A Lesson in the Benefits of Restoration: St. George’s Episcopal Church


A Lesson in the Benefits of Restoration: St. George’s Episcopal Church

By Sam Biggers

As we celebrate Historic Preservation this May, it is worth remembering the benefits Fredericksburg has seen from the preservation of our built heritage. There are numerous preservation success stories, and one need not look far to see the benefits of preservation in our community. One of the most prominent buildings in Fredericksburg, St. George’s Episcopal Church, is a superb example of the positive effects of preservation. In 2009, St. George’s completed a seven-year restoration project, restoring the interior to its former glory. Though the official project lasted seven years, efforts to preserve the church have been ongoing since the late 1990s.

St. George’s Episcopal Church can lay claim to having a church on their lot for almost as long as Fredericksburg has existed. The current 1849 church is the third on the site, and was built as the congregation grew immensely during the 1830s and 1840s. The church was built in 1849 in the Romanesque Revival style, with decoration an obvious aim. Though it is not clear if decorative paint was present when the church was built, it existed sometime before 1894, when an account lamented that “a good deal of the frescoing was peeling off.”

It appears that the issue of peeling decorative paint was rectified in 1906, when a renovation sought to accentuate the interior of the church through new decorative paint. An article in The Free Lance from November 1st, 1906, describing these changes, reads:

“It would be difficult for any one not an artist to describe the improvements that have recently been completed in St. George’s Episcopal church.

The entire vestibule has been tiled with grey and brown tiles, and its walls have been tinted a very deep cream color, while the celling has been finished in small rolled iron squares.

The body of the church has been frescoed throughout. The wainscoting is a Nile green, the walls the yellow green now the favorite color of some of the principal church decorators in the country. The ceiling has been smoothed into broad panels by the campo board and tinted in delicate green with gold borders. The divisions between wainscoting and walls are marked by dotted bands old rose, and the overhead sides, above the gallery and under the cornices with a deep border of intricate cross design.

The arches are centered with medallions in which the symbols of the name of our Lord are wrought in gold.

The chancel (1) has its memorial window blended in one group by diaper work (2), and on each side are the Easter lilies in faces. The general effect of the color scheme is quiet and restful to the eye, not elaborate or ornate, but wrought out in exquisite taste by the artist, G.M. Strueby, of Washington.”

A series of renovations from the 1920s to the 1950s eliminated much of the interior decoration of St. George’s. The decorative paint, which had served to beautify the church for almost a century, was painted over in favor of a stark white color. Whereas the 1906 renovation’s goal was “putting the Church in order and the beautifying [of] the Church,” less than twenty years later much of the decorative paint was removed. A 1954 renovation removed the intricate wood paneling on the wall behind the alter, believed to be original to the 1849 building.

The wood paneling, original to the 1849 church, shown here during its restoration. Circa 2000.

The wood paneling, original to the 1849 church, shown here during its restoration. Circa 2000.

By the 1990s, the interior of St. George’s was a shadow of its former self. Recognizing this, the church began the process of returning the interior of the church to an appearance comparable to its original 1849 look. One of the first charges of the restoration effort was the reinstallation of the historic wood paneling. Still in storage since their removal in 1954, the church hired Mark Moyers, a local wood restoration expert, to restore, assemble, and install the paneling. For four months, Moyers painstakingly refinished and assembled the more than 1,500 pieces of wood that comprised the paneling. Following their reinstallation, the church began its seven-year restoration effort.

When St. George’s undertook the restoration project, the church understood that planning would be crucial before changes were to be made. The church recognized their building’s rich history, and made the preservation and commemoration of it central to the restoration plan. Changes to paint in the nave (1) from the 1920s to the 1950s had left the interior whitewashed, eliminating much of the original decorative paint. The discovery of a 1906 photograph served as the basis for the reapplication of the decorative paint. The 1906 picture was taken during a renovation whose aim was very similar to the one undertaken in 2002—to recapture the church’s former interior appearance.

The aim of the restoration was not to return the church’s interior to a single point in the past. Rather, the restoration attempted to upgrade the church with a strong understanding of the history of the interior. Much of the interior decorative paint had been lost, and despite having the 1906 photograph as a record of what existed, the church chose not to replicate the lost paint. Instead of reapplying paint motifs visible in the 1906 picture during the new restoration, they instead moved them to the vestibule. The new motifs for the interior were chosen because of their symbolic ties to the Episcopal Church. The use of new paint motifs gave reference to the church’s rich decorative past, while moving the church forward with a modern design.

