Historic Growth and Development

The significance and value of historic buildings and sites is found in people's response to them. History is not contained in physical places, in and of themselves, but rather in their power to evoke reactions such as an appreciation of traditional craftsmanship, a delight in architectural innovation, or an interest in historic persons and events. What we as a community find important is always changing, yet the tangible reminders of history that comprise the City of Fredericksburg provide a continuity with the past that allows the community to define itself as it confronts the future. 

Periods of Significance

Fredericksburg reflects a continuity of development over time, each period of history contributing something to both community design and architectural style. While an individual may prefer a particular type of architecture or historic era, the permanence of change in the community should be recognized. To this end, the following sections provide a brief context within which Fredericksburg's growth and development can be examined and appreciated. 

Exploration and Settlement: 1608-1750

While exploring the Chesapeake Bay in 1608, Captain John Smith worked his vessels up to the falls of the Rappahannock River, where he encountered a native people called the Manahoacks. After a violent confrontation, the English explorer wisely withdrew. The Manahoaks were of a different culture than those Native Americans below the falls and these latter tribes, hostile to the English newcomers as well as to the Manahoaks, inadvertently served as a buffer between them. As a consequence, there was no further recorded European contact with this now obscure culture. 

The Manahoacks had disappeared by 1676, when Governor Berkeley awarded several land grants along the Rappahannock River to colonists who had helped him to overcome Bacon's Rebellion. The remnants of the Native American presence include a few remaining fish traps in the River as well as archaeological artifacts, such as the projectile point (c. 4,000 B.C.) that was recovered during development of the City's commuter rail parking lot. The Rappahannock River had been a central factor in the prosperity of the area's Native Americans and would be no less important to the European colonists in its capacity to shape western expansion, establish settlement patterns, and provide for commercial growth. 

In 1714, Governor Alexander Spottswood established his iron industry in what would soon become Spotsylvania County. This pioneering activity drew other settlers to the area, although they were primarily interested in growing tobacco. The tobacco culture had its origins in the Virginia Tidewater and this labor-intensive activity had quickly resulted in the introduction of slavery to the New World. As the European settlers moved west, slaves were brought into the Piedmont region and references to slavery appear in the Fredericksburg area as early as the 1690s. Slave labor and tobacco certainly helped the local area to prosper and a collection and distribution point for the tobacco slated for export became necessary to facilitate trade. The logical place to establish a port, however, had already been included in one of Governor Berkeley's land grants. 

In 1728, the Virginia House of Burgesses ordered the town of Fredericksburg built on 50 acres of land leased from the previously awarded 2,000 acre Buckner-Royston patent. An inspection station was then established to ensure that the great quantities of tobacco grown in Spotsylvania County and areas to the west was of a quality suitable for shipment. The official inspection station operated at the foot of present day Wolfe Street, and groupings of wooden warehouses kept the hogsheads dry until the seagoing ships arrived to carry the precious crop to England. Falmouth was established in 1728, as well, to accommodate the tobacco growers who had settled north of the Rappahannock River. Falmouth's early growth was strong, because more colonists had settled in Stafford County, but Fredericksburg provided a better port. When ferry service was established in 1748, Falmouth began to diminish in commercial stature. 

In 1732, Fredericksburg became the county seat for Spotsylvania County and the court was moved from Germanna, where Governor Spottswood had established himself, to a courthouse erected on Princess Anne Street (replaced more than a century later by the present building, which is still in use). County residents were not especially pleased with Fredericksburg as the court site, because it was not as convenient to them as Germanna had been, but the Crown wished to protect the town's economy and refused to move it elsewhere. The court met each month and busied itself with an astounding number of lawsuits, primarily related to inadequate land surveys. 

The settlement period was a boisterous time in Fredericksburg. In the 1740s, there were almost as many ordinaries, or taverns, in the town as there were warehouses. Seagoing vessels travelled up the Rappahannock River in increasing numbers, where they exchanged their goods for the generous harvests and raw materials of central Virginia. By the time of the American Revolution, Fredericksburg had grown into a prominent trade center. 

