“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.)

Cooperation for Preservation of Historic Properties

Cooperation for Preservation of Historic Properties

by David James, HFFI Board President

Since 1955, the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation, Inc. (HFFI) has been devoted to protecting and preserving historic structures and landscapes of our city that give it a true sense of place and authenticity. Recognizing that each modification of an historic building could impact the integrity of our architectural heritage, the organization takes proposed changes very seriously. Therefore, HFFI has decided to appeal a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) approved by the Fredericksburg Architectural Review Board (ARB) on December 10, 2018.

The ARB approved replacement of a wooden front porch at the home on 129 Caroline Street with concrete, brick and tile. HFFI has held a restrictive preservation covenant on the property since 1974. It has worked with the current owners on several occasions, including on a well-designed, historically sensitive, and substantial addition made in the early 1990s.

The ARB, HFFI, and many other preservation commissions and organizations are charged with the review of alterations to significant historic resources. They draw from the same professional standards and guidelines, known as the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. The modifications proposed are in clear violation. These Standards specify that:

— “The distinguishing original qualities or character of a building, structure … shall not be destroyed.”

—“The removal or alteration of any historical material or distinctive architectural features should be avoided when possible.”

—“Deteriorated architectural features shall be repaired rather than replaced, whenever possible.”

In a previous application some time ago, the property owners sought to make similar changes, proposing to replace the wood front porch with brick. This portion of the application was denied by the ARB on grounds that the porch was an important architectural feature of the house.

Because it holds a restrictive covenant in the deed to this property, HFFI has standing in this matter. The homeowners have attempted to void the covenants, but HFFI holds that the covenants cannot be modified or terminated except by the agreement of all parties entitled to enforce the covenant.

Moving forward, HFFI asks that:

—The wood front porch remains in place and be repaired using in-kind materials as the Historic District Handbook and ARB guidelines require, unless the property owners work with HFFI to establish a mutually agreed upon alternative compatible with preservation practices and ARB guidelines in a new COA.

—The ARB adheres to the Secretary of Interior Standards detailed in the Historic District Handbook and articulated by the design standards and guidelines therein.

—The ARB provides HFFI with notice when a request for alteration is made on property covered by one of its covenants.

—It be an active partner in any revision of ARB guidelines.

—City Council reviews its 2012 Memorandum of Understanding with HFFI to clarify the organization’s role in protecting structures in the historic district.

Besides enforcing its restrictive covenant, HFFI hopes that the City Council would give it standing to appeal to the Circuit Court on decisions to raze, demolish, or move any structure in the city. Unfortunately, in the last few years, we have lost historic properties that should not have been destroyed. This is why HFFI was formed in the first place, and so HFFI wants the right to stop this injustice.

Homeowners and building owners are temporary stewards of these unique properties. The organization has partnered with them throughout its history to preserve, protect, and revitalize this great city. With support from the community, HFFI has led the effort to preserve Fredericksburg for the past 64 years. The organization wants the tools to continue these efforts.

Ducking Stools in Fredericksburg

Ducking Stools in Fredericksburg

By: Michael Spencer

 

Ducking stools, “an instrument of punishment for nags, gossips, witches, and difficult individuals”, often consisted of a “…chair suspended from a sweeplike pole” that would be lowered into water.[1] While used throughout Europe during the medieval period, it was also used here in Virginia until the 19th century.

Legislation passed in 1662 by the Virginia Assembly stated that “Whereas, many babbling women slander and scandalize their neighbors, for which their poor husbands are often involved in chargeable and vexatious suit, and case in great damage: Be it, therefore enacted by the authority aforesaid, that in actions of slander, occasioned by the wife, after judgement passed for the damages, the woman shall be punished by Ducking…”[2]

Mrs. Vivan Minor Fleming recounts, from an old resident, such a ducking in her book “Historic Period of Fredericksburg 1608-1861”,

