Researched by Jan Waltonen & Roger Engels, HFFI Marker Committee
Written by Jan Waltonen
Article compiled for the 2019 Candlelight Tour. Properties on the tour included the Rising Sun Tavern, 1308, 1309, 1310, 1513, and 1517 Caroline Street.
This year’s Candlelight Tour (CLT) explores a neighborhood whose history began more than a hundred years before the American Revolution. Before about 1779, “Land Patent” documents conveyed land in the royal colony of Virginia from the colonial governor in Williamsburg—in the name of the King of England—to individuals who could pay their passage to America. This “headright” system rewarded persons with 50 acres of land if they sailed to Virginia to “inhabitate.” However, if new immigrants could not afford to travel to Virginia, others could finance the cost of transporting them, receiving 50 acres for each person they imported. Designed to attract colonists to Virginia to work for its benefit and provide revenues for the Crown, the system successfully encouraged settlement and increased the colony’s population. Both Fredericksburg and the area encompassing this year’s Candlelight Tour owe their beginnings to the Land Patent system.
In 1662, a large Land Patent of 812 acres was granted to Captain Thomas Hawkins, a close friend of the earliest Washingtons, who paid to transport 17 persons to Virginia. Seventy years later, Hawkins family descendants sold their Patent in two equal parts. The 406 acres that Francis Thornton of King George County purchased extended north from Lewis Street—the original boundary of Fredericksburg—to present-day Hunter Street, embracing all the properties on this year’s CLT.
Seven years later, in 1742, Colonel John Lewis (1694–1754) bought the Thornton “half tract” for £500. Lewis’s purchase, adjoining the upper end of town, supported his new and ambitious business enterprise. As a prominent merchant, he was shipping goods to the West Indies, London, and other trans-Atlantic ports. Within 1 year of acquiring the Thornton tract, Lewis had built and was operating a store, warehouses, and a shipyard, all located at the site of the present-day Fredericksburg Library. To oversee the mercantile extension of his shipping business, he enlisted his second son, Fielding, and in 1749, built the Lewis Store on the west side of Caroline Street just outside the town line. (Today, the Lewis Store, one of the oldest surviving urban retail stores in the United States, is headquarters for HFFI.) As the store’s manager, Fielding Lewis sold items such as rum, buttons, gloves, sugar, coffee, “brest” buckles, and “soop” spoons. His customers included George Washington, who, in a letter to his mother, requested she buy cloth, hose, and thread for him from “Mr. Lewis’s store.”
Although all this year’s CLT properties lay outside the corporate limits of Fredericksburg in Spotsylvania County before 1759, several factors fueled Fredericksburg’s growth and expansion to include new land. Founded in 1728 as a shipping port, Fredericksburg became an important center of trade. Ships brought European goods for sale in local stores, and tobacco, the basis of Virginia’s economy, was exported to England and Europe, solidifying Fredericksburg’s prominence as a center of commerce. Owing to its standing as a major port and seat of justice, the fledgling town grew rapidly. In 1759, to accommodate the burgeoning population of merchants and tradesmen, court justices, tavern keepers, and enslaved and free blacks, the Virginia General Assembly expanded the town limits to include present-day Dixon, Winchester, and Canal streets—bringing all of this year’s CLT properties within town limits.
A beneficiary of Fredericksburg’s prosperity was merchant Fielding Lewis (1725–1781). By 1754, the year his father died, Fielding had amassed an estate of 1,300 acres, including the Thornton tract he had inherited. It was said he owned “half the town” in the days before the War for Independence. In 1775, on the eve of the Revolution, he and his second wife, Betty, George Washington’s sister, moved into their newly constructed Georgian mansion (now called Kenmore). Lewis, a patriot of the American Revolution, established a weapons factory in Fredericksburg. By May 1777, the Gun Manufactory was producing about 20 muskets weekly. Lewis spent £7,000 of his own money, which was never repaid, leaving the family to struggle financially after the war.
