feet and extending back 264 feet. A year earlier, Mitchell had purchased the land from the owner of the Federal Hill estate but seemed to have some trouble paying his bills.

Turner probably built the brick Greek Revival style house in 1855, with a gable roof and two chimneys. Because the earliest map showing the house dates from 1878, no records exist regarding the exact original footprint. The house is a two-story brick dwelling with a side hall measuring 24 feet by 32 feet, and a one-story brick extension to the rear measuring 14 feet by 26 feet. The extension may or may not have been added later; there are no visible joints, however. (And at some point, there was yet another brick addition, 14 by 10 feet, that does show a break in the brickwork. A frame sunroom was added above this.) There was also a 1-½ story kitchen dependency.

When Turner came home from work, he may have stood on his small front porch (which at that time covered only the doorway entrance) and gazed on the bustle of town. Prince Edward at that time was the western edge of the city, so he was “getting away from it all.” But it was not to last long; he sold the house after only 2 years to Charles Brown. Turner’s obituary mentions health problems, so that may have been an issue.

Charles Brown was the owner during the terrible battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862, when cannon and musket fire raged above the heads of the citizens of Fredericksburg as they cowered in cellars. The Union set up gun emplacements behind Federal Hill and 704 Prince Edward. Because most of the Confederate troop movement was to the north of the house, it may not have sustained great damage during the battle, and Charles Brown may not have been cowering in the house at the time. As you learned in the previous blog installment about this house, the Hirshes purchased the house only about 4 months after the battle.

Today’s owners enjoy a porch that wraps around the left side of the house—date unknown—with Doric columns and a turned balustrade. They are eager to preserve the historical character of the house and received their historical marker from HFFI in 2016. To learn more about their preservation efforts and the history of the home, join us for the Candlelight Tour on December 8 and 9, 2018.

Feature on Candlelight Tour House – 704 Prince Edward St

Feature on Candlelight Tour House – 704 Prince Edward St

Blog Post by Wendy Migdal

Principal Researcher: Roger Engels

 

 

The house at 704 Prince Edward Street, built in 1855, has been home to families large and small, some who were there for years and some for only a short while. But if walls could talk, one of their most outstanding memories would be the time an old Civil War veteran came back to the scene where he lost his arm 46 years earlier.

William Wright of New York was serving with Duryea’s Zouaves when he was wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness. The entire city of Fredericksburg had become essentially a hospital after the battle, and 704 Prince Edward was no exception. The Hirshes had bought the house only about a year earlier, in April 1863. Kaufman and Hannah Hirsh lived there with their seven children; three of their daughters helped nurse Wright back to health after his arm was amputated in their parlor.

In 1910, Wright returned to Fredericksburg for a visit. One of those daughters, Rosa, now married, was still living in the house with her husband. Either Wright had established a special friendship with the family while he was convalescing, or the wartime memories uniting people were strong, but a Free Lance-Star entry reports that he spent several days with the family.

For nearly 100 years, (1863–1958), three generations of Hirshes lived in the home—grandparents Kaufman and Hannah and their children, daughter Rosa who married Herman Kaufman (yes, her husband’s last name was the same as her father’s first), and grandson Sydney. One of the earliest Jewish families in Fredericksburg, the Hirshes were prominent merchants, owning several mercantile, grocery, and jewelry stores throughout the years.

When Rosa Hirsh Kaufman’s mother died in 1893 (her father had died in 1891), her six siblings agreed to sell their interest in the house to her. It appears that Rosa had been living there already because her father’s obituary stated that he died in Baltimore. In the early 1900s, the Kaufmans sold off some parcels of land behind the house that had been part of the property. These parcels became part of Hanover Park, where the Fredericksburg White Sox played for some years. The park also hosted traveling shows such as the Chautauqua and other amusement-type parks, until the G&H Corporation bought it and built a clothing factory. Today, the buildings are a mixed-use office and residential space called Mill Race Commons.

It was during Rosa’s residence that William Wright returned to visit the scene of what surely one of the most harrowing moments of his life. It was also during this time that some additions were made to the house. The Kaufmans extended the front porch to the full width of the house by 1912, according to Sanborn fire insurance maps, and built an addition to the kitchen as well as a shed. By 1919, they had added a garage in front of the shed and a frame addition at the rear of the two-story portion of the house. By 1927 (the year Rosa died), a second story had been added to the frame addition.

The house passed out of the Hirsh and Kaufman families’ hands when the widow of Sydney Kaufman (Rosa’s son) sold it in 1958.

For more information on the building of the home and other owners, stay tuned to this blog. This house will also be on the Candlelight Tour December 8 and 9, 2018. More to come on 704 Prince Edward Street soon!

Job Listing – HFFI Volunteer and Event / Fundraising Coordinator

 

Application period is now closed.

Resumes are being reviewed and interviewees will be contact over the next two weeks.

If no suitable applicant is found, the application period will reopen.

Volunteer and Event / Fundraising Coordinator

The Historic Fredericksburg Foundation, Inc. is seeking a Volunteer & Events/ Fundraising Coordinator to work 25 hours per week.

Position is estimated to begin early August.

Duties would include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Recruiting & Managing Volunteers
    • Monitor volunteers running office during hours of operation
    • Monitor and assist volunteers working on independent projects
    • Recruit volunteers and learn their skills and interests to match with appropriate projects
  • Assist various working committees – Historic Marker, Events, Real Estate, Publications, etc.
  • Lead coordination of the annual Holiday Candlelight Tour including:
    • Volunteer committees to manage portions of event
    • Basic bookkeeping and oversight of budget and ticket sales
    • Assist volunteers in obtaining sponsors and advertisers for event
    • Promote event throughout community
  • Assist walk-in guests during business hours and phone calls/ emails with requests for information
    • Consult files in Lewis Store for info
    • Pass on to appropriate volunteer or board member as needed
  • Oversee sales in gift shop throughout year/ work to promote gift shop and HFFI items
  • Post on HFFI Facebook page to engage community with preservation and promote events and products
  • Communicate with HFFI Board of Directors on progress with Foundation projects and needs to ensure success
  • Maintain and monitor organization’s budget
    • Oversee payment of bills and tax preparation

Applicant should have experience and be proficient in the following skills:

  • Verbal Communication
    • Must communicate with staff & volunteers to convey needs and instructions
  • Ability to prioritize tasks
  • Project Management – will need to coordinate multiple departments and committees as well as simultaneous tasks to ensure a successful Holiday Candlelight Tour
  • Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint
  • WordPress website CMS – not required, but helpful

 

Pay is hourly (not to exceed 25 hours/ week without Board approval) $16-$18/ hour

Please send a cover letter and resume to Board President, HFFI, 1200 Caroline Street, Fredericksburg, VA 22401 or email to [email protected].