“She saw Peggy, a noted termagant, as tied in a gig that had been improvised into a ducking stool, she was pushed along through the streets polluting the air with her foul oaths and surrounded by a clamorous crowd of men and boys. Dr. Edward Carmichael and Mr. William White, then small chaps, being not the lead vociferous. She was pushed along to the old baptizing place and into the river-the water over her head. Then they drew her out, but she was more vituperative than ever. Again they pushed her in and she came out sputtering anathemas, but the third submersion silenced her. She returned through the same streets, in the same gig, as quiet as a lamb.”[3]

Fredericksburg seems to have adopted ducking as a form of punishment fairly early and continued it for some time. The first reference to ducking in Fredericksburg was made in 1746 when Marquis Calmes, of Winchester, Virginia was paid £5:5 for erecting a “ducking stool according to the model of that of Fredericksburg.” The reference goes on to allude to the general configuration of the stool when describing the punishment of a prisoner, “…the culprit was tied to the end of a long plank working on a pivot”.[4]

A second mention of a ducking stool occurs in Fredericksburg Council minutes from 1795 with “Zachariah Lucas & James Brown” tasked with finding “some person” to build the device, obviously a replacement from the earlier one.[5] It appears that by 1799 they were successful with Joshua Ingham being paid £10:9 “for making a ducking stool.”[6] A third, and possibly final ducking stool, was made for Fredericksburg in 1822 by John Ferneyhough at a cost of $30.[7]

The location of the ducking stool, was at the “old baptism place” which both court records as well as Silvanus Quinn, in his 1908 “History of the City of Fredericksburg, Virginia”, note as being at the end of Wolfe Street adjacent to Thornton’s Tavern. This would have made sense as this was also the location of one of Fredericksburg’s early ferries and so would have had a water depth adequate to facilitate the ducking.

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 1: Image from Pioneer Pittsburgh, a 1937 publication showing a representation of a ducking stool. The actual configuration of the one at Fredericksburg may have been similar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virginia Herald, June 28, 1799 Reference to Ducking Stool.

 

___________________________________

[1] Lounsbury, Carl. An Illustrated Glossary of Early Southern Architecture and Landscape, pg. 124

[2] Norris, J.E., History of Lower Shenandoah Valley Counties.

[3] Fleming, Historic Period of Fredericksburg 1608-1861, pg. 25-26

[4] Morton, Frederic. The Story of Winchester.

[5] Fredericksburg City Council Minutes 1795, [transcribed by Gary Stanton]

[6] Virginia Herald, June 28, 1799, pg. 3 col. 3

[7] Fredericksburg City Council Minutes 1822, [transcribed by Gary Stanton]

 

 

(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].

1210 Sophia Street

 

1210 Sophia Street – Can it be Saved?

By HFFI Staff

(Updated 5/1/2017)

1210 Sophia Street is in danger of being demolished. If the clock runs out—it will be gone. But there is a chance to relocate this 100+ year old property to a new location. YOU can help save it!

 

1210 Sophia Street

1210 Sophia Street – Photo Credit: Fredericksburg City Staff

Located within Fredericksburg’s Downtown Historic District, 1210 Sophia Street is a contributing resource. This modest building, situated along the Rappahannock River, is an example of housing used by Fredericksburg’s working class residents at the turn of the twentieth century. It is in good condition and structurally sound, but the only option besides demolition is relocation.

 

The City of Fredericksburg has offered up to $20,000 to aid in the costs of moving the house to an open lot within the city, but no matter of its location it will remain under the purview of the city’s Architectural Review Board and the city’s historic district overlay. But there is a deadline, so don’t delay! Help us get the word out, and this 1890’s house may once again be called a home.

 

Built in 1894, this two-story house was built for Gilbert C. Walker, an iron worker, and it remained in the Walker family for almost 100 years. The rear addition was added in 1953, (identified through an independent archive of city records), and Sanborn Maps as well as census records round out the history of the house and its residents. (Special thanks to Kate Schwartz, Historic Resource Planner—City of Fredericksburg, for her efforts in researching the history of this home. – Read more about the history of this home here.)

