Early fall 2016 found us in Virginia. Therese’s cousin has two teenage sons who are budding Nascar drivers, and they were competing in a race at a new track down there. After having a fun time on Saturday night watching the race from the terrace on top of their trailer, we stayed overnight at the Hilton Garden Inn in Fredericksburg, with the idea that the next day, before heading back to New York City, we would explore Fredericksburg.
Many people know Fredericksburg for its involvement in the American Civil War. And yes, there were two battles fought during that war and you can visit those battlefields just outside the town. We were more interested in the historic center of the town, which focuses more on the Revolutionary War era, for which Fredericksburg was also an important place.
To start out our morning in Fredericksburg, I had downloaded the Fred Map App which has several self-guided walking tours. We started following their tour of the historic downtown, but after visiting just two places, the Old Stone Warehouse and Hugh Mercer’s Apothecary, we decided this walking tour wasn’t working for us – standing in front of a building and reading the description in the tour just was not interesting.
So we headed for the Visitors Center and signed up for tickets for the trolley tour of the historic downtown, which takes about 75 minutes and in the warm weather months, runs several times a day. We were taking it in the middle of the day, and it was already getting quite hot, so it was nice to find a shaded seat inside the trolley and let our guide let us know what to look at when.
The first thing we passed was the Fredericksburg Area Museum – both the building where it used to be, which is now up for sale, and the “new” museum building (the two are just a block from each other on Princess Anne Street). I put quotes around the word new because while the museum may be new to this building, the building itself is not new at all – like most of the downtown, it is quite old by U.S. standards (probably late 18th or early 19th century).
Not far from there, we passed the 1770 House, a small private residence that has been owned by the same couple for the last thirty years or so.
From there we turned onto Caroline Street, where the first building of note we passed was, once again, Hugh Mercer’s Apothecary. The benefit of seeing this on the tour was that one of the actors who works in the Apothecary came out and waved to us.
By the way, as for the street names in the downtown area – just as Fredericksburg is named for the son of British King George II, many other streets are named for his other children, like Caroline and Princess Anne. There is also a Hanover Street, honoring the house of Hanover of which George II was the second monarch.
Further on Caroline Street we encountered the Fielding Lewis Store. This is the oldest building in Fredericksburg, having been built in 1749, and one of the oldest in the country.
Next we passed the Rising Sun Tavern, which was built in 1760 by George Washington’s brother Charles and became a tavern in 1792 (now it’s a museum). By the way, Fredericksburg has substantial ties to Washington (or is it the other way around?) – I will talk more about that shortly.
At this point, we left the downtown and headed over to Washington Street, which is more residential in appearance, with lots of trees and green lawns and such. One of the first things we passed on that street was the Confederate Cemetery.
Next, we passed Kenmore Plantation on the right, and now we are back to talking about George Washington. This manor house, once part of a large estate, was built in 1776 by Betty Washington, George’s sister, and her husband Fielding Lewis (he of the aforementioned house on Caroline Street). Her mother, Mary Washington, visited frequently, and is buried on the grounds. And George Washington’s boyhood farm, Ferry Farm, is across the Rappahannock River from Fredericksburg (this isn’t the last you will hear of him).
Positioned on a grassy knoll on the mall in the middle of Washington Street is the Hugh Mercer Monument. Hugh Mercer (he of the Apothecary), born in Scotland, was part of the Jacobite forces supporting Bonnie Prince Charlie‘s claim to the English thrown, before emigrating to the colonies and fighting in the Seven Years War. He became a close friend to George Washington and a general in the Continental Army, dying as a result of wounds suffered in the Battle of Princeton.
Also on the mall in the middle of Washington Street is the Thomas Jefferson Religious Freedom Monument. This commemorates Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which he wrote while in Fredericksburg. This statute is famously the model upon which the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was based.
On the west side of Washington Street is a park that contains the Kirkland Monument. This commemorates a brave Confederate soldier who fought in the Battle of Fredericksburg and was known as the Angel of Marye’s Heights.
OK, for those of you who have been saying “are there ever going to be any dairy free moments in this post?” I have captured the next place we passed, Liz’s Creative Juices. This is a charming cafe that specializes in juices and smoothies and also carries a wide variety of vegan offerings, like desserts. I did not have a chance to venture into this eatery, but it looks promising for any vegans or dairy free folks who might find themselves thirsty while exploring Fredericksburg.
We later found ourselves back on Princess Anne Street, arriving at the Old Masonic Lodge. George Washington joined this lodge at the tender age of 20 in 1752, and Hugh Mercer and Fielding Lewis were members as well. Seven Revolutionary War generals were among its members, and 94 brothers of this lodge fought in the war in total. A curious detail is that they have saved the stone that lay in front of the lodge’s entrance – after it became too worn and cracked from having been stepped over for so many years, they removed it and have placed it next to the entrance for posterity.
Besides the historic buildings we saw, we also passed some of the city’s beautiful historic churches – First Christian Church, Fredericksburg Baptist Church and St. George’s Episcopal Church.
Fredericksburg, like Charleston, South Carolina, has preserved its history very well, which means that the downtown area and surrounding it is filled with colonial-era houses. So not only the historic homes like Fielding Lewis Store are worth noting. Here is a sampling of some of the other beautiful 18th and 19th century homes in downtown Fredericksburg.
Early in the trolley tour, we passed the local train station, where the original historic train building was converted into a restaurant in the 1970s called Bavarian Chef. Since we love German food, we decided to have lunch there, and then take some of their food with us on the train for the long ride back to New York City.
Well, we made out very well. I ordered an entree of two breaded pork chops with sauerkraut, German potato salad, red cabbage and apple sauce. Everything was so tasty, and there was so much food, that I could hardly finish half of the dish.
We had ordered a German sausage entree to take with us, as well as a couple of sweet teas, and with all the bags of leftover food, plus our luggage, we could hardly carry everything to get on the train. Luckily, we only had to walk behind the restaurant, and the track was right there to take us home. We loved Fredericksburg, and feel so fortunate to have had the chance to explore it, as well as see our two young cousins driving their cars in the race. A splendid weekend, no question!