Preserving the Stories of Fredericksburg’s Past

More than 100 recordings detailing the histories that make Fredericksburg unique.


In 1997, the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation established an oral history project with the goal of gathering information on the history of the Fredericksburg preservation movement. The early days for the fledgling group were almost as memorable as the buildings and the ambience the organization was founded to protect. Many had firsthand stories to tell of the uphill struggles marked by people such as Lillian Reed on a ladder in her hat repairing a house or Frances Hewetson in her reasoned manner arguing the case for zoning. From white gloves to iron fist—the organization had seen some of everything.

From this beginning, the oral historians came to a quick realization that there was more to capture than the preservationists’ struggles, and the Oral History Project broadened to gather the story of the town and area as it had been witnessed in wars, Depression, desegregation and change—change of all sorts.

To date, the Oral History Project has produced more than 100 oral histories although in several cases a volume may include the remembrances of both husband and wife or in two cases, the stories were told by two sisters. In some instances, interviews have been withheld at the request of the subjects. Several of the earlier oral histories were supplied by Ruth Coder Fitzgerald and were interviews for her book, A Different Story: A Black History of Fredericksburg, Stafford, and Spotsylvania, Virginia. Mrs. Fitzgerald was one of the founders of the oral history project.

In the 2006 season, the project has, in part, focused on a fast disappearing story: rural life in Stafford County. There are six interviews about farms and several pages of pictures of rural Stafford including photographs of Sherwood Forest.

Dr. Howard E. Gregory, Penny Parrish, interviewer

Doris Webster Hickman, Nancy Bruns, interviewer

Eleanor Duggan Mitchell, Sara Irby, interviewer

Urla Baker Row, Pat Weinhardt, interviewer

Anne Wilson Rowe, Jane Rasmussen, interviewer

Diana Mary Tansill, Elizabeth Daly, interviewer

Gary S. Cooke, Nancy Bruns & Sue Willis, interviewers

Herman S. Groves, Diane Hoffman, interviewer

F. Byrd Holloway, Sue Willis, interviewer

Christine Wray Hopkins, Diane Hoffman, interviewer

Wardell Leacock, Tomi Reneau, interviewer

Virginia Fines Sullivan, Nancy Bruns & Sue Willis, interviewers

D.P. Newton, Nancy Bruns, interviewer

Gaye Adegbalola, Sue Willis, interviewer

Richard and Polly Beck, Nancy Bruns, interviewer

Herbert Ridgeway Collins, Penny Parrish, interviewer

Elinor Dickinson, Nancy Bruns, interviewer

Mary Lou Greenlaw, Jane Rasmussen, interviewer

Elizabeth Toombs Keckler, Sara Irby, interviewer

Kathryn Massey, Barb Davidson, interviewer

Rose Stefaniga Mergenthal, Nancy Bruns,interviewer

Winifred Lantz Parrish, Judy Bellafaire, interviewer

Marion Crawford Thorburn, Pat Thorburn, interviewer

John Anthony White, Dan Finnegan and Beth Daly, interviewers

Barbara Pratt Willis, Barb Davidson, interviewer

Alvin York Bandy, Beth Daly, interviewer

Anne Brooks Brauer, Tomi Reneau, interviewer

Dr. H. Stewart Jones, John Laffman, interviewer

Virgie Gallahan Miller, Nancy Bruns, interviewer

Tomi Reneau, Nancy Bruns, interviewer

Sylvester Silver, Sue Willis, interviewer

T.C. Waddy, Jr., Penny Parrish, interviewer

John Darling, Dan Finnegan, interviewer

Eva Virginia Tyson Decatur, Beth Daly, interviewer

Virginia Ann Freeman, Minette Cranford, interviewer

Julia “Bootsie” Ballard Gravatt, Dana Herlong, interviewer

Charlotte Leith, Lu Anderson, interviewer

O’Neal Mercer, Penny Parrish, interviewer

Eddie Payne, Sue Willis, interviewer

Beverley Moore Payton, Tomi Reneau, interviewer

Vera Bazzanella Way, Nancy Bruns, interviewer

Davis Cooper, Helen Ross, interviewer

The Rev. Ted and Toni Cunningham, Tomi Reneau, interviewer

Jinxie Forbush, Nancy Bruns, interviewer

Warren Forbush, Tomi Reneau, interviewer

Lana Brooke Snead, Judith Lamasure, interviewer

Carlton Onderdunk, Tom Lyons, interviewer

Frances Buckley Pratt, Jane Kosa, interviewer

Dr. David William Scott, Jr., Sue Willis, interviewer

Judge J.M.H. Willis, Jr., Carolyn Carpenter, interviewer

Frances Armstrong, Tomi Reneau, interviewer

Corinth Coleman Butler, Nancy Bruns, interviewer

Dr. Elizabeth Carmichael, Sue Willis, interviewer

Martha Jones Derieux, Nancy Bruns, interviewer

Elsie Goodloe Perry, Jane Kosa, interviewer

Mack Janney, Russ Roberts, interviewer

Lucy P. Welsh, Helen Ross, interviewer

Hattie Wheeler, Tomi Reneau, interviewer

Dr. Clayton Blum, Sue Willis, interviewer

Cassie Butzner, Helen Ross, interviewer

Mary Faulkner, Tomi Reneau, interviewer

Marian Ferguson, Jane Kosa, interviewer

DuVal Hicks, Sue Willis, interviewer

Charles S. Rowe, Nancy Bruns, interviewer

Violette Van Valzah, Tomi Reneau, interviewer

The Howison Sisters: Mary Howison and Nan Stephens, Ruth Coder Fitzgerald, interviewer addition with Dr. Graham Stephens and Sandi Stephens by Nancy Bruns and Tomi Reneau