The addition of decorative paint was complemented by the installation of improved lighting to transform the nave and chancel areas (1). Additionally, the church updated crucial infrastructure, including electrical wiring, handicap accessibility, and fire suppression. While the restoration project was projected to cost $4 million, the church utilized Virginia Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits, which allowed the church to finish under budget. The seven-year restoration effort by St. George’s Episcopal Church resulted in a completely transformed interior. The picture below perfectly summarizes the changes in the church’s interior. The story of St. George’s is a common one in Fredericksburg— renovations completed with a view to the past.



Sources Consulted

“A Beautiful Church,” The Free Lance (Fredericksburg, VA.), Nov. 1, 1906.

Interview with Ben Hicks, Business Manager, St. George’s Episcopal Church, April 21, 2016.

Interview with Mark Moyers, Owner, Mark Moyers Antiques, May 2, 2016.

Quenzel, Carrol H. The History and Background of St. George’s Episcopal Church, Fredericksburg, Virginia. Richmond, VA: Clyde W. Saunders and Sons, 1951.

St. George’s Episcopal Church documents (accessed at St. George’s Episcopal Church)


  1. Learn more about the parts of a church on Wikipedia
  1. Diaper is any of a wide range of decorative patterns used in a variety of works of art, such as stained glass, heraldic shields, architecture, and silverwork. Its chief use is in the enlivening of plain surfaces.” – Wikipedia

To read more about the history of St. George’s Episcopal Church and its architectural details visit www.stgeorgesepiscopal.net/about-us/history/


Oh Hear That Train Whistle Blowin’


Oh Hear That Train Whistle Blowin’

By Olivia R. Blackwell

Puffs of smoke billowed up from the engine toward the sky and a cheering crowd gathered around the train as it came to a rumbling stop. It seemed as though everyone in town was gathered at the station, eagerly awaiting the door to open. It was October 23, 1886, and President Grover Cleveland stepped off the train to greet the citizens of Fredericksburg.(1) Only two decades prior, the North and South battled over this rail line chartered by the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad (RF&P). The line that ran through Fredericksburg sat on a strategic point during the Civil War, with both armies laying track to move supplies and then burning it after it was no longer needed. President Cleveland’s stop in Fredericksburg was welcomed by all that day and over 100 years later Fredericksburg came together again to welcome another train’s arrival.


1926 construction of the train bridge across the Rappahannock River.

The turn of the century was the beginning of an exciting new era for train travel in Fredericksburg. Built in 1910 by the RF&P, the Georgian Colonial style train station was a gem standing proudly downtown on what was then known as Prussia Street. The street name paid tribute to the German State of Prussia, which was ruled by Frederick William I in the early 1700s. However, Anti-German sentiment took over when the U.S. entered World War I in 1917 and Fredericksburg demanded a change. City Council voted to rename the street Lafayette Boulevard in 1918, honoring Marquis de Lafayette.(2) A friend of George Washington, Lafayette fought alongside the United States during the Revolutionary War. In 1907, an additional set of tracks connecting Washington, D.C. and Richmond was completed by the RF&P, though Fredericksburg would not join the line until 1927.(3) Along with the new tracks, the bridge over the Rappahannock was finally replaced in 1927.(3) With these additions, the bustling station needed more room to grow. On May 1st, 1927, the citizens of Fredericksburg celebrated the arrival of their new train station; additional wings and a raised platform allowed the station to handle the increased traffic.(3)

The train proved to be a vital asset during wartime. The government relied on the RF&P heavily during WWII to move soldiers and supplies, so much so that traffic on the rails at this time was at its highest point in RF&P history.(3) After the war was won and soldiers returned home, the automobile quickly found its way onto America’s growing stretches of roadways. The average American family now owned a car and no longer wanted to sit on a train to get where they needed to go. The station held on for a few more decades, but eventually faded into the background. In December 1976, Amtrak closed the ticket office and the station became unmanned. With only a caretaker on site only on weekdays (locals may remember caretaker Archie Elder), the station soon fell victim to neglect. Paint peeled off of the walls, the roof leaked onto the few passengers who continued to use the station, and dark corridors became a haven for unlawful activity and vandals.


Broken window at Fredericksburg Train Station before renovation.

The first big break in the journey to a rehabilitated station was Amtrak’s allocation of $50,000 for a new passenger platform roof in 1980. Amtrak was confident that the station rehabilitation might not cost as much as originally thought and that no other major work was needed.(4) Work on the roof was to begin in August of that year, but was delayed as the roof, and the riders, would have to wait. During the years that followed, riders were left to defend themselves against both the criminal and decaying structural elements that were making the station an eyesore on the historic downtown. To make matters worse, the station was not regularly inspected. In order to be inspected, the city had to declare it unsafe. To answer the public safety outcry, Amtrak and the RF&P teamed up with local police in 1988 to patrol the station daily.(5) The patrols were a success, but the floors were still crumbling, graffiti covered the walls, and corridors remained dark at night.