When Lewis died in 1781, his son John inherited not only his father’s lands in Fredericksburg but also his substantial debts. To pay them down, John sold three town lots in 1785 to Henry Fitzhugh of Bell Air, Stafford County. Lot 178, site of two of this year’s CLT homes, marked the northernmost boundary of Fredericksburg and was considered a “suburb” of the town. (The term “suburb” was commonly used then as now to refer to an outlying part of a town or city.) In the early nineteenth century, a number of planned suburbs were laid out on the fringes of Fredericksburg and named after the land speculators who developed and financed them. Henry Fitzhugh, member of one of the “first families of Virginia,” was among those investors. He divided his new acquisitions into residential lots, naming the area “Fitzhughtown” after himself. Two houses on this year’s Candlelight Tour, 1513 and 1517 Caroline Street, are on Fitzhughtown lots. By 1787, Fitzhugh was renting his land to “sundry free Negroes and whites.”
The 1300 block of Caroline Street was also under development during the late eighteenth century. In 1761, Warner Lewis, Fielding’s older brother, sold George Washington’s younger brother, Charles, the lots where Charles would build his private residence in 1762. Thirty years later, the building was sold outside the Washington family and converted to a tavern. Today, Washington Heritage Museums operates the Rising Sun Tavern as a living history museum to showcase Fredericksburg’s colonial history.
Upper Caroline continued to develop as a diverse neighborhood in the 1800s. The United States Censuses are organized in order of households visited. The 1860 Census reveals that individuals working as shoemakers, “washwomen,” plasterers, weavers, and stone masons lived side by side with more affluent residents: a carriage maker, barrel maker, “loom boss in a factory,” and a dry goods merchant.
The impact of the Civil War on the upper Caroline neighborhood was devastating. On December 11, 1862, Union engineers attempted to build three pontoon bridges. The northernmost crossing site terminated at Hawke Street, just one block south of this year’s CLT properties. Ordered to delay the Union troops, General William Barksdale’s Mississippi riflemen, positioned along Sophia Street, fired on the bridge builders, preventing them from completing the northern pontoon bridge. Union commanders responded by ordering a massive artillery bombardment. The shelling of Fredericksburg destroyed about 100 structures—10% of the city. Two beams in the Rising Sun Tavern’s roof were cut through by artillery fire.
Despite the fire of 150 cannons, the Mississippi sharpshooters, entrenched in cellars and doorways, could not be dislodged. Union infantry finally crossed the river and ultimately cleared away the snipers, although they fiercely contested every block. Among the streets most closely associated with the street fighting were the streets on this year’s CLT—Fauquier, Hawke, Pitt, and Canal. The cost was great. In gardens and backyards, graves of the dead were scattered across the city.
The area comprising this year’s CLT was also hard hit with indiscriminate destruction and looting the day before the Battle of Fredericksburg. Argalus E. Samuel, a carriage maker owned the lot on which 1513 Caroline now stands. He was just one of several residents who filed “A Memorandum of Losses in the Shelling & Since” with the Common Council of the town, which passed the following resolution on January 10, 1863: “Resolved that the funds now being raised by the voluntary contributions of the Army for the relief of the citizens of Fredericksburg who have suffered so severely by the bombardment & sacking by the abolition Army shall be received and disbursed. . .” Receipts collected totaled a remarkable $32,292.60. Samuel’s inventory of losses included “provisions on hand and groceries stolen” worth $96.60—much more than the value he placed on any of his furniture or even his “working tooles” [sic].
The war continued to be a harrowing experience for A.E. Samuel. Following the Battle of the Wilderness in May 1864, about 60 Union soldiers—many slightly wounded—made their way to Fredericksburg, seeking to return to Union lines. Placed under citizens’ arrest, they were sent to Richmond as prisoners of war. In retaliation, federal authorities arrested a corresponding number of local citizens to be held as hostages until the Union soldiers were released and returned. Samuel was one of 57 men sent to the military prison at Fort Delaware. After 3 weeks, Fredericksburg’s mayor and Common Council sent an appeal to the Confederate Secretary of War in Richmond: “Surely the matter of a few [federal] prisoners cannot be allowed to interfere with the humane and generous work of restoring to those desolated homes and those mourning women and children, the only source of comfort in this war-ravaged and desolated town. . .” Samuel was subsequently exchanged in July, only to find that his sister had died during his imprisonment.