Because the upper Rappahannock was settled after the Tidewater region, colonial architecture had become very sophisticated by the time large, permanent houses were built in Fredericksburg. Certainly the rude buildings erected during the early frontier period had never been intended to be anything more than temporary. The numerous prominent structures on Caroline, Princess Anne, and Charles Streets illustrate this surge in new development. The plantation system also evolved during this period, beginning in the Tidewater and soon reaching the Piedmont. One of Fredericksburg's most impressive plantation houses is the Kenmore mansion, built c.1780, by Fielding Lewis for his wife Betty Washington Lewis, sister of George Washington. The Washington family had lived at Ferry Farm and George had grown up to become a surveyor and explorer. His rise to prominence, however, would be as a Virginia militia officer. 

From Colony to Nation: 1750-1789 

By the mid-eighteenth century, Fredericksburg had become a large and prosperous port. A 1759 boundary expansion more than tripled the size of town, highlighting this dynamic growth. During this period, England successfully prosecuted the French and Indian War and secured its North American empire against other European interests. But while the French no longer posed a threat to English designs in the New World, the English colonists increasingly thought of themselves as Americans and began to take issue with imperial taxation and colonial government. Rumors of rebellion found a receptive audience in Fredericksburg's many taverns, including the Golden Eagle on Caroline Street (now called the Rising Sun Tavern). 

In 1774, many Fredericksburg citizens joined a growing network of outraged communities by establishing a Committee of Correspondence when Britain closed the port of Boston, in response to the Boston Tea Party. The growing crisis further intensified in 1775, when Governor Dunmore removed the gunpowder from the magazine at Williamsburg and stored it on a British vessel. Local Virginia leaders drafted the Fredericksburg Resolutions in protest, pledging their "lives and fortunes" to firmly resist, by force of arms if necessary, all dangers to the "just rights and liberty of America." 

Captain Hugh Mercer, a Scottish expatriot who had taken up residence in Fredericksburg, drilled a group of armed and irate residents who had assembled in the town in response to the Governor's action. He conferred with Colonel George Washington, then an officer in the Virginia militia, about a proposed march on Williamsburg, but Governor Dunmore defused this particular crisis by agreeing to return the powder. Events were clearly gaining a momentum of their own, however. A courier arrived with news of armed conflict at Lexington and Concord. Before the militiamen disbanded, Michael Brown Wallace, of Falmouth, described the assembled upcountry riflemen as "evry man Rich and poor with their hunting shirts Belts and Tomahawks ...," providing a glimpse of the type of men who would soon face British regulars in a war for independence. 

When war came, recruits from the Fredericksburg area constituted the bulk of two Virginia regiments of foot soldiers (the 2nd and 3rd Regiments) of the famed Virginia Line. These units were a part of the Continental Army, the mainstay of the American Revolution to which the Continental Congress appointed George Washington as commander. His friend Hugh Mercer commanded the 3rd Regiment of the Virginia Line until he was mortally wounded at Princeton. 

The Town also provided material support to the Revolution. Hunter's Iron Works, a leading Virginia iron works near Falmouth, supplied muskets to the Continental Army until 1781, when Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown. In Fredericksburg, Fielding Lewis and Charles Dick established another arms manufactory in 1775. This latter enterprise initially repaired damaged muskets but appears to have been producing complete muskets as early as 1776. Two of only a few Fredericksburg muskets to survive intact can be seen at the Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center and at the Dewitt Wallace Gallery in Colonial Williamsburg. 

A surprisingly large number of buildings have also survived from this period. Charles Dick's house, at 1107 Princess Anne Street, though much modified, is considered to be one of the oldest dwellings in Fredericksburg. The Taylor House, on Fall Hill, dates to 1779; the original portion of the Chimneys, at 623 Caroline Street, dates to 1769; several houses on lower Caroline Street were constructed between 1764 and 1789; and the upper end of town includes buildings from this era as well. 

The Revolutionary period brought several political changes to Fredericksburg. In 1778, the Virginia Assembly overturned more than three decades of Crown policy to maintain the City as the Spotsylvania County seat, and allowed the county to build a more centrally located courthouse. In 1782, the Assembly also gave Fredericksburg its status as an independent jurisdiction, a designation which remains in effect to this day. 