In June 1989, RF&P and Amtrak put an additional $200,000 toward the rehabilitation effort. These funds were only allocated to cover the bare bones of the building. The leaking roof, crumbling concrete, broken lights and windows would be fixed, but all cosmetic needs would have to wait.(6) Both the RF&P and Amtrak’s initial plans for the rehabilitation of the station did not comply with the city’s regulations for the renovation of a building in the historic district. The Architectural Review Board refused to permit the changes both companies proposed for the station, due to alterations such as removal of the original canopies over the passenger platforms and installation of modern glass shelters.(7) The RF&P claimed that they were not familiar with regulations for buildings in historical districts when they made their initial plan.(7)


Interior photo of the Fredericksburg Train Station before renovation.

Throughout the 1980s and 90s, the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation, Inc. regularly advocated on behalf of the Fredericksburg train station. HFFI worked with city entities, ranging from City Council to the Architectural Review Board, to gather support and momentum for the preservation and rehabilitation of the station. The Foundation stressed rehabilitation and staying true to the historic design of the building, as opposed to a complete overhaul and modern redesign. HFFI was not only concerned with conserving the historical integrity of the building, but was also worried about the growing safety threat the decaying station had on the downtown community. Train riders and City Council members alike were eager to say goodbye to the crumbling train station and the dangers that came along with it. However, getting Amtrak, the RF&P, and local entities to agree on a deal to bring the Fredericksburg train station back to life would prove to be more difficult than any party imagined.

During this same time period, the RF&P reviewed the possibilities of turning the train station into a bustling center of commerce and downtown tourism; retail and factory outlet stores and tour coaches.(8) However, the RF&P was never able to negotiate a deal for redeveloping the station for retail. With no plans in place, the station continued to decay. Members of City Council grew impatient and made their voices heard. In the winter of 1989 Councilman Robert C. Wheeler referenced the large amount of money the RF&P spent on rail facilities in Richmond and Northern Virginia and urged the RF&P that it was time to invest in Fredericksburg.(9) Councilman H. William Greenup said it was “high time” that the station get restored and pressed for a time frame to hold all parties accountable.(8) Former Councilman W. Sidney Armstrong was disillusioned with the project, telling The Free Lance-Star in January, “I’m not sure there will ever be a whole lot done.”(9)

When work on the passenger platform roof finally started in 1990, things got off to a slow and frustrating start. After Amtrak and the RF&P removed the roof, work slowed to a halt. Upon spending roughly $65,000 on asbestos removal and setting aside another $135,000 for stabilizing the platform, both companies wanted to trim costs. (10) They hired inexpensive labor and sourced volunteer work from the community, to even include new cornice work done by a James Monroe High School shop class. Riders were still able to use the station during this time, but unfortunately, there was no roof to protect them from the elements. Councilman Gordon W. Shelton told The Free Lance-Star, “Stupidity tore the roof off before they had a plan in place.”(11)


Volunteers donate their time to bring the neglected Fredericksburg Train Station back to its previous glory.

The Virginia Railway Express (VRE) commuter rail was another issue hanging in the balance in 1990. City Council approval of a line through the town meant more riders and increased cooperation from Amtrak and RF&P to invest in Fredericksburg’s historic station.(10) Though downtown citizens, HFFI, and city entities were eager to bring more visitors to their historic town and revitalize the area, there were still concerns to be had, given the companies’ reluctance to fully support the station’s continued use. Chief among them, parking and traffic, which had to be carefully planned for and accommodated without significantly changing the character of the area.(12) To help fund the project, the city started collecting a 2% tax on gasoline in August 1990. By September 1991, the tax raised $800,000 for the city to put toward construction costs.