After the war, Fredericksburg’s residents were left to rebuild in a shattered economy. It took nearly a generation for the town to begin to prosper again. The houses on this year’s CLT—built between 1870 and 1911—echo that slow recovery. They illustrate not only Fredericksburg’s eventual renewal but also the contrasts that came to define Upper Caroline’s character. 1513 Caroline, constructed shortly after the war in 1870, was built for James Ryan, an Irish immigrant and stone mason. Assessed at only $350.00 at the time, it represents the many post-war working class residences of this diverse neighborhood. In contrast, in 1911, the Victorians at 1308 and 1310 Caroline were built by G.B. Wallace, a prominent Fredericksburg citizen who served as the Commonwealth’s Attorney for 20 years. These three CLT properties symbolize the wide diversity of architectural styles and residents’ socio-economic levels, offering a vivid glimpse into a rich history. Welcome to Upper Caroline!
by Natalie Chavez and Danae Peckler; edited by Linda Billard
The Lewis Store, HFFI’s headquarters, is the embodiment of honest brick construction in a classic Georgian architectural style from the mid-eighteenth century. This mass masonry brick building has multiple wythes, or vertical sections of brick wall, laid in two different bonds. The Lewis Store’s elevation showcases the stylish Flemish bond, while the interior wall of the building showcases the stronger English bond. Most of the building’s brick dates from its original construction in 1749 and added second story in 1808, although some minor repairs were made to damaged areas during its rehabilitation in 1999 and 2006. Contributing to the Lewis Store’s durability is the craftsmanship and skills of its builders and the make-up of its mortar.
Figure 1: Brick Bonds from Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th Edition, Volume 4, Part 3, 1911.
All mortars are composed of three main ingredients: a binder or cementing material, an aggregate such as sand, and water. Prior to the late nineteenth century, lime was used as the binding agent. It was created by crushing stone or oyster shells and burning the resulting material to create quick lime that was later mixed with water and sand. Traditional lime mortars are remarkably forgiving of both the weathering of time and the environment, allowing for “some movement in the brickwork without showing signs of cracking under normal seasonal conditions.” This differs greatly from the rigidity of Portland cement, which became commonplace by the early-20th century. Owners of historic brick buildings make a crucial mistake by repairing mortar joints using a Portland-based mortar. While Portland cement has many benefits, its use in historic masonry creates long-term problems, even inducing decay of the bricks themselves.
Figure 2: Image from Colonial Williamsburg Showing Oyster Shells After Burning.
Experts in the field of preservation advocate for using the gentlest techniques in the maintenance of historic brick. Such work is only needed every 100–150 years and, in most cases, a sensitive repointing with lime mortar will last another 100 years unless the repair is addressing the symptom of a larger problem that has gone unaddressed.
You can find more information about taking care of historic brick buildings on HFFI’s website and review Cristine Lynch’s 2012 National Register of Historic Places nomination for the Lewis Store to learn more about our great building!
Other great resources
Traditional brick construction: https://www.buildingconservation.com/articles/traditional-brickwork/traditional-brickwork.htm
How to identify lime mortar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fh0Ad3FKDrE
Importance of lime mortar: https://www.ncptt.nps.gov/blog/podcast-episode-33-andy-degruchy-on-the-historic-uses-of-lime-mortar-and-its-continuing-importance-today/
Finding the right
mason for the job: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5TmW8ZvsBUs
 The Project Gutenberg EBook of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th Edition,Volume 4, Part 3. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/19699/19699-h/19699-h
 Geoff Maybank, “Traditional Brickwork.” https://www.buildingconservation.com/articles/traditional-brickwork/traditional-brickwork.htm
 Image from Colonial Williamsburg’s Richard Charlton’s Coffeehouse blog: https://research.history.org/Coffeehouse/Blog/index.cfm/2009/3/4/Lime-Burn
Throughout 2023, Fredericksburg city staff and Historic Resources Planner, Kate Schwartz, worked with Heritage Arts of North Carolina LLC to enhance incentives and non-regulatory tools for preservation and to update the city’s spot blight/demolition-by-neglect provisions (see Chapter 8, Goal 2). Heritage Arts is a North Carolina-based historic preservation consulting services firm owned and operated by Dan Becker.