The Early National Period: 1789-1830

The American Revolution freed the former American colonies from strict British trade restraints and the War of 1812 further removed British interference from American maritime activity. River ports on the fall line - such as Alexandria, Fredericksburg, and Petersburg - thrived as commercial centers. During this period, the farmers in the Rappahannock basin shifted from tobacco production to more diversified agriculture, including wheat. The activity at inspection stations in Fredericksburg and Falmouth reflect this trend, where as many as 160,000 barrels of flour were handled in 1816 alone. 

Buildings in Fredericksburg that date from this period are concentrated in the heart of the Central Business District, in the 500-900 blocks of Caroline and Princess Anne Streets and the 200-300 blocks of William Street. These structures include the Market House and Town Hall (1814), the Masonic Lodge (c. 1814), and the City's Visitor Center (1824). Residential structures from this period are primarily located on lower Caroline Street although others are scattered beyond what was then the town boundary. The Snowden House, for example, (currently in use as administrative offices for Mary WashingtonHospital) also dates from this era (c.1815), although the current building is a reconstruction (1926) of the original house, which was destroyed by fire. One of the City's more intact early streetscapes is the intersection of Princess Anne and Lewis Streets, where prominent Federal-style buildings are located on each corner. These buildings include the Kenmore Inn (c. 1824) and the residential dwellings at 1201 (c.1817), 1111 (c. 1818), and 1108 (c. 1838) Princess Anne Street. 

This energetic period of transition included three major fires that swept through the increasingly dense urban blocks. The first, in 1799, probably occurred as a result of the extensive use of wooden chimneys in the town. The second large fire occurred in 1807 and devastated an area from the corner of Lewis and Princess Anne Streets, down Caroline Street, as far as George Street. The Town Council subsequently passed an ordinance, in 1809, abolishing wooden chimneys as well as certain practices determined to be dangerous to the public safety. Among other things, the new ordinance required the timely removal of wood shavings from work sites. That wood shavings were thought to pose such a hazard is yet another clue to the high level of construction and manufacturing being carried on in the bustling town. The third serious fire occurred in 1822, and destroyed the block bounded by Hanover, George, Princess Anne, and Caroline Streets. 

During the Early National Period, the new Constitution established a centralized national government. The federal system, however, did not designate Fredericksburg as a port-of-entry. Despite subsequent petitions, the Town was no longer allowed to receive exports from Europe. Further growth would have to rely on increasing the regional scope of the Town's trade network. The solution that beckoned was improved navigation of the Rappahannock River. 

The Antebellum Years: 1830-1861

Ideas to construct a canal were formulated as early as 1793, but plans were delayed by a national debate over funding responsibility. The Rappahannock Company, for instance, spent decades raising funds to make the river more conducive to moving bulk cargo, but did not have enough money available to commence work until 1829. A series of canals, canal locks, and dams to create slackwater were envisioned to provide farmers with the improved access to markets that wagons on rough roads could not provide. Not until 1849, however, and only then with an infusion of funds from bonds subscribed by the Fredericksburg Town Council, was the Rappahannock Navigation System completed from Fredericksburg to communities in the upper river basin. 

Even as the Rappahannock Navigation was being laboriously constructed, emerging railroad technology threatened to make canals obsolete. Alexandria, Richmond, and Petersburg quickly grasped this reality and subsequently developed rail links to the West. As a consequence, these cities sustained their prominence as urban and commercial centers. Not until 1853, though, did the Fredericksburg Gordonsville Railroad Company incorporate to provide an east-west railway. The next several years saw the railroad right-of-way cleared and graded, but no tracks had been laid when the Civil War interruptedfurther construction. During this period, inadequate transportation facilities translated into commercial decline. In 1847, for example,the number of barrels that passed through the flour inspection stations in Fredericksburg and Falmouth had dropped to 60,000. 

Alternatives to commercial growth were found in establishing manufacturing facilities that took advantage of existing water power. Richmond, another fall line city, had been able to develop an impressive ironworking industry even as milling remained a strong concern. In 1855, in Fredericksburg, the Rappahannock Navigation Company built a crib dam (later flooded by the concrete Embrey Dam, built in 1909) for the Fredericksburg Water Power Company. This dam's function shifted the primary emphasis of the City's canal system from transportation to water power. A number of additional mills quickly sprang up on the upper end of town, to join the milling enterprises already in place. These industries included cotton manufacturing, woolen mills, as well as flour and grist mills. 