In early 1992, things were finally starting to look up. The Architectural Review Board had approved a design for a new VRE passenger platform adjacent to the old station and the first commuter train was scheduled to arrive in town June of that year.(13) Executive Director of HFFI, Catharine Gilliam, was pleased with the plan, which included new windows and lights in the passenger shelter that reflected the original design. Unfortunately, the initial bids on the project came in $350,000 too high, forcing the city to take a step back.(14) The platform design was revised, and work got off to a late start in April 1992. Construction crews worked around the clock during the weekend leading up to the opening of the station. The new VRE platform had ticket machines and was handicap accessible. On July 20, 1992, excited commuters left on the first VRE train out of Fredericksburg at 5:29 a.m.(15)

Though this was a hard-fought victory for Fredericksburg, both HFFI and citizens still hoped that something would be done with the old station across from the new VRE line. In 1992 the city submitted a proposal seeking federal grant money to aid in the rehabilitation of the station.(16) With $500,000 eventually awarded from the federal government to use on the rehabilitation, Fredericksburg was ready to make their station dreams a reality. Three years later, the station finally had a buyer. Business owners Gary and Catherine Musselman moved to Virginia in the early 1990s to find the old station in a sorry state. Inspired by the building’s history and potential, they signed a deal to buy it from the RF&P in 1995.(17) Joined by restaurant owner Claiborne Thomasson, the three put one million dollars toward the project, in addition to the $500,000 federal grant, and got to work.(18) Claiborne’s opened in October 1997 to great acclaim, ushering in a new era of fine dining in Fredericksburg, and breathing new life into the train station.

Today, the train station is once again the pride of Fredericksburg. Serving 117,423 riders annually, the station is a hive of activity in the historic downtown.(19) The station connects Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Washington, D.C., giving commuters and travelers alike an alternative to the gridlock on Interstate 95. Amtrak runs six trains through the station daily. Weary train riders searching for a bite to eat need not look far. The Bavarian Chef, a restaurant specializing in authentic German cuisine, is housed in the interior of the old train station. Although Fredericksburg Amtrak train riders can no longer buy a ticket to their destination at the old station, they can still admire the historic building and hear the train whistle blow as it rolls into town.




  1. 2015-06-01-01-014

    A young helper does his part during an HFFI volunteer clean-up day at the Fredericksburg Train Station

    Wrenn, Tony P. “Tracking train station’s history.” The Free Lance-Star, February, 1999. Accessed April, 2016. https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=3wMzAAAAIBAJ&sjid=iAgGAAAAIBAJ&pg=3630%2C1271095

  1. Alvey Jr., Edward. The Streets of Fredericksburg. Fredericksburg: The Mary Washington College Foundation, Inc., 1978.
  1. Pearce, John N. and students. “Gateway and Focal Point: Preservation Planning for Fredericksburg’s RF&P Station and for the Area Adjacent to it.” Mary Washington College Department of Historical Preservation, 1987.
  1. Giegerich, Steve. “New Roof tops train station needs.” The Free Lance-Star, May, 1980. Accessed April, 2016. https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1298&dat=19800530&id=jfpNAAAAIBAJ&sjid=gIsDAAAAIBAJ&pg=1994,4682880&hl=en
  1. Toler, Jim. “Station showing its age.” The Free Lance-Star, January, 1989.
  1. Hedelt, Rob. “Rail lines agree to fix station here.” The Free Lance-Star, June, 1989.
  1. Toler, Jim. “Preservation dispute delays station project.” The Free Lance-Star, July, 1989.
  1. Toler, Jim. “Councilman seeks action on station.” The Free Lance-Star, January, 1989.
  1. The Free Lance-Star, “‘Eyesore’ station stirs vote for action.” January, 1989.
  1. Toler, Jim. “Railroad trying to stretch its repair dollar.” The Free Lance-Star, June, 1990. Accessed April 2016. https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1298&dat=19900605&id=IfxNAAAAIBAJ&sjid=kIsDAAAAIBAJ&pg=4627,850490&hl=en
  1. Toler, Jim. “Renovations stalled; Fredericksburg train station continues to deteriorate.” The Free Lance-Star, August, 1990. Accessed April 2016. https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1298&dat=19900816&id=WftEAAAAIBAJ&sjid=BowDAAAAIBAJ&pg=5440,2763360&hl=en
  1. Catharine Gilliam to Tony Hooper, memorandum, December 18, 1991.
  1. The Free Lance-Star, “Design for commuter rail station approved.” January, 1992.
  1. Burke, Robert. “City races to finish station.” The Free Lance-Star, July, 1992. Accessed April, 2016. https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1298&dat=19920718&id=Uf9NAAAAIBAJ&sjid=w4sDAAAAIBAJ&pg=5924,2824985&hl=en
  1. Lease, Daryl, and Jim Toler. “Commuters climb on board.” The Free Lance Star, July, 1992. Accessed April, 2016. https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=9fRKRCJz75UC&dat=19920720&printsec=frontpage&hl=en
  1. Toler, Jim. “Commuter rail seeks federal funds to add service.” The Free Lance Star, May, 1992. Accessed April, 2016. https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1298&dat=19920508&id=DOJLAAAAIBAJ&sjid=1YsDAAAAIBAJ&pg=1453,4291912&hl=en
  1. Dennen, Rusty. “Would be buyers want fix station.” The Free Lance Star, June, 1992. Accessed April, 2016. https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1298&dat=19960606&id=AtYyAAAAIBAJ&sjid=ywcGAAAAIBAJ&pg=6407,1015165&hl=en
  1. Byrd, Ted. “A railside renaissance.” The Free Lance Star, October, 1997. Accessed April, 2016. https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1298&dat=19971010&id=jS4zAAAAIBAJ&sjid=eAgGAAAAIBAJ&pg=4247,2270020&hl=en
  1. “Station Facts.” Great American Stations. Accessed April 2016. http://www.greatamericanstations.com/Stations/FBG.


