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

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