Both residential and commercial construction flourished during the 1830s, 40s and 50s. Only a few of the many mills in operation during this period remain evident, but commercial and residential Federal architecture still dominates many areas of the City. The above growth is also reflected in the City's demographics. The 1840 Census shows Fredericksburg as having a population of 2,343 white citizens, 1,226 slaves, and 408 free blacks. The large number of slaves corresponds with the several plantations around the City. Identifiable slave dwelling sites are rare, but some have been located through documentation and field research. More substantial houses that have survived from this period include Idlewild (1859-1960) and Braehead (1850s). 

The City's current and distinct skyline was also defined during this period. Earlier in the century, the disestablishment of the Anglican Church in America had resulted in the rise of many other religious denominations and prominent church spires rose into the sky as growing congregations built new houses of worship - including the Fredericksburg Presbyterian Church (1833), St. George's Church (1849), and the Fredericksburg Baptist Church (1854-1855). The other prominent structure on the skyline is the Circuit Courthouse, designed by the architect James Renwick and built in 1852. Its Gothic Revival features are mirrored in a few other local buildings, but a building depression in 1857 cut short, for the most part, the further uses of this building style in Fredericksburg. 

Despite the advantages of its location, Fredericksburg's economic importance had fallen off by the time of the Civil War. Although the Town boundaries were expanded in 1851, encompassing the previous decades of growth, an analysis of census records and archival data suggests that without this annexation the urban population would have actually declined during the 1850s. Certainly the slave population, although growing in real terms, had fallen as a percentage of the Town's population, from a high in 1820 (37.7 percent) to a low in 1860 (26.0 percent). 

In the competition for its share of commercial growth, Fredericksburg had slipped. The City remained an active regional center, but other cities - like Alexandria and Richmond - had better transportation links and drew a much greater share of economic activity to their environs. In Fredericksburg, the Rappahannock Navigation System had fallen into disrepair, the rail link to the West was still being graded, the north-south railway - the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad - was not yet completed to the Potomac River, and sea-going ships were becoming too large to navigate upstream to the town docks. 

The Civil War: 1861-1865

When Virginia seceded from the Union, the railway between Washington D.C. and Richmond remained unfinished. Its construction, however, had reoriented Fredericksburg from the east-west flow of the Rappahannock River to the north-south axis of the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad. In a period of mass armies with overwhelming logistic needs, this railroad drew the contending armies to Fredericksburg with a deadly inevitability. 

In December of 1862, the City was bombarded by Union artillery, as a prelude to the Battle of Fredericksburg. Union infantry soon followed, forcing a river crossing at the foot of Hawke Street as well as in the City Dock area. The sounds of close combat crashed through Caroline and Princess Anne Streets as the Confederate defenders fought a rearguard action. Once pontoon bridges were in place, more Federal troops arrived, sacking and looting the buildings from which their occupants had so recently fled. 

The main Federal assault occurred against the Confederate position in Sunken Road, at the base of Marye's Heights. Several houses stood in the path of these attacks including Federal Hill (504 Hanover Street), the Rowe House (801 Hanover Street) and the Stratton House (700 Littlepage Street). These dwellings still exhibit chipped bricks from this timewhen a violent storm of metal swirled around them. The residents of these neighborhoods also continue to harvest the remnants of battle - bullets, belt buckles, and bayonets - when they dig in their gardens. 

The aftermath of battle, both in 1862 and during the Overland Campaign of 1864 saw many of the Town's larger buildings used as hospitals and the open areas around them converted to burying grounds. Not until the armies moved south, to fight around Richmond and Petersburg, did the war's hard impact begin to subside. 

This period saw more destruction than construction. Many of the buildings that were extant at this time, and which did not succumb to fire, still bear its scars, although they are not always visible. Bullet holes and broken structural components, for example, were quickly repaired on roofs and exterior walls, to make houses weathertight once more. Interior damage was less urgent and could often be covered with wallpaper or otherwise hidden from view. More poignant reminders of this brutal conflict are the two military cemeteries - one for the Federal troops and another for their Confederate counterparts. 