 

1210 Sophia Street Interior

1210 Sophia Street Interior – Photo Credit: Fredericksburg City Staff

Do you own a lot that this building could be moved to? Or perhaps you know someone who does? This is a chance for us to save a historic building from demolition, and HFFI is happy to see the city contributing funds from the Blight Abatement Fund to assist in the project.

 

Learn more and read the city’s Memorandum to the Architectural Review Board about 1210 Sophia Street (including additional history and applicable Historic District Design Standards & Guidelines).

 

Also online, read The Free Lance-Star article about the city’s decision to remove the building.

 

For UMW student, and HFFI intern, Kiernan Ziletti’s perspective on the situation, read his article featured in the March issue of Front Porch Magazine.

 

Questions or ideas on how to save this historic building?  Contact us at [email protected] or 540-371-4504, or Kate Schwartz at [email protected] or 540-372-1179.

 

UPDATE: An open lot near downtown has been located, further details to be worked out. Are you interested in taking on this project? Contact HFFI at 540-371-4504 to learn more.

 

UPDATE – 5/1/2017:

The official RFP for the sale of this building has been released and can be seen on the Fredericksburg website at http://www.fredericksburgva.gov/bids.aspx?bidID=82

Closing date/ time – 9/21/2017 2:00 PM

Pre-bid Meeting – May 4, 2017, 10AM at site

Contact Person – Lynn Enders
[email protected]

 

 

 

Wet or Dry: A History of Prohibition in Fredericksburg

 

Wet or Dry: A History of Prohibition in Fredericksburg

By Barbra Anderson

“The saloon is the devil’s headquarters on earth,” declared the Anti-Saloon League in the late 1800s. Alcohol was blamed for every social problem: poverty, domestic violence, crime, ill health, and moral turpitude. The average American man drank 88 bottles of whiskey a year—three times as much as now.

Temperance groups swept the nation. Each member had to take a pledge against “any Spirituous or Malt beverage.” Fredericksburg had three chapters of the Sons of Temperance, which held rallies and parades, weekly meetings, and “grand excursions” to inspire the citizens. Not only did temperance influence the social scene, the “liquor platform” soon dictated state politics.

wet-or-dryProhibition came early to Virginia. In 1886, the General Assembly passed the “local option,” which let each county vote to ban alcohol or not. In May 1908, the people of Fredericksburg voted in a referendum to “go dry,” with 53 percent of the vote. Two years later, the “wets” petitioned for another vote, which was signed by 180 citizens, including the town’s biggest saloon owners. The Daily Star proclaimed that “the city is unquestionably better off than ever in its history,” and that “business had in no way been injured by elimination of the saloon.” The 1910 referendum reaffirmed the dry vote by an even bigger margin. However, enforcement of the law proved problematic. In 1911, Fredericksburg convened a special Grand Jury to investigate allegations of Prohibition violations. The jury of prominent citizens trumpeted, perhaps too heartily, that “there is no evidence whatever, much less proof, that there is any violation of the revenue laws.” The panel was, however, very concerned about the crowds that congregated at several corners around town, many located near former saloons.

All of Virginia went dry in 1916, and the 18th Amendment enacted national Prohibition in 1920.

By the mid-1920s, Prohibition violations in Fredericksburg became commonplace. Because Route 1 was the only paved road in the area, bootleggers used it to transport “ardent spirits.” Local reporter Warren Farmer described how local police would hide next to the bridges and catch them as they came into town. One rumrunner crashed going around Deadman’s Curve near the National Cemetery. The liquor caught on fire, and he was incinerated beyond recognition.

