Historic Context of the Lewis Store

Excerpt from National Register of Historic Places Nomination
Prepared by Cristine Lynch

In 1742 John Lewis of Gloucester County, Virginia purchased 406 acres just outside the northern boundary of Fredericksburg from Francis Thornton of King George County. Lewis, a prominent landowner and planter, operated a shipping business that traded in the West Indies, Madeira, England, New England and Virginia.

By 1744 Lewis had erected a wooden store on his property at the northeast corner of what later became Caroline and Lewis Streets, now the location of the Rappahannock Public Library. In the late 1740s John sent his third son, Fielding (born July 7, 1725), to Fredericksburg as an apprentice to the store manager.

In 1749 John Lewis built the current brick structure as a 1 ½ story “storehouse” (i.e., store) at the northwest corner of what later became Caroline and Lewis Streets, across Caroline from the wooden store. Fielding was the proprietor, selling such items as rum, wine, linen, buttons, gloves, sugar, coffee, stockings, glass tumblers, a beer glass, brass sconces, a woman’s hat, a snuff box, a “brest” buckle and a “soop spoon.” Fielding became the owner of the building upon his father’s death in 1754. In a 1757 letter George Washington instructed his mother, who lived in Fredericksburg, to purchase osnaburg, cotton, hose and thread in “Mr. Lewis’ Store.”

Fielding Lewis was a prominent member of the Fredericksburg gentry. Besides serving as a court justice and as a vestryman at St. George’s Parish, he was also a member of the House of Burgesses from 1760 to 1765. He acted as commissioner of the Fredericksburg arms manufactory during the Revolutionary War and oversaw the construction and operation of the factory. In 1759, Fielding succeeded in getting the General Assembly to expand the city limits to encompass his land adjacent to the northern boundary of the city, including the Lewis Store.

Fielding and his second wife, Betty Washington, sister of George Washington, lived at the northeast corner of Princess Anne and Lewis Streets, just west of the store. The home would later be described as “a large and commodious brick dwelling-house, two stories high.” In the 1770s Fielding and Betty moved to a Georgian-style mansion, now a National Historic Landmark known as “Kenmore,” they had built a short distance west of the store. The cost of building Kenmore, along with £7,000 of unreimbursed arms manufactory expenses, forced Fielding in 1773 to mortgage the land on which his store was located.

In 1776 the Lewises sold the brick store (Lot 83), their adjacent home (Lot 84) and six adjoining lots to Edward Carter. Carter stabled horses, which he raced at the popular Jockey Club racecourse and gentleman’s club, on the block adjoining William S. Stone, an active storekeeper, bought the store from Carter in 1793. According to a 1796 insurance policy, the improvements included “a store house one story high built of brick covered with wood, 37 feet long 26 feet wide… a brick lumber house two story high 30 ft. long 23 ft. wide covered with wood…[and a] …lumber house 23 feet wide 44 feet long built of wood and covered with wood.” A 1796 deed from Carter to Stone added a six-foot strip along the north side. Stone recorded a mortgage of £425 on the property to Thomas Colson in 1800.

Stone advertised frequently in the Virginia Herald newspaper. In 1795 he offered rum, sugar, teas (green and hyson), Madeira, Port & Lisbon wines, fabrics such as Irish linens and “raffia sheetings”, sole leather, window glass, salt, gunpowder and shot, bar iron, nail rods, bacon, and yellow and brown paints. An 1802 entry advertised Plaster of Paris and Spanish Hides.

Thomas Green purchased the store from Stone in 1803, taking over the Colson mortgage, and Green and Stone then operated the store together. Green evidently defaulted on the mortgage, because the Court of Spotsylvania sold the property to William Waller in 1806. Shopkeeper William Taylor rented the building in 1807.

The building was damaged in an 1807 fire which began at William Stanard’s residence, formerly Fielding Lewis’ home, just west of the store, and burned four entire blocks. Tenant William Taylor reported that “my store was three times on fire but fortunately this wind appeared to change for a moment and have saved it and also most of my goods.” Waller added a second story and made other changes in 1808, although it is unclear whether fire damage had prompted the improvements. The 1808 land tax record indicates the building as “repairing,” which is consistent with the 1808 addition date. Taylor was the tenant again in 1809 and then it was unoccupied in 1810 and 1811.

Fredericksburg mayor and merchant Robert Mackay purchased the property from Waller in 1815. Court records show Mackay as a merchant in lawsuits involving accounts for ceramics and salt in 1816 and 1817. Mackay erected a residence, which still stands, on the site of Fielding Lewis’ former home at the northeast corner of Princess Anne and Lewis Streets. Mackay sold the store building to Thomas Seddon in an 1823 foreclosure.

There is no evidence that the building was used as a store after 1823 except for two brief periods in the early twentieth century. Insurance policies from 1823 onward show the building as a dwelling. From 1823 to the present there have been a total of fourteen owners, of which the longest tenures have been the Benjamin Clarke family (1837-1841 and 1843- 1897) and the Savee-Pitzer family (1922-1983).

In 1983 the Pitzer family sold the building to Aequanimitas Too, a Virginia Limited Partnership, which sold to Robert C. Wheeler II and Mary Ellen Wheeler in 1996. The Wheelers transferred it by Deed of Gift to the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation, Inc. (HFFI), in 1996.

In 1999, the Center for Historic Preservation at Mary Washington College conducted archaeological investigations at Lewis Store to gather information about the initial construction of the building and to examine the building’s evolution over time.

Historic grade changes around the building, particularly adjacent to the eastern end of the south wall, locations of original entrances to the first floor and basement, and changes to the basement layout were specifically targeted for investigation. Five test units were opened along the exterior walls of the building and two units were opened within the basement. The investigations recovered information that demonstrated the historic alterations to the building’s fabric occurred as a result of changes in use of space within the building and due to the growth of Fredericksburg. The archaeological findings indicated that the original building likely was in place by the 1760s, and that the building’s basement originally rose four feet above the street grade. Erosion between 1780 and 1860 caused the ground surface to rise about five feet (to its present level) and necessitated changes to the building. A central door on the east wall of the building was infilled, a bulkhead entrance near the north end of the east wall eventually was infilled, and at least one window on the south wall was infilled. Additionally, the basement test units revealed that a wall once divided the basement in half. Artifacts recovered from the test units provided temporal periods within which these alterations took place, with all modifications having been completed by the late nineteenth century. The data recovered from the archaeological investigations informed subsequent rehabilitation work on the building.

After extensive dendrochronological, archaeological and architectural investigation, in 2000-2006 HFFI rehabilitated the building at a cost of over one million dollars, of which a sizable portion was a grant from the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Virginia Department of Historic Resources designated the 2000-2006 rehabilitation as a “certified rehabilitation” because the work conformed to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. HFFI currently occupies the building as their offices. The Virginia Department of Historic Resources holds an easement on the property.


See PDF of the National Register nomination for references and citation.

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