Reconstruction and Growth: 1865-1914

As a result of the Civil War, the Town's growth at mid-century was severely curtailed. Residents repaired their shattered dwellings, churches, and business enterprises, but the devastation had been tremendous and recovery was slow. 

The social impact of the war certainly had an effect on the City's built environment. Census records show that during the Antebellum Period, Fredericksburg had a sizeable free black population representing such diverse occupations as barber, blacksmith, boot and shoemaker, bricklayer/mason, carpenter,carriage and coach maker, cooper, drayman, gardener, laborer, moulder/plasterer, painter, servant, and waterman. Increasing segregation toward the end of the nineteenth century, however, forced blacks into inferior economic, social, and political circumstances. The evidence of this trend is very graphic in the City's building patterns. Lower Charles and Prince Edward Streets, for instance, were a black community and are characterized by small lots, and modest dwellings. The Barton, George, and Liberty Street area (Liberty Town) has similar characteristics although these dwellings are interspersed with larger dwellings built in the twentieth century. Dwellings built during this period for white residents are usually more elegant Victorian dwellings either adjacent to Colonial and Federal buildings of an earlier era - such as on lower Caroline Street and upper Charles and Prince Edward Streets - or in entirely new neighborhoods - such as Washington Avenue. 

Milling and manufacturing quietly resumed and grew at established sites such as the Bridgewater Mills, Washington Woolen Mills, and the Germania Mills. New enterprises were also established such as the Fredericksburg Wood Working Plant and the C.W. Wilder and Company Silk Mill. In 1872, the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad finally completed its tracks between Fredericksburg and Washington, D.C., establishing a vital transportation link and supporting increased industrial development in the vicinity of the downtown railroad station. Commercial buildings in this corridor include the Janney-Marshall warehouse, built c. 1907, and the Young-Sweetzer Company tower, built in 1919. 

Industrial jobs brought people to the City, but Fredericksburg also benefitted from an influx of people drawn by the success of area schools. These educational institutions included private enterprises as well as the State Normal School for Women at Fredericksburg, which later became Mary Washington College.

The sectional rift that had resulted in the Civil War also showed outward signs of healing. The Spanish-American War (1898), for example, appears to have rekindled national feelings in this formerly secessionist community. At that time, a regiment of troops, mustered into federal service to fight in Cuba, trained at a camp near the old Fredericksburg Gun Manufactory and Gunnery Springs. These federal troops had a very different mission than the Union troops of 1862, a harsh time still remembered by many residents, and period newspapers enthusiastically espoused their patriotic qualities. 

The latter stages of the nineteenth century also saw increasing visits to the Fredericksburg area by Civil War veterans of both sides. These old soldiers were intent on examining scenes of their past struggles, but also sought to preserve the Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Wilderness, and Spotsylvania battlefields for posterity. 

The Spanish-American War encampment, Camp Cobb, had been situated at the future site of the Walker-Grant School. This public school for blacks would be a segregated one, however, constructed in 1934 to comply with the 1898 Supreme Court decision that institutionalized "separate but equal." Also of interest in this regard is the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad station, built in 1910, whose two former waiting rooms are a physical remnant of the tragic time of Jim Crow. 

Construction styles were very much influenced by growing industry and an expanding railroad network. Industrialization allowed complex building components such as doors, windows, roofing, and siding to be mass produced in factories and shipped by rail at low cost. As a consequence, heavy timber framing gave way to a more simplified board framing held together by wire nails. Houses were freed from their traditional box-like shapes and began to include wall extensions, overhangs, irregular floor plans, and elaborate detailing. The profusion of decorative elements of the dwellings on Washington Avenue and its surrounding neighborhood symbolize the wealth and success of the late nineteenth century industrial era. 

In commercial sections of the City, an obvious visual change in the architectural elements of this period are the strong cornices instead of eaves. The 800 block of Caroline Street is a clear example of this transition and is one of many sections of Caroline Street that exhibit both cornices as well as eaves, in a blend of old and what was then new. 

