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