Because bootleggers often used aliases, the ensuing court cases frequently named the car as the defendant. In 1926, “Virginia vs. Packard Touring Car” involved the transport of 210 gallons of corn whiskey. The penalties were stiff. In another case, two brothers-in-law were convicted for transporting 48 quarts of liquor in their car. Each was fined $50 and given a sentence of 6 months. Moreover, as dictated by law, their car was confiscated and sold.

vine-gloBecause bootlegged liquor was hard to get, some Fredericksburgers tried alternatives:

  • “Vine-Glo” was a concentrated grape juice product. Instructions said to dissolve it in water, but warned “Do not place the liquid in a jug away in the cupboard for 20 days, because then it would turn to wine.”
  • Doctors could prescribe medicinal liquor for 27 ailments—including cancer, diabetes, and depression—up to one pint every 10 days. Each doctor could write up to 100 liquor prescriptions per month.
  • Some tried to make their own liquor, although it could blind, sicken, or even kill a person if not properly processed. Makers of “bathtub gin” converted denatured alcohol to a drinkable form, but the process is prone to both chemical and bacterial mishaps.

According to court and police records, many people were arrested for alcohol offenses. A sampling from the newspapers of the day reveals some colorful characters. “Poodles” Limerick was charged for transporting liquor at the Virginia Cafe. Albert Grimes was fined $20 for being drunk and carrying a concealed weapon (iron knuckles) at the Athens Hotel. Yat Sullivan was convicted of manufacturing and selling liquor. He was fined $250 (about 2 month’s salary) and sentenced to 3 months in jail. “Dinksy” Scott was arrested three times for “unlawfully and feloniously selling ardent spirits.”

old-prenticeDedicated drinkers had to know where to look to find liquor in Fredericksburg. Like drug dealers today, certain men on certain corners could be relied on to get a bottle. At a nearby country store, people asking for a “pair of size eight shoes” would receive a discreetly wrapped package. Others went straight to the top, such as the reporter who claimed that the best whiskey he drank was served by a local judge.

goolricksAlthough the term “speakeasy” is not used in court records, there were several establishments in town whose patrons were arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct. The Virginia Cafe, the Athens Hotel, and the A-1 Cafe, all located on Caroline Street, were well known for their rowdy customers. The owner of the Fredericksburg Cafe was charged with allowing drinking and gambling and running a “disorderly house,” perhaps the legal term for speakeasy.

Prohibition was repealed in 1933, but selling liquor in Virginia did not become legal until 1934 when the state established the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC). In the first month, the ABC granted Fredericksburg 14 licenses to sell beer and wine. The ABC maintained strict control of alcohol throughout the remainder of the century, gradually easing some restrictions. For example, it was not for another 35 years that liquor was sold by the drink. Cocktails were illegal unless you belonged to a “social club” where you would bring your own liquor. On February 9, 1969, the first mixed drink in Fredericksburg—a Tom Collins- was sold at the Princess Anne Inn.

 

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Prohibition in Virginia, the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation hosted a Prohibition Pub Tour on Saturday, September 10, 2016.

 

Much thanks to Nancy Moore and Sue Stone for providing most of the research for this story.

 

Sources:

Fredericksburg Court Records. Grand Jury, May 1911
Burns, Ken and Lynn Novick, Prohibition (film documentary), 2011
Fredericksburg Police blotters, 1920s
Eaton, Lorraine. Virginian Pilot. “Virginia’s Prohibition History.” Nov 30, 2008
The Free Lance, March 5, 1925
Moore, Nancy. Interview, September, 2016.
Farmer, Warren. Oral History. HFFI, 1998.
Free Lance Star, August 15, 1977
Free Lance Star, May 2, 1934
Free Lance, March 5, 1925
Daily Star, March 10, 1925
Gambino, Megan, Smithsonian Magazine. “During Prohibition, Your Doctor Could Write You a Prescription for Booze.” October 7, 2013.
Clark, Patrick Michael, Rappahannock Magazine. “Drink the Dominion Dry: Prohibition Comes to Virginia”. October, 2015, Volume 2, Issue 1.
Kamieniak, Ted, Fredericksburg: The Eclectic Histories for the Curious Reader. “The Pledge of Brotherhood”.