World War I to World War II: 1914-1945 

This period of history saw the continued growth of urban centers, as growing transportation systems linked communities nationwide. Fredericksburg's early twentieth century prosperity is dramatically evident in the construction that occurred along Route 1. This development included such prominent buildings as a hotel at 904 Princess Anne Street (since converted to office use) and the extremely conspicuous bank building at the corner of Princess Anne and William Streets. Construction activity in the downtown commercial area also included installation of storefronts, using newly available steel beams to span the large storefront windows. Of interest in this development is the 700 block of Caroline Street. The west, or shady side of this block has numerous converted storefronts, while the buildings on the east, or sunny side of the street often retain their original configuration. 

Available building materials also changed transportation. City Manager records show concrete sidewalks being constructed during the 1910s and 20s to provide "cement foot ways" in all the City's residential areas. There were gaps, however, between homes where the owners had installed sidewalks andhomes where the owners were not so inclined. The time when such improvements would be publicly funded had not yet arrived, and is very reminiscent of the canal building period when the issue of who would incur the cost of internal improvements was so strongly debated. The sidewalks on the west side of Washington Avenue's 1400 block show the variety of walkways that resulted from this informal policy. 

Not until the mass production of the automobile did there occur a shift in the manner in which roads were to be built. With the increasing number of automobiles came increased pressure to provide publicly-funded roadways to allow their convenient use. The public benefit was to be the removal of space-intensive horses and stables from the City and increased economic activity through a more efficient movement of goods. In response to this trend, engineers literally revived a road technology that had been practiced by the Romans - using a bed of crushed rock to provide a well draining foundation and covering it with a durable surface. 

In Fredericksburg, streets that had invariably been rutted, muddy/dusty, full of potholes and dotted with horse manure began to be paved with asphalt as well as with Belgian paving stones. The early twentieth century also saw the development of an improved quality of concrete that could better withstand traffic. While this early roadway concrete has long been replaced or covered, some structural examples remain. The Falmouth, Chatham, and R.F.&P Bridges, for example, are all remnants of what was then a technologically superior material. 

Motorcars stimulated the development of maintenance garages, service stations, and other roadside industries along the City's main thoroughfares. Some of these industries are still in operation - such as the auto shop at 1319 Princess Anne Street (c. 1920). Others have been adapted to other uses - such as the former service station at 522 Princess Anne Street (also c. 1920). 

New roads and motor vehicles, as well as the increased availability of electrical power, also had a profound impact on commercial location patterns. Previously, factories were built where transport or power was available - on canals, mill races, rivers, and rail lines. Under these circumstances, materials and goods were moved to and from the work site by rail or water. Electrification and trucks, however, allowed a more scattered commercial development where trucks moved freight and materials between work sites and markets - a pattern still very much in use. 

Electricity was available in Fredericksburg as early as 1887, provided by the Rappahannock Electric Light and Power Company at a site in what is now Old Mill Park. This company was the first in a series of local firms, as well as the City, that provided power for street lights, homes, public buildings, businesses and industry. The most visible reminder of this electric generating capacity is the reinforced concrete Embrey Power Plant, on Caroline Street, at the foot of Ford Street. This facility provided power for the Spotsylvania Electric Company and the Virginia Electric Power Company (VEPCO) from approximately 1910 until the early 1960s. 

Electricity did not immediately replace gas, however, as a power source. A state-of-the-art municipal gas works was built in 1906 at the corner of Charles and Frederick Streets to serve local needs. Persons renovating houses in many parts of the City still encounter old gas lines in their walls, a reminder of the days when gaslight kept back the darkness. 

The automobile's impact on the City's built environment would become greater in subsequent years. In the meantime, railroad travel remained faster and more economical. Rail's prominence is illustrated by a massive new railroad bridge built over the Rappahannock River during 1925-27, a structure that also included viaducts to elevate the tracks over City streets. The railroad station building - originally built in 1910 - was also expanded at this time. The railroad saw its peak period of use during the Second World War, but the construction of new roads around downtown Fredericksburg during the post-war period eventually caused the railroad station to fall into disuse. 

Two years after completion of the railroad bridge came the stock market crash of 1929. Government efforts to relieve the economic effects of the resulting Great Depression had a significant impact on the area's historic resources. During the 1930s, for example, the Civilian Conservation Corps stabilized and rebuilt local battlefield earthworks as well as a section of the stone wall along Sunken Road. The Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park was established in 1927, but became more readily accessible to visitors as a result of the new roads and facilities built through the Works Projects Administration (WPA) during this period. The WPA also constructed the National Park Service Visitor Center on Lafayette Boulevard in 1936. 

Other WPA projects endure as part of the City's infrastructure. Federal public works projects undertaken in Fredericksburg included installation of water and sewer lines in neighborhoods from Mayfield, in the south end of town, to Elwood City, in the north end. Other work included street grading, curb installation, and drainage system development including the box drain currently under Kenmore Avenue. Additional projects included renovation and painting of public buildings and schools. The downtown post office, for example, originally built in 1909, was renovated and expanded in 1935-37. In the 1980s, when the U.S. Post Office relocated down the street, this structure was adapted for reuse as the Fredericksburg City Hall. 

The Second World War's massive military and industrial mobilization is evident in the amount of rail traffic that passed through Fredericksburg at that time. In 1943, an average of 103 trains per day, or one train every 14 minutes, moved troops and material from military installations and wartime industries, to their respective ports of embarkation, for overseas movement. The high level of citizen involvement in the war effort is shown in the inadvertent loss of heritage that resulted from various scrap metal drives. To the collection points, one of which was located in the triangle bounded by Kenmore Avenue and Wolfe and Prince Edward Streets, were brought iron railings and other metal materials, including quite possibly the iron gate from Hurkamp Park. 

The New Dominion: 1945-Present 

Government growth in Washington, D.C. and Richmond became a constant in the post-war era, a result of the organizational requirements of an economic depression as well as a global conflict that continued as the Cold War. The impact of increasing government activity has had profound impacts on Fredericksburg's development. The Federal Housing Act of 1949 and subsequent mortgage legislation, for example, has extended government influence over residential development and greatly facilitated home building in subdivisions carved out of farmland. The Interstate Highway Act of 1956, by providing a tremendous infusion of federal funds, has also providedan impetus to disperse commercial and residential growth. By 1990, most Americans lived in housing developments on the periphery of cities rather than within the urban centers themselves. 

This sprawling development pattern has been partly the result of a desire to mitigate growing traffic problems by creating less density. Unfortunately, the result has often adversely affected traditional urban areas. The first automobile highways in Fredericksburg wound through town and fostered local roadside commercial activity. Beginning in 1945, however, Route 1 bypassed downtown Fredericksburg, certainly improving traffic flow, but drawing business away from the Central Business District. To maintain its economic viability, Fredericksburg annexed parts of Spotsylvania County that included areas where these routes formed crossroads. Annexation in 1955 encompassed the intersection of the Route 1 Bypass and Route 3. 

Another annexation in 1984 encompassed the intersection of Interstate-95 and Route 3. The apparent paradox in the new transportation patterns was that even as they increased ties between urban areas, their subsequent use as development corridors dispersed economic, social, and residential activities to such a degree that residents became physically separated from their community. 

Despite these disturbing trends, or perhaps because of them, downtown Fredericksburg continues to draw businesses and residents to its traditional and historic setting. New houses are being built, as they always have been, adjacent to dwellings of an earlier time. The single family residence at 1315 Caroline Street (built in 1990), for example, sits comfortably next to two Federal style buildings (built c. 1810 and c. 1830) and across the street from a Colonial-Revival building (built in 1922). In addition, historic buildings are constantly being adapted to new uses while maintaining their original form and integrity. The Lafayette Elementary School on Caroline Street, for instance, became the Central Rappahannock Regional Library. The Old Mary Washington Hospital on Fauquier Street has been adapted to residential use. A 1920s clothing factory on Kenmore Avenue now accommodates both commercial and residential uses. Clearly, the City's growth and development continues, mirroring national economic trends, but retaining its local character.
























Go to The Old and Historic Fredericksburg District

Return to Table of Contents

Return to Fredericksburg Research Home Page