Becker, a nationally recognized expert in the field of Preservation Planning and Policy, is familiar with Fredericksburg’s preservation and planning initiatives. In 2021, HFFI hired him to provide an independent review of the city’s updated Preservation Plan and Historic District Guidelines. At that time, Becker also reviewed the City Council’s 2036 Vision and Comprehensive Plan along with related program and budget documents to get a broader sense of the principles, goals, and activities shaping our community.
The current investigation reviewed Fredericksburg’s existing preservation economic development tools and “demolition-by-neglect” provisions and gathered input from local stakeholders through a strengths, weakness, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis survey. HFFI volunteers invested many hours to complete the SWOT survey and participated in a work session, along with city planning staff and representatives from the Architectural Review Board, FXBG Main Street, and UMW’s Department of Historic Preservation, to discuss these matters.
The results of this collaborative effort are documented in Becker’s report entitled, Historic Preservation Recommendations: Economic Incentives and Spot Blight/Demolition by Neglect, presented by Historic Resources Planner, Kate Schwartz, to the public and City Council at their work session on September 12, 2023.
The report presents recommendations to strengthen local preservation tools and boost their effectiveness. However, the measures outlined in this report go far beyond preservation to support a multitude of Comprehensive Plan goals and initiatives in the sectors of business, transportation, and public services to:
- foster a more livable community;
- promote sustainability in our built environment;
- retain neighborhood character;
- strengthen business and employment opportunities; and
- enrich Fredericksburg’s cultural experience for visitors and residents alike.
One of the most important recommendations in Becker’s report calls for a citywide Historic Preservation Economic Impact Study. Local preservationists have long advocated such a study, which has been listed as a Preservation goal on the City Council’s 3-Year Priority Task List since 2021. This kind of economic assessment is long overdue for a town as historically rich as Fredericksburg! It should also study preservation’s impacts beyond the boundary of our Old and Historic District to provide insight into the beneficial ripple effects that conserving the built environment of our community has on other “quality of life” indicators such as affordability, walkability, sustainability, job production, and cultural enhancement.
HFFI fully supports the findings of this report and hopes that the Council will not shortchange this important subject. Talk to your council representatives and those running for office to raise their awareness of the value of the report’s recommendations to Fredericksburg residents! Consider asking them: “Are you familiar with the new Preservation Incentives report? What about it resonates most with you? Will you support its recommendations to strengthen FXBG’s preservation incentives and encourage investment in the repair/rehabilitation of our existing building stock?”
But wait, there’s more good news!
HFFI also fully supports city staff’s proposal to establish the Historic Preservation Advisory Group. The creation of this group is another goal from the 2021 Preservation Plan (Chapter 8, Goal 7). Its purpose is to draw from local expertise in the field to assist the city in furthering best practices and support the Council’s vision to be “a proven leader in historic preservation.” Although this group was also discussed at the September 12, 2023, work session, no written document is yet available on the city’s document center. However, the discussion during the work session indicated that the new group’s participants would include an appointed Council member and representatives from HFFI, UMW’s Preservation Department, the National Park Service, Fredericksburg Main Street, and the City’s Museum Work Group.
HFFI is ready to participate in and support this new advisory group, assist city staff and hired consultants with technical support, and to continue serve as a preservation advocate and resource for the community.
Want to learn more on this topic?
- Review Heritage Arts’ June 2023 Preservation Recommendations report (see below!)
- Existing Rehabilitation Tax Incentives available to Fredericksburg residents, businesses, and property owners
- Watch Fredericksburg City Council’s September 12, 2023 work session
- Read Adele Uphaus‘ article in The Free-Lance Star, “City Council to Explore Historic Preservation Incentives”
- Check out Heritage Arts’ 2021 Observations Letter on Historic Preservation in FXBG
Historic Fredericksburg Foundation, Inc. is pleased to see that the City has begun discussing the future of the Renwick Complex with the public once again, and we are glad to have been asked to participate in the newly established “Renwick Working Group” charged with finding a new path forward for its future.
