How the Lewis Store applies to the National Register of Historic Places criteria.

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From National Register of Historic Places Nomination
Prepared by Cristine Lynch

Statement of Significance Summary Paragraph

The Lewis Store is located in the Fredericksburg Historic District in the City of Fredericksburg, Virginia. From dendrochronology it has been determined that the store was built in 1749 and that a second story was added in 1808. It is a three-bay, front-gable, Georgian-style brick building with stone quoins, has 962 square feet, and sits on a .062-acre lot. Prominent landowner and shipper John Lewis erected the store and his son, Fielding Lewis, who was married to George Washington’s sister, served as proprietor and then became owner upon his father’s death.

The Lewis Store is significant under Criterion A at the state level because it represents the early beginning of Virginia’s retail economy. It was built during a transitional period during which permanent stores in towns replaced informal and dispersed trading. Stores like the Lewis Store offered the middle classes European manufactured goods that had previously been accessible only to the upper classes.

The Lewis Store is significant under Criterion C at the state level because it is a rare surviving example of Virginia’s earliest commercial architecture. The building is among a very small group of Virginia stores built before 1750 and may be one of only three brick stores in Virginia dating from this time period. The Lewis Store is rarer still because of its stone quoins, a highly unusual feature on colonial store buildings and a rare display of gentry values in commercial architecture.

The Lewis Store is significant under Criterion D at the state level because of the information yielded during archaeological investigations immediately adjacent to the building and within the basement. Data recovered during the archaeological testing provided insight into the building’s changing uses over time and the evolution of the building fabric.

The period of significance is 1749 to 1823 because this is the time during which the building functioned as a store; after 1823 it was used as a residence. The building displays very good integrity to the period of significance, including its setting in the Fredericksburg Historic District adjacent to a historic green space and proximity to buildings from the period of significance. The exterior, along with portions of the interior, exhibit design, materials, workmanship and feeling from the period of significance. Historic Fredericksburg Foundation Inc.’s (HFFI’s) 2000-2006 rehabilitation, done according to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, preserved the building’s historic fabric and saved it from probable eventual collapse. A deed of easement from HFFI to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources assures that the
building’s historic integrity will continue to be preserved.

Significance under Criterion A

The Lewis Store represents the birth of the retail store in Virginia. In the seventeenth century, trading for imported goods had been limited to itinerant peddlers and to plantation owners, who exchanged tobacco for European goods at their river docks. That model changed after 1730, when increased population density in towns, along with the Tobacco Inspection Act, produced a business climate favorable to permanent retail stores. By the close of the eighteenth century the local retail store was most people’s primary source of new consumer goods.

Fredericksburg provided an ideal business climate for early retail stores including the Lewis Store. Because of Fredericksburg’s location on the Rappahannock River at the furthest navigable point for ocean-going vessels, it developed as a tobacco port in the seventeenth century and rose to prominence as a transshipping center in the eighteenth century.

The town’s status as an important economic center was secured when the Virginia General Assembly named Fredericksburg an official tobacco inspection station in 1730. Because of Fredericksburg’s economic importance, it developed into a governmental, religious, and social hub. It was home to the Spotsylvania County seat, monthly court days, semi-annual fair days, and the parish church. By 1759 the town had grown to the point that the General Assembly authorized a boundary expansion.

The Lewis Store represents an eighteenth-century change in consumption patterns often called the “consumer revolution.” During the second half of the century, shops began offering an increased variety and quantity of European manufactured goods at prices America’s middling ranks could afford. This changed the lives of the middle class who had new access to objects previously available only to their social superiors. Lewis Store owner William S. Stone exemplified this phenomenon in 1790 advertisements for linens made in Germany and Ireland, window glass, and exotic teas, “at very low prices.” The consumer revolution may even have stoked the fires of the American Revolution when leaders like Thomas Jefferson argued that the pursuit of happiness included the right to personal economic improvement.

An important social change took place as stores like the Lewis Store arose in the eighteenth century. In a society where groups were formally separated by class, gender and race, all people could now shop together at the local store. Whether the customers were black or white, women or men, poor or rich, they would have shared a common experience of consumer activity in the sales room, but the merchant would have invited only the elite into his heated counting room.

Significance under Criterion C

The Lewis Store is a rare surviving example of the earliest commercial architecture in Virginia. It is among a small handful of store buildings dating from the first half of the eighteenth century, and even rarer because of its brick construction and

Georgian-style architecture. In a period when most Virginia stores were modest wooden structures, this building featured brick construction with striking stone quoins, a chamfered water table and a corbelled-brick cornice. Quoins are very uncommon on commercial buildings of this period, occurring most often on high-profile structures like Pohick Church in Lorton and Aquia Church in Stafford.

A search of Virginia Department of Historic Resources data produced only two other examples of pre-1760 brick stores, both of which appear on the National Register of Historic Places. One is the 1739 Prentis Store in Colonial Williamsburg, which had been converted to a gas station before its 1931 restoration. The other is Yorktown’s Old Custom House, built in the 1720s and restored in 1929 by an architect associated with Colonial Williamsburg.

The Lewis store represents a highly unusual juxtaposition of gentry values and commercial architecture. Lewis designed his store in the Georgian style, which represented the gentry’s idea of fashionable architecture. The building, modeled after Fredericksburg’s brick public buildings like the court, market and parish church, reflects the Lewis family’s status as members of the ruling elite.

The Lewis Store embodies a typical eighteenth-century Virginia store in several ways. Its orientation—the gable end facing the street pierced by a central door and two flanking windows—predominated in early Virginia. On the interior, it exhibits (via architectural evidence) the common colonial store layout of a sales room in the front and a counting room in the rear, in this case separated by a cross-passage. With this arrangement the merchant could offer goods to everyone in the unheated sales room and reserve the heated counting room for entertaining his best customers. Evidence of another common early store element exists above the main entrance door, where a brick outline of a 1749 attic loading door is clearly visible. Here the merchant would have used a hoist to access upstairs storage.

However, in some respects the store is unusual for the period. At nearly 1,000 square feet, the building is larger than the majority of early Virginia stores41 and is wider than most of Fredericksburg’s eighteenth-century commercial buildings.

Another feature not common in early Virginia stores is the tall display window in the sales room. It may be the oldest display window in Virginia for which physical evidence exists, because such windows were unusual until the early nineteenth century. Another unusual aspect of the 1749 portion of the building was the absence of exterior entrances (later altered) at each end of the cross-passage. Finally, the building’s Georgian style and highly-ornamented brick construction with stone quoins set it apart from other store buildings of the period.

Significance under Criterion D

In 1999, archaeological investigations carried out immediately adjacent to the building’s exterior walls and within the basement yielded information about the building’s evolution over time. Through archaeological fieldwork, an understanding was gained of how the building’s site had changed, as erosion during the nineteenth century caused the adjacent street grade to increase almost five feet. The rise in street grade necessitated changes to the building fabric, including infilling of at least one window. Furthermore, test units within the basement provided information about changing uses of the interior space during the nineteenth century. The information yielded by the archaeological investigations helped illuminate the Lewis Store’s architectural integrity and its evolution since the late eighteenth century, and thus provided additional information pertaining to the resource’s architectural and historical significance.

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

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