From Great Virginians to Gloria Swanson: A History of Smithfield and the Fredericksburg Country Club


From Great Virginians to Gloria Swanson: A History of Smithfield and the Fredericksburg Country Club

By Deborah Walters Pederson
(Abridged version—for the full article, see The Journal of Fredericksburg History, Volume 11)


Mannsfield-HABSIts tree-lined driveway hints of something from Gone with the Wind. The place has hosted presidents, first ladies, and movie stars. Union generals held council, slaves toiled, and both Union and Confederate wounded received succor there. Royalty, statesmen, Olympic champions, and George Washington visited—the latter running his greyhounds in the fields along the Rappahannock. Music from grand balls floated through its rooms.

The property known as Smithfield underwent a transformation common to many of the region’s plantations. In 1753, on the original Crown-issued patent given to Lawrence Smith in 1671, the Brooke family built the first great mansion—Smithfield—by the Rappahannock River. John Pratt, Jr., purchased Smithfield in 1813, but had to rebuild the house on the same location after the great fire in 1819, where it stands today. During the Civil War, Thomas Pratt was the owner of Smithfield—just a stone’s throw away from the Union front line during the December 1862 and May 1863 Battles of Fredericksburg. The Pratt family owned the great mansion until 1905.

The house was the site of a hospital serving the wounded of the Union First Corps’ First Division. Here, General Franklin had his headquarters and watched the 32,000 men of his Grand Division hurl themselves time after time at the lines of Stonewall Jackson, breaking the lines and thrusting through the gaps with victory in their grasp, only to be driven back. In front of the mansion house, General Doubleday moved with his division of infantry, and to the left, General Rufus Dawes made the charge against Jackson’s lines. Nearby, the Union army threw two pontoon bridges across the Rappahannock River to allow the army to cross. Today, within walking distance, are several gun pits in original condition.

A member of the Second Pennsylvania Reserves recounted the seizure of Smithfield on December 12, 1862: “Our regiment was sent to occupy the buildings and out-houses at ‘Smithfield,’ and to hold the bridge across Deep Run actually another, unnamed creek, which had been dammed to create the pond. The main building was Dr. Thomas Pratt’s large brick house, which, being unoccupied, we entered through a window, and found it very handsomely furnished. Colonel McCandless caused the arrest of the overseer and two other white men and sent them off to be detained until the battle as over.”

Smithfield was subsequently converted to a hospital. Another Union infantryman penned this account of his unnerving sojourn near the building later that day: “We came to the halt near a large brick plantation house that was being used for a field hospital. It was an awful sight to see hosts of wounded men being brought there, the ghastly amputating tables, the surgeons at work and the piles of arms and limbs and the poor fellows laid in rows in and around the house and outbuildings. We stopped here but a short time, but all of us were not sorry when we got orders to move.”


Page from a 1926 Mannsfield Country Club publication highlighting visitor Gloria Swanson.

From 1866 to 1868, workmen disinterred the remains of 78 Union soldiers at “Pratt’s Farm” (Smithfield), and moved them to the Fredericksburg National Cemetery.

The next owner was Conroy Vance. He bought adjoining property and renamed his home Mannsfield Farm. He was a banker and valued member of the community. In 1922, after he and his wife died in the Knickerbocker Theater in Washington, DC, when the roof collapsed due to heavy snow. Vance’s greatest wish had been for the area to have a country club. His dream came true after his death; in May 1925, several local businessmen got together and formed the Mannsfield Hall Country Club. It was the grandest of openings, with the Sid Shannon Serenaders band, Japanese lanterns glistening, and the townspeople dressed in their best formal clothes dancing till dawn. The Club became a social hub of the community as it is today.