It’s been a couple of years since the Renwick was discussed at City Council, but it first appeared in 2023 on the January 10 work session agenda when the idea was floated to sell the entire complex to a private developer-this did not resonate well with many in attendance, according to observer accounts. The second time it came before the Council was at its March 14 regular meeting where some local leaders seemed unaware of the added benefits derived from individual listing on the National Register of Historic Places particularly state and federal grants (Cut to the Council Agenda around 39:00-59:00 to watch that March 14 discussion: https://www.regionalwebtv.com/fredcc).
The third time the subject was on the agenda was at the May 23 work session where a hired consultant, Paige Pollard of Commonwealth Preservation Group (CPG), gave a presentation that focused on finding and funding a new use for the property. City Manager, Tim Baroody, also addressed upcoming rehabilitation work to stabilize the Renwick tower–said to be completed by the end of the summer. Ms. Pollard continues to be involved with the City’s effort to plan for the Renwick’s future and has been hired to support City staff as part of the Renwick Working Group, an 11-member advisory committee created by City Council on June 13, 2023.
The Renwick complex continues to be a topic of discussion at HFFI Board meetings. Our organization sent two letters to Fredericksburg’s City Council about the courthouse in April 2023 to advocate for critical maintenance work needed to prevent its further deterioration. The first letter renewed HFFI’s 2019 offer to split the cost of preparing a National Register nomination to analyze and quantify the historic significance of our unique, one-of-a-kind, Gothic Revival courthouse. HFFI’s second letter expressed our concern for much-needed basic maintenance at the complex sevens years after a Historic Structures Report (HSR) detailed the work needed to preserve it.
We will pay a high price for this deferred maintenance, and in more ways than one. While we have watched the original cupola windows deteriorate and fall apart over the last few years, other less visible matters remain unabated, possibly worsening over time and potentially creating new problems. Ultimately, the cost of continued negligence includes 1) a loss of authenticity and material integrity of the building(s); 2) higher costs for the materials and labor needed to repair/replace damaged fabric or address bigger/new problems; and 3) a reduction in the entire complex’s property value. The immediate maintenance needs of the complex should not be deferred a moment longer.
Why does HFFI think the preparation of a nomination is worth starting ASAP? Because its national historic significance would enable greater access to federal grants like “Save America’s Treasures” that can match up to $750,000 bricks-and-mortar preservation work. And getting additional grant funding is not such a long shot! As long as the building remains publicly owned, there are many more funding sources available to assist in its careful and sensitive rehabilitation.
What about Commonwealth Preservation Group’s suggestion at the May 23, 2023 work session to hold off on preparing a nomination until the new use has been selected? This is a fine suggestion but is geared more toward planning for the use of historic tax credits by a public-private group or private entity for rehabilitation than anything else. While it’s fine to wait for complete answers to the future use of all three buildings, it’s also fine to update an existing National Register nomination. The Courthouse’s “national level” of significance is all about its original architecture and design. Thus, the period of time that supports its national-level significance (a.k.a. “period of significance”) will not change. We know it will extend from 1849 until 1852 when James Renwick, Jr. was creating and shaping the courthouse complex. Obtaining official recognition of its national significance could take 6 months to a year. Add a little more time to apply for state and federal grants, and you can see why HFFI is anxious to finish what we advocated for back in 2019 and got started for the City in 2020 when we submitted the preliminary paperwork to the State Historic Preservation Office, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR).
What other sources of revenue are available other than historic tax credits? Historic tax credits (HTCs) are the most-popular financial incentives in the repair and rehabilitation of National Register-listed properties, yet this beneficial tool is designated and reserved for taxable entities. And Virginia supports the owners of historic commercial and residential buildings with one of the highest credits in the country! Non-profit organizations and localities can play a strong role in HTC projects, but non-taxable entities are not typically in the driver’s seat.
Sale or Lease: Another source of immediate revenue could be derived from the sale or long-term lease of any portion of the property. The market value of the Wallace Library alone has been estimated at around $1 million, but a long-term lease of the library or any building in the complex could generate consistent revenue to offset the cost of its preservation.
Grants: Additional sources of revenue are available to support the preservation of historic resources in Virginia, many of which can be applied to publicly-owned buildings like courthouses. The DHR’s Financial Incentives Guide “is a comprehensive listing of major sources of funding and tax incentives that Virginia’s citizens and local governments can use to preserve and capitalize upon historic sites. Whether you are a private homeowner, commercial investor, developer, planner, mortgage lender, banker, or real estate agent, this guide will prove a valuable resource to identifying current financial tools and incentives for rehabilitating historic buildings, districts, and cultural landscapes.” Other grants for preservation are available from national sources, like the Save America’s Treasures program. Once the Renwick Courthouse’s national level of significance is proven through an individual National Register nomination and subsequent listing, more doors to support the future preservation of the property will be opened.
Want to learn more about the Renwick Working Group and what’s being discussed about the future of the complex? HFFI will continue to provide regular updates to our members as this critical moment in our town’s preservation history unfurls, but members of the public are welcome to attend any of the Renwick Working Group meetings. The first meeting took place on July 13, 2023, and outlined the charges set forth for the committee by City Council. Further discussion was held this past Thursday (August 24th) at the group’s second meeting of the group.
Stay tuned as HFFI continues to provide updates and share news on this important topic in local preservation! The public is also welcome to attend upcoming Renwick group meetings – scheduled for September 28th, October 26th, and November 16th. Check the City’s calendar and agenda center to find the latest information and further details!
By Danae Peckler, Architectural Historian / HFFI Board Member
If you have visited the Lewis Store at any point in the past couple of years, you might have caught a glimpse of it. Exposed, sagging, and broken. The building’s old summer beam, that is. Defined by preservation professionals in An Illustrated Glossary of Early Southern Architecture and Landscape (Lounsberry 1994), a summer is “a large bearing beam running the length or breadth of a building that provides support for the floor. Summer beams are support by either ground sills or girders and have the ends of common joists set into them at regularly spaced intervals.” Back in 1807, this beam was installed at the Lewis Store to support the addition of the second story to the building.
HFFI began rehabilitating the Lewis Store at the turn of the twenty-first century after it had sat vacant for a time with holes in the roof. Great lengths were taken to preserve what professionals refer to as the historic fabric of the building at all stages of the rehabilitation. This work ranged from simple (sistering damaged framing members to preserve them in place) to fairly complex (enclosing a new truss system within the floor at the second story to allow for office space upstairs), adhering to the Secretary of the Interior’s (SOI) Standards for the Rehabilitation of Historic Properties [https://www.nps.gov/tps/standards/rehabilitation.htm] at all times and gaining approval from staff at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR) [https://www.dhr.virginia.gov/].
In recent years, cracks in the plaster ceiling of the first floor drew attention to the aging summer beam above. Following the removal of portions of the circa-2000 ceiling along the beam’s path and thoughtful inspections from no fewer than a dozen different professionals with experience in historic preservation, structural engineering, timber-framing, and general contracting, HFFI crafted a plan to replace the beam using in-kind materials as noted in SOI Standard 6:
Deteriorated historic features shall be repaired rather than replaced. Where the severity of deterioration requires replacement of a distinctive feature, the new feature shall match the old in design, color, texture, and other visual qualities and, where possible, materials. Replacement of missing features shall be substantiated by documentary, physical, or pictorial evidence.
To make a long story short, HFFI hired licensed timber-framer Allen Anderson and his team to carefully remove a deteriorated portion of the 1807 summer beam that had been left in place during the store’s rehabilitation despite no longer carrying the load of the second floor. The section removed has been saved, while a new beam of the same dimensions and wood species–carefully selected, felled, and cut by Mr. Anderson–was put back in the same place as the original. The Lewis Store’s new summer beam is open for viewing as it dries in place for now—stop by and check it out, if you’re interested. We’ll be plastering the ceiling again soon!
Lounsberry, Carl (editor). 1994. An Illustrated Glossary of Early Southern Architecture and Landscape. University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville.
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.
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.
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: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
Historic Fredericksburg Foundation, Inc.
1200 Caroline Street
Fredericksburg, VA 22401
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