5 couples who can help you understand Fredericksburg

Chatham Manor

Valentine’s Day is approaching, and if you’re looking for romantic experiences to wow your significant other in the Fredericksburg region, check out our Couple’s Retreat itinerary.

To help you view the region through a romantic lens—or just understand several different time periods of history here—we thought we’d introduce you to five couples whose stories shed light on the complex and compelling history that makes Fredericksburg a destination like no other.

Ferry Farm

Digging for history at Ferry Farm

Mary Ball WashingtonMary Ball and Augustine Washington – This couple’s decision in 1738 to make Ferry Farm their family residence is the reason George Washington came of age here.

Who knows: Had young Washington not witnessed the traffic coming and going on the Rappahannock River ferry near his property, had he not learned to dance, play cards and conduct himself as a gentleman in Downtown Fredericksburg, would he have been a different leader?

In 1743, Augustine died, leaving Mary to manage the 600-acre farm and raise the couple’s five children alone at age 35. The family got by, but keeping up the property was a struggle.

Still, Mary seemed to want to preserve the image of wealth, and details that have been unearthed at Ferry Farm, such as a cherry-patterned punch bowl that appears to have been mended with glue, help tell this story.

When Mary was 64, George bought her a house in Fredericksburg, as the farm was getting to be a lot to manage. Mary Washington House still stands at the corner of Charles and Lewis streets.

It was almost sold and moved for display at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1890, but a group of local women banded together to save it, laying the foundation for the nonprofit that owns it today.

Today, Mary Washington House is open to the public as one of four properties owned by the Washington Heritage Museums. The home and its gardens provide a glimpse into Mary’s way of  life, from her tea-time rituals to her affinity for gardening, both for beauty and sustenance.

When you exit Mary’s house, turn right on Lewis Street and walk three blocks. You’ll find Washington Avenue, whose monument-studded mall is an iconic part of Fredericksburg.

Along the mall, near Washington’s intersection with Pitt Street, look for the Mary Washington Monument.

There had always been an intention to build a monument to Mary, from the time of her death in 1789, when she was buried in this location, near what is known as Meditation Rock, where she frequently came to pray.

A wealthy New Yorker’s effort to jumpstart the project with a $10,000 gift in 1833 fizzled for lack of funds. But when the property became threatened by development in 1889, a group of local women rallied to save Mary’s burial site and build the monument, making this the first American monument funded by women for a woman.

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Kenmore, the home built by Betty and Fielding Lewis

Betty Washington and Fielding Lewis – Fielding Lewis moved to Fredericksburg to learn to run his family’s businesses, which included a store that still stands today on Caroline Street, and is the headquarters of the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation.

In 1750, after the death of his first wife, Lewis married George Washington’s younger sister, Betty. In 1775, on the eve of the Revolutionary War, the couple moved in to the grand new home they had built, which displayed fine plasterwork and many other details meant to show off their wealth and prominence.

Fielding Lewis built and ran a gun factory in Fredericksburg during the Revolution, mostly with his own funds. The financial strain, along with a respiratory ailment from which he suffered, may have contributed to Fielding’s death at age 56 just after the war ended in 1781.

Now called Kenmore, the house that Fielding and Betty built was originally part of a 1,300-acre plantation. Much of that land was sold off over time, and even though a subsequent owner tried to sell it for subdivision and demolition in 1921, the house was saved by an active group of local women who laid the foundation for what is today the George Washington Foundation, which oversees both Kenmore and Ferry Farm.

Image courtesy Library of Congress

Image courtesy Library of Congress

John Smith and Pocahontas – Just so we’re all clear, the Disney fictionalization of these two as a romantic couple is just that—fiction. Having said that, these two individuals do help tell important and fascinating parts of the Fredericksburg region’s story.

Capt. John Smith set out from Jamestown in 1607 to explore the Potomac River, spending time in Stafford County, whose riverfront provides ample recreational opportunities today.

In 1608, Smith blazed a trail up the Rappahannock River, as far upstream as the fall line in Fredericksburg. The waterways that Smith explored are crucial to Virginia’s early development, and thankfully they can still be enjoyed by residents and visitors to the region, whether by boat, trail or fishing expedition.

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Stafford County's Aquia Landing

Pocahontas is believed to have been kidnapped by the English at Stafford’s Marlborough Point, at the confluence of the Potomac River and Potomac Creek. Find a way to explore this beautiful area of the region, it feels a world away from the busy Interstate 95 corridor.

 

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Gari and Corinne Melchers – We wrote last week about an exhibit of artists’ renditions of this couple’s Georgian home and retreat in Stafford County.

Gari and Corinne Melchers met when they were living abroad in Europe; years later, the couple fell in love with Belmont, the home they purchased in 1915.

Gari Melchers was a renowned American painter in the early 20th century, and spent much of his time at his studio in New York, leaving Corinne to make Belmont a retreat he would look forward to escaping to.

The Melchers’ fame did not keep them from being part of the surrounding community in Falmouth and Fredericksburg. Gari Melchers painted several works depicting local residents and places. Corinne was known for her generosity, opening the home up to local children at Easter and distributing gifts at Christmas.

Thanks to Corinne’s will, Belmont is now open to the public. Gari Melchers Home and Studio at Belmont is an excellent destination for a stroll through the gardens or down to the Rappahannock River or a tour of the galleries and home.

Clarence ToddGladys P. and Clarence R. Todd – This couple played an important role in the Civil Rights movement in Fredericksburg and also contributed to the city’s artistic heritage.

Gladys Todd, who died last year at age 101, worked hard to provide playgrounds, activities and other opportunities for black youth in Fredericksburg in the 1950s and 60s.

In the 60s, she helped coordinate sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in the city. A historical marker at the corner of William and Caroline streets tells the story of these sit-ins.

Clarence Todd, a World War II veteran, was the first black member of the Fredericksburg School Board. He directed the Harambee 360 theater, the Black Arts Festival and the Miss Black Teenage Fredericksburg Pageant.

The couple’s daughter, Gaye Todd Adegbalola, is a celebrated blues artist who graduated as valedictorian of the segregated Walker-Grant Gladys Todd and Gaye AdegbalolaHigh School and spent many years teaching in the Fredericksburg schools.

The story of African Americans’ struggle for civil rights is told throughout the Fredericksburg region.

In Stafford County, visit the Rowser Building, built in 1939 as the Stafford Training School, the only place where blacks could receive education beyond 7th grade. A mural in that building today traces the story of African Americans in the county all the way back to the late 1600s.

In Spotsylvania County, the John J. Wright Educational and Cultural Museum chronicles the history of the struggle for equal education opportunities in the county on the site of the county’s first high school for blacks.