On October, 19, 1928, the nearby battlefields were dedicated on the front steps of Mannsfield Hall Country Club. What a day it was—President Coolidge and many prominent figures came to the Country Club to formally dedicate the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. More than 5,000 people attended, including many luminaries, as recorded by The Free Lance-Star.

During the ceremony, the United States Marines from Quantico were placed in charge of securing the city streets and escorting the presidential party. Representing the South during the unveiling was Miss Rebecca Mason Lee, great niece of General Fitzhugh Lee and a great granddaughter of Captain Sidney Smith Lee, Robert E. Lee’s brother. Representing the North was Miss Clem, daughter of General Clem, USA (Retired). During the ceremonies, while the President was speaking and the tablet was unveiled, cameras clicked and movie cameras filled the air with the sound of their cranks as thousands of people watched.

Unlike many historic houses in the region, Smithfield/Mannsfield Hall Country Club/Fredericksburg Country Club still lives. The echoes of those who trod the halls and grounds before us still reverberate— the Brookes, the Pratts, their slaves (names unknown, quarters vanished, and burial places unrecorded), soldiers by the thousands, the Vance family, golfers by the foursomes (including Gloria Swanson), and even a president. The story continues, but what a good thing it is to pause and remember, as Judge Francis Brooke mused: “Tis pleasant to recall our former days, what we have been, and done, and seen, and heard, and write it down for those we love, to read.”


Click image to view film footage of the President Calvin Coolidge's visit to Smithfield and downtown Fredericksburg in 1928.

Click image to view film footage of the President Calvin Coolidge’s visit to Smithfield and downtown Fredericksburg in 1928.



Francis H. Brooke, A Family Narrative (New York: The New York times & Arno Press, 1971)

Free Lance-Star, November 23, 1909, January 31, 1922, May 14, 1925, May 13, 1932

Gershon Fishbein, “A Winter’s Tale of Tragedy,” Washington Post, January 22, 2009

Noel G. Harrison, Fredericksburg Civil War Sites, December 1862-April 1865 (Lynchburg, 1990)

Virginia Gazette, November 15, 1770, August 1, 1771, September 2, 1773

Virginia Herald, April 3 and July 10, 1804, May 15, 1819, April 20, 1833, April 22, 1835


For the complete bibliography see the full article in The Journal of Fredericksburg History, Volume 11
Read more about the easement that HFFI holds on the Fredericksburg Country Club in the following Free Lance-Star articles from March, 2016.

March 14, 2016 Free Lance-Star article
March 18, 2016 Free Lance-Star editorial

Five-story “One Hanover” condominium project


Preserve FXBG image-one hanover

Image compilation by Preserve FXBG. Black and white drawing source – ARB application, NBJ Architecture. Color image source – Google Earth


On Monday, March 14th, the Fredericksburg Architectural Review Board (ARB) will review an application for a five-story condominium project to be located at the corner of Sophia and Hanover Streets. This building is proposed to be 56′ tall. The project received a variance from the city to allow it to be built 6′ taller than the current height limit.

This building will be 10′ taller than the recently proposed townhouses on the 300 block of George Street.

The proposed design was approved in 2013 but that expired after one year, so they must now reapply. This is our one chance to speak up and get public comment on the record about the project.

One Hanover

Image source – ARB application, NBJ Architecture

HFFI is not against the development of this corner, we understand that in growing we sometimes must sacrifice things, and we would like to see a compromise when it comes to the design of this building. The building’s height is the largest of our concerns. We hope with enough voices from the community we can encourage a scaled down version of this project.

If you would like to comment on this project, please come to the ARB meeting on Monday evening, March 14th at 7:30 p.m. You do not need to put your name on a list ahead of time, just attend and come forward when the case is being heard.

Click here to learn more about the current One Hanover project application.

Read the March 11th Free Lance-Star article about the project here.

It is the collective voice of our community that speaks the loudest, and we are very grateful for your input!

Read the full agenda for the March, 14, 2016 Fredericksburg ARB meeting

When contacting or addressing members of the Architectural Review Board, please remember to be polite and courteous. They give much of their time to make the city a better place; please be respectful in your communication.


NOTE: When speaking before the Architectural Review Board, City Council, or the City’s other Boards and Commissions, please respect the following guidelines:

Clearly state your name and address.
Take no more than five (5) minutes (brevity is appreciated).
Confine your comments to City business.
Personal attacks on board members or others will not be tolerated.



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Additional Updates


Read the comments from 2013 HFFI Executive Director, Sean Maroney, when the project was first brought before the ARB (2013). In his comments Mr. Maroney urges the ARB (and all citizens) to consider the implications of the many large-scale projects being considered, or that have already being constructed, in downtown Fredericksburg—many being more than 60,000 square-feet.


If you cannot attend the meeting and would like to submit comments to the ARB, they can be sent to Kate Schwartz, Historic Resources Planner, [email protected] She will then forward them onto the members of the ARB and enter them into the public record.



Henry Deane: African American Builder and Visionary

Henry Deane: African American Builder and Visionary

Research and full article by Matt Scott and Gary Stanton
Article summary (below) by Nancy Moore


Walker Evans, photographer. Farm Security Administration. Library of Congress. March 1935.


In March 1935, Walker Evans—a photographer for the Resettlement Administration and later famous for his Farm Security Administration photos of the Depression—passed through Fredericksburg. He took two images of a set of four houses on what is now the 600 block of George Street.

The houses Evans photographed were built by Henry Deane, an African American resident of Fredericksburg. Deane was a remarkable man with an apparently limitless capacity for work and a vision of the potential for the Liberty Town neighborhood.

We know far too little of Henry Deane, and what we do know comes largely from newspaper accounts. He was born in slavery in July 1837 in Powhatan County. According to his obituary, Deane became the body servant of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest during the Civil War, before coming to Fredericksburg in 1868.

In 1879, he married Lucy Combs, daughter of the former Town Cemetery sexton. Lucy became his partner in all his business accomplishments. Lucy and Henry had 11 children, including 2 they adopted. He was the only African American ever nominated by a City Council member to be a policeman in Fredericksburg. By his death in 1908, he was the most successful African American entrepreneur in Fredericksburg.

Beginning in the late 1880s, Henry and Lucy paid local carpenters to build residences on land they had acquired at the western edge of Fredericksburg. The area of the Deanes’ enterprise was called “Liberty Town,” a name bestowed by the early 19th century developer Seth Barton, who platted this portion of the 18th century Kenmore estate of Fielding and Betty Lewis. The land was hardly ideal—it sloped down to a marshy meadow and an open ditch now covered by Kenmore Avenue. The area was the eastern terminus of the Swift Run Gap Turnpike, a corduroy toll road built to link commerce from beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Port of Fredericksburg. The area was extensively developed in the 1820s, but Civil War actions destroyed the buildings, and the area defied further development through the 1870s and 1880s.

Walker Evans, photographer March, 1935. Oblique showing the variety of porches. Photo source www.museumsyndicate.com

Henry Deane was not a craftsman in the building trades, and his financial resources were virtually non-existent when he came to Fredericksburg in 1868. But he was vigorous and ambitious, and by working two jobs, saving, and cultivating relationships with his white employers, he was able to buy parcels of land that were unattractive to white developers. By subdividing the property into narrow odd-shaped lots and paying unnamed carpenters, this porter and livery stable operator and his wife would have 19 houses and 2 stables built on properties they owned. No other African American owning property during this time would build close to that number.

Earlier, in 1888, Henry had built for his own family the largest house in the neighborhood. Deane’s house—no longer standing—was located on what is now 536 George Street. The area was known as Deane’s Hill. The other houses he built were on George, Hanover, and Barton streets. The stables and one of the houses were on Liberty Street.

Now, only seven of the original houses remain, and few are owned by African American families. The remaining Deane buildings deserve to be recognized and recorded, giving testimony to the evolving social and cultural landscape of building innovation by and for people who had less access to wealth and power.



The full article about Henry Dean entitled, “The Domestic Architecture of African-Americans during the Era of Jim Crow”, by Matt Scott and Gary Stanton is included in the Journal of Fredericksburg History, Volume 15. Available in digital format.



References for more information and additional study (full list of references and footnotes will be available with journal article.)

Vlach, John Michael. “The Shotgun House: An African Architectural Legacy.” Common Places: Readings in American Vernacular Architecture. Dell Upton and John Michael Vlach, eds. Athens, GA: University Press of Georgia, 1986. Pp. 58-78.

The Free Lance. “Henry Deane Dead: He was a Well Known Colored Citizen.” Fredericksburg, Va: The Free Lance Publishing Company, June 30, 1908. Page 3, column 2.

“Certificate to obtain a marriage license, Henry Deane and Lucy A. Combs, issued 2 January 1879” S. F. Forbes, Deputy Clerk. Fredericksburg Corporation Court Clerk’s Office Annex.