Waldo Beck, Ruth Coder Fitzgerald, interviewer

Maitland W. Chewning, Ruth Ellen Richardson, interviewer

Freeman Funk, Nancy Bruns, interviewer

Mary Frances Funk, Nancy Bruns, interviewer

John Goolrick, Jane Kosa, interviewer

Barbara Hicks Geslock, Ruth Ellen Richardson, interviewer

Nick Lopomo, Sue Willis, interviewer

Miriam Nordin Miller, Debbie Klein, interviewer

Dr. Carter Rowe, Mark Jenkins, interviewer

Emmet Snead, Sue Willis, interviewer

Violette Mills Stoner, Thomasine Kreidler and Nancy Bruns, interviewers

Susie Atkinson, Leigh Ann Van Doren, interviewer

Alis Bailey, Jo Holland, interviewer

Elizabeth Embrey Cowan, Margareta Williamson, interviewer

DuVal Dickinson, Marie Stella, interviewer

Virginia Durrett, Bonnie Garber, interviewer

Katherine Conway Haymes, Nancy Bruns, interviewer

Frances Chambers Hewetson, Nancy Bruns, interviewer

Warren Farmer, Mark C. Jenkins, interviewer

Jack Johnson, Tony Reichert, interviewer

Lee Roy Lewis, Mary Preston, interviewer

Reginald Lucas, Ruth Coder Fitzgerald, interviewer

Agnes McGee, Ruth Ellen Richardson, interviewer

Blanche Moran, Jane Kosa, interviewer

Dr. Lloyd Moss, Mary Connolly, interviewer

C.J. “Cotchy” Pappandreou, Sommer Browning, interviewer

George Rawlings, Jr., Bill Chewning, interviewer

Warner Sprow, Mary Preston, interviewer

Maurice Tate, Mary Preston, interviewer

Wheeler Thompson, Kathleen Macmanus, interviewer

Julia Tyler, Sherry Rong, interviewer

The Janney Sisters: Charlotte Norris and Edith Walsh, Ruth Ellen Richardson, interviewer

Dr. Edward Alvey, Jr., Ruth Coder Fitzgerald, interviewer

W. Sidney Armstrong, Sue Willis, interviewer

Esther Chester, Melissa Fitzgerald, interviewer

Richard Dandridge, Melissa Fitzgerald, interviewer

Kate Gray, Eleanore Spears, interviewer, later interviewed by Mary Preston

Ralph Happel, Nancy Bruns, interviewer

Lem Houston, Mark Jenkins, interviewer

Mary Howard Houston, Mark Jenkins, interviewer

Johnny P. Johnson, Nancy Bruns, interviewer

Anne Reamy Low, Karen Luisi and Pina Swift, interviewers, with later addition by Sue Willis

Lillian Reed, Kathleen Macmanus, interviewer

Enos Richardson, Melissa Fitzgerald, interviewer

Anne Wilson Rowe, Debra Nidel, interviewer

Carl and Margaret Sponseller, Nancy Bruns, interviewer

Gladys Poles Todd, Mary Preston and Nancy Bruns, interviewers

Marian Reed Watts, Tim Duffy, interviewer

Phoebe Enders Willis, Sue Willis, interviewer

Transcribers: Jody Ballow, Betsy Glassie, Andi Grimsley, Suzanne Grubb, Jill Huber, Doris Webster Hickman, Karen Luisi, Mary Preston, Rebecca Purdy, Paula Raudenbush, Tomi Reneau, Ruth Ellen Richardson, Sandy Pearce, Ann Scott, Mike Vander Berg, and Sue Willis. In addition, many interviewers transcribe their own interviews. Photographers: Tomi Reneau, Barry Fitzgerald, Sue Connors, Beth Daly, and Sherry Rong. The Free Lance-Star has been generous in donating photographs.

Ruth Coder Fitzgerald indexed 3 years of the interviews and Betsy Glassie produced the 1998 exhibit for the library. Chairmen have included Marti Leicester, Candace Ransome, Leigh Ann Van Doren, Nancy Bruns, Mark Jenkins, Ruth Ellen Richardson, Tomi Reneau and Beth Daly. Tomi Reneau assisted in 2005-06 with graphics from her home in Tampa, FL.

Bound copies of the interviews are available at the Virginiana Room, Central Rappahannock Regional Library.


Additional oral histories can be found on the Friends of the Rappahannock website: