With its advantageous location at the head of navigation on the Rappahannock River and surrounded by prosperous wheat and tobacco plantations, Fredericksburg boasted an impressive roster of early American luminaries. George Washington’s sister and mother lived here, James Monroe practiced law here, and naval hero John Paul Jones owned his only home here.
Fredericksburg was incorporated as a town in 1781 and prospered steadily as a transportation center, first on the river, then with great canvas-covered wagons and finally with a railroad in 1837. Its geography would shape its fate with the outbreak of the Civil War as the town lies midway between the Confederate capital in Richmond and the federal capital in Washington, D.C.
On December 13, 1862, the Federals stormed Robert E. Lee’s entrenchments in their first attempt to control this critical crossroads. The Union was turned away in such gruesome fighting that Lee was moved to remark, “It is well that war is so terrible; else we should grow too fond of it.” The slaughter of Armbrose Burnside’s troops was Lee’s most one-sided victory of the war. By May of 1863, this area had seen the most intense fighting ever staged on the North American continent.
After the war, Fredericksburg regained its position as a local trade hub and settled into its position as a residential enclave. In the 21st century the many make the daily commute to Richmond or Washington and more than a million people visit each year to investigate the Civil War heritage and explore forty downtown blocks that have been set aside as an historic district.
Our explorations will begin on ground that once held the bones of Fredericksburg’s pioneers but today is populated by brick walkways and benches and a fountain...
Prince Edward Street between George Street and William Street
This park began life as a public burying ground until 1853. The cemetery served as a bivouac site during the Civil War and livestock grazed among the graves in its aftermath. In 1875, the Fredericksburg City Council sought to convert the neglected grounds to a public park and crews began removing headstones and graves to other cemeteries. On July 12, 1881, the new park was dedicated and named in honor of prominent local businessman John G. Hurkamp. German-born John Hurkamp came to town as a skilled leather worker in 1843 at the age of 25. He quickly prospered in the tanning trade and his impressive house at 406 Hanover Street was used as a headquarters by Federal Major General John Sedgwick. Late in the fighting, Hurkamp was one of 55 local people taken prisoner and sent to Fort Delaware Prison although he was able to secure a quick release due to his friendship with Sedgwick. Hurkamp’s creativity and business acumen led to a Centennial Medal in Philadelphia in 1876 and a Paris Exposition Medal in 1878 for a tanning agent he developed using local sumac. Previously, sumac for tanning had all been imported to the United States from the Mediterranean.
EXIT THE PARK AT THE SOUTHEASTERN CORNER ONTO GEORGE STREET. WALK EAST TOWRDS THE RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER.
George Street at Charles Street
This half-acre of turf inside weathered limestone walls is one of the oldest Masonic burial grounds in America. The Masons of Fredericksburg Lodge #4, Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons, established this cemetery in 1784. There are now approximately 270 graves within these grounds. Included are Basil Gordon, one of America’s richest men at the turn of the 19th century and Robert Lewis, private secretary to his uncle, George Washington, and twice mayor of Fredericksburg.
TURN LEFT ON CHARLES STREET.
James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library
908 Charles Street
The fifth president of the United States interrupted his studies at William and Mary College to join Hugh Mercer’s regiment as a second lieutenant in 1775. After three years of service, James Monroe returned to Virginia to study law under Thomas Jefferson and began his law career here in 1786. Built in 1758, the building is scarcely altered from those days. The museum features the largest collection of memorabilia pertaining to Monroe’s life.
northwest corner of Charles and William streets
This curious relic of America’s past is a circular block of sandstone hewn on one side to create a step. The Planters Hotel was located here in antebellum days and it was used for ladies mounting their horses and slaves to be presented for auction.
TURN RIGHT ON AMELIA STREET. TURN RIGHT ON PRINCESS ANNE STREET.
Fredericksburg Baptist Church
1019 Princess Anne Street
The Baptist church in Fredericksburg was founded in 1804, meeting in a frame building where today’s Amtrak station stands. The current sanctuary is an 1855 structure. During the December 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg, Union troops cleared the church for use as a hospital. The chapel and the sanctuary became densely packed with wounded men and surgeons did their best to attend to them while shells occasionally whistled overhead. The despoiled sanctuary rendered the church unusable until after the war, but the Baptist congregation under Reverend T.S. Dunaway, whose 32 years of service were the church’s longest, was rebuilding by 1866.
Fredericksburg Area Museum
1001 Princess Anne Street at William Street
This square brick Georgian Revival building was constructed in 1920 to house the Planters Bank. It sports stone corner quoins and decorative garlands. Today it is the home of the Fredericksburg Area Museum.
Old Town Hall and Market House
907 Princess Anne Street
With its location in an accessible valley at the head of the navigable Rappahannock River, Fredericksburg, named for King George III’s father, became an important rivertown in Colonial America. Now a museum, the 1816 building was once the town hall and market place where political ideas and farm produce were exchanged with equal passions.
St. George’s Episcopal Church
905 Princess Anne Street
The first church for the congregation was a wooden structure on this site erected in the 1730s. It was followed by a brick church in 1815 that cost $11,000. The current Romanesque Revival sanctuary was designed and built by Robert Cary Long and H.R. Reynold of Baltimore and dedicated in 1849. Among the graves in the churchyard are those of William Paul and of John Dandridge, George Washington’s father-in-law. Colonel Fielding Lewis and two of his children are interred beneath the steps of the church.
National Bank Museum
900 Princess Anne Street
This was the Farmer’s Bank of Virginia when it was built in 1820. President Abraham Lincoln addressed Union troops and citizens from the bank steps during the Civil War on April 22, 1862. During the military occupation of Fredericksburg the bank was Headquarters of the Union command. At the end of the war, Farmers Bank failed and became the home of National Bank. It was chartered in 1865 and restored to its pre-Civil War appearance in 1985. As a museum interpreting 200 years of banking history it contains a restored banking room and local banking artifacts including a scale for weighing gold dust, a counterfeit bank note from the 1800s and bank certificates and correspondence from the 1860s.
815 Princess Anne Street at George Street
This site has been the court green since 1732 when Fredericksburg became the seat of Spotsylvania County. The current building was completed in 1852 on plans drawn by nationally renowned New York architect James Renwick. Built of brick and covered with stucco, today it is the only Gothic Revival courthouse in Virginia. The bell in the domed cupola was cast in the Paul Revere Foundry at Boston and given to the city in 1828 by New Yorker Silas Wood in honor of his wife, the former Miss Julia Ann Chew Brock.
810 Princess Anne Street
Fredericksburg’s Presbyterian church traces its roots back to 1805 when Dr. Samuel B. Wilson arrived to preach in town and found only two Presbyterians among the populace of 2,500 souls. Its first house of worship was ready by 1810; the present sanctuary was dedicated in 1833. The red brick building features a recessed portico with two Tuscan columns, a plain pediment and a square white cupola. Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, attended Civil War wounded in the church when it served as a Federal hospital. Two cannon balls have been built into the left portico where they lodged during the bombardment of Fredericksburg.
George Washington Masonic Museum
803 Princess Anne Street
A 20-year old George Washington was raised a Mason in Lodge No. 4 in 1752. The lodge museum collection includes the Masonic bible on which Washington took his oath of office as president and an original Gilbert Stuart portrait of Virginia’s most famous native son. The two-story brick building with twin end chimneys was erected in 1815.
TURN RIGHT ON HANOVER STREET AND WALK A FEW STEPS UP THE STREET.
Fredericksburg United Methodist Church
308 Hanover Street
This church sanctuary was built in 1882, the fifth building to be used by the congregation, and the second on this site. Additions were constructed in 1912, 1924, 1951, and 1989. The reverend John Kobler, an early leader who raised funds for the church and bequeathed his home to serve as the parsonage, died in 1843 and is buried, with his wife, under the church. The congregation was officially constituted in 1802 when the first minister, the Reverend John Pitts, was appointed. Methodist meetings had been held here as early as 1800.
TURN AND RETRACE YOUR STEPS BACK TO PRINCESS ANNE STREET. WALK ONE MORE BLOCK ON HANOVER STREET TO CAROLINE STREET AND TURN LEFT, ENTERING THE FREDERICKSBURG SHOPPING DISTRICT. TURN RIGHT ON GEORGE STREET AND TURN LEF TON SOPHIA STREET.
Old Stone Warehouse
southeast corner of Sophia Street and William Street
This primitive stone building reaches back to the first years of the 1700s. Some believe it was constructed as a jail but its waterfront lot suggests it may have been used as a tobacco warehouse. During the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862, the union artillery struck the building at least 5 times. After the battle the warehouse became a morgue. It is now owned by the City of Fredericksburg and administered by Historic Fredericksburg Foundation Inc.
TURN LEFT ON WILLIAM STREET. TURN RIGHT ON CAROLINE STREET.
Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop
1020 Caroline Street at Amelia Street
Scottish physician and soldier Hugh Mercer took time between tours of duty on the battlefield to open an apothecary shop in Fredericksburg, believed to have been in this small clapboard building. With the advent of the American Revolution, the 50-year old Mercer signed on as a colonel and quickly became a brigadier general with the American side. He served splendidly in New York and New Jersey until his heroic death on the field in Princeton in January 1777 deprived Washington of one of his ablest lieutenants.
Fielding Lewis’ Store
Caroline and Lewis streets
This small red brick with its fashionable stone corner quoins appeared on the Fredericksburg street grid in 1749. It belonged to John Lewis whose son Fielding ran the mercantile arm of the family’s extensive shipping operations. Fielding married George Washington’s only sister the year after the store opened. The marriage produced 11 children who could call the Father of our Country “Uncle George.” His experience running the store served Lewis well during the American Revolution when he served as Commissary General of Munitions. He died in Fredericksburg in 1781. The building changed from commercial to residential use in 1823 and remained a private home until 1996 when it was donated to the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation.
1201 Caroline Street
The first books were lent in Fredericksburg in 1822 but the city did not get a public library until 1909 when a small building was constructed at 817 Princess Anne Street with a $15,000 bequest by Captain S. Wistar Wallace. With the establishment of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library in 1969 the City donated the former Lafayette school building, constructed in the Colonial Revival style in 1907, to house the library.
Rising Sun Tavern
1304 Caroline Street
George Washington’s brother Charles built this steep-gabled structure as his home in 1760, but by the Revolution it was being used as the Rising Sun Tavern under the congenial ministrations of its host, George Weedon. Born in Germany, Weedon was a fervent Revolutionary, and the public house was known as a center of political activity. Weedon, a German veteran of the French and Indian War, took up arms as lieutenant colonel of the 3rd Virginia Regiment, second in command to Hugh Mercer. Known to his men as “Joe Gourd,” Weedon fought with distinction and was soon promoted to brigadier general. His actions at Brandywine were credited with enabling the Continental Army to effect a successful retreat and continue the rebellion. At Yorktown, Weedon directed the Virginia militia as he concluded his military career. After the British surrender at Yorktown Washington and Lafayette celebrated at the Rising Sun Tavern. Weedon died 12 years later in 1793.
TURN LEFT ON FAUQUIER STREET.
St. James’ House
1300 Charles Street at Fauquier Street
Dating to the 1760s, this is one the few frame houses in town to survive over 200 years. James Mercer, a lawyer and member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, constructed the core of the oft-expanded house.
TURN LEFT ON CHARLES STREET.
Mary Washington House
1200 Charles Street at Lewis Street
This was the Michael Robinson House before George Washington bought it for his mother in 1772, removing her from the rigors of maintaining the family plantation at Ferry Farm east of town. She lived the last 17 years of her life in this home, just three blocks from her daughter Betty at Millbank. Just before her death in 1789, Washington left for his presidential inauguration from this house, having obtained his mother’s blessing.
TURN RIGHT ON LEWIS STREET.
1201 Washington Avenue at Lewis Street
Colonel Fielding Lewis, sporting a prominent Virginia pedigree, married George Washington’s cousin Catherine and, after her death, the American commander’s only sister, Betty. These personal - and later - business, ties between Washington and Lewis were only strengthened by the Revolution. Poor health prevented Lewis from serving on the battlefield, but he organized and supervised a small-arms factory in Fredericksburg and kept it running through 1781, using loans secured on personal collateral.
TURN LEFT ON WASHINGTON AVENUE.
Fredericksburg Confederate Cemetery
Washington Avenue and William Street
Established in 1867, the graveyard contains the remains of more than 3,300 Southern soldiers, 2,184 of whom are unidentified. Although the cemetery is relatively small, six Confederate generals are buried here: Seth M. Barton, Dabney H. Maury, Abner M. Perrin, Daniel Ruggles, Henry H. Sibley, and Carter L. Stevenson. A monument of a confederate soldier was erected in 1884.
TURN LEFT ON WILLIAM STREET AND WALK EAST TOWARDS THE RIVER, BACK TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.