John J. Ballentine, Jr., Fredericksburg Architect

John Jennings Ballentine, Jr., Fredericksburg Architect

By Michael Spencer, Assistant Professor University of Mary Washington, Department of Historic Preservation


Fredericksburg Post Office_1973_Ballentine-crop-v2-999x332

Early design for the Fredericksburg Post Office, Princess Anne Street-John Ballentine, Jr.


John Jennings Ballentine Jr. was born August 5, 1923 in Baltimore, Maryland to John and Catherine Ballentine. Ballentine’s father worked as an early aviator for the U.S. Navy and his position often required that the family move.[1] By high school Ballentine had lived in Yorktown, Dalgren, Newport News and Washington, D.C. Upon graduating high school, John Jr. enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania where he studied architecture.[2] There Ballentine would study under some of the best modernists of the era including Arthur F. Deam, Harry Parker, John E. Screet, Edward Wigham and Harry Sternfeld who combined art deco and international style design in many of his projects.[3] Upon receiving his degree Ballentine enlisted with the U.S. Navy, following in his father’s footsteps.[4] Upon completion of his service he moved to Fredericksburg where he began to practice architecture.[5]

One of Ballentine’s early successes was the shopping center he designed in 1956 for George and Francis King at 320-324 William Street, on the site of the 19th century Chancellor building, today known as Castiglia’s. The design utilized modern materials like steel and concrete block for the structural system, but used brick, stone veneer, and cast stone for exterior cladding to blend sympathetically with surrounding 19th century buildings. However, not all the exterior material used was based on local historic context. Ceramic tiles were installed around the bottom of the building and large, canted, plate-glass windows, with anodized aluminum surrounds, were installed along the primary elevations giving the building a “light” appearance. The elevations also echoed midcentury modern architecture with a strong horizontal emphasis created by the flat roof and projecting linear marquee. Two stone veneer stacks, reminiscent of nearby chimneys interrupt this horizontality and denote the changing of store spaces.[6] At the time, the newspaper remarked that the building was a “combination of colonial and modern architecture,”—attesting to Ballentine’s sympathetic, yet contemporary design.[7] Later local art and architectural critic Pauline G. King, Chairman of the Art Department at Mary Washington College, referred to the building as an example of “excellent design.” Her evaluation noted that the scale and materials were in keeping with the downtown but the overall design was “unmistakably of the twentieth century.”[8]

Another one of Ballentine’s designs, the Fredericksburg Public Health Center, was built in 1959 and also displays a well-contextualized midcentury modern appearance with large windows and a flat roof. Initial schematics for the building, however, show a more progressive design that was somewhat diminished over the course of a series of reviews, perhaps reflecting Fredericksburg’s conservative architectural tastes, left over from the late-19th and early-20th centuries.[9]

Ballentine continued to practice architecture in Fredericksburg during the 1960s but also took on another role in 1965 as the President of Historic Fredericksburg Foundation Inc. There he implemented a revolving fund program that purchased properties beginning with the 500 block of Caroline Street with the intent to preserve them. During a later interview Ballentine recalls that they “never really pulled it off”, however other preservation efforts by Ballentine were successful.[10] One notable success was his time as chairman on the Board of Historic Buildings, the precursor to today’s Architectural Review Board (ARB). Not only was he the first chairman beginning in 1967 but would continue to serve well into the 1970s taken on controversial projects like the Post Office building on Princess Anne Street.[11]

After years of service to Fredericksburg’s design and preservation communities, Ballentine passed away in 2007 leaving behind a significant community legacy.[12]




[1] U.S. Social Security Death Records Index, 1935-2014

[2] Free Lance-Star, John Ballentine Jr. Obituary, June 12, 2007

[3] University of Pennsylvania 1940-1950 Yearbooks

[4] Free Lance-Star, John Ballentine Jr. Obituary, June 12, 2007

[5] Examination of Ballentine drawings, HFFI collection, stored at UMW, 2015-16

[6] John J. Ballentine Jr., “Shopping Center Drawings, Street Elevations, Sheet No. 5”, July 20, 1956.

[7] “Old Landmark’s Future Awaits Bid Opening,” Free Lance-Star, August 23, 1956, 1.

[8] Pauline G. King, “Plan is Called ‘Aesthetic Prostitution’”, Free Lance-Star, December 11, 1973, 4.

[9] John J. Ballentine Jr., “Conceptual Designs for the Fredericksburg Public Health Center” (1958-1959)

[10] Free Lance-Star, “HFFIs 15 Years Old”, September 12, 1970, pg. A-13

[11] Free Lance-Star, “Council Names Six to Panels”, December 13, 1967

[12] Free Lance-Star, John Ballentine Jr. Obituary, June 12, 2007