Savoring Art & Heritage
In Fredericksburg, VA
History lurks around every corner within historic Fredericksburg, VA; a costumed interpretor at the Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop greets visitors.*
By Ruth A. Hill
Fredericksburg’s strategic location halfway between Washington, DC and Richmond, VA, has brought it plenty of good and bad over the past three centuries.
Fortunately, these are halcyon times now. Travelers driving along Interstate 95 in Virgina have more reasons than refueling to stop and stay a while.
Fishing for Art
Fintastically Fredericksburg! Through mid-August, this arts celebration headlines the spring and summer art scene downtown (540-373-3448 or www.riverfriends.org).
Fiberglass fish of all stripes and colors embellish the 40-block downtown historic district’s streets, sidewalks, and historic buildings.
At right is "Colonial Fishricksburg" by Lisa Cover-Dowd; it's sponsored by the City of Fredericksburg.*
You can pick up a walking tour map (showing the locations of the fiberglass fish) at the visitor center on Caroline Street. Public auction of the sculptures is Aug. 25.
Anytime art buys are at Liberty Town Arts Workshop (540-371-7255 or www.libertytownarts.com), 916 Liberty St. This enclave showcases 20 studios, 40 artists and a gallery. It also houses a pottery school and is a venue for art classes.
The workshop has pumped creative vitality into a former plumbing supply building. Potter Dan Finnegan led the site’s transformation. Here spinners, weavers, painters, jewelers and potters create and sell pieces from individual studios.
Contemporary, traditional, and historical art enlivens Caroline Street too, especially during monthly First Friday openings, when collections and refreshments are available for public consumption.
Fredericksburg’s most famous artist - past or present - is Gari Melchers, who garnered art acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic during his lifetime.
Overlooking the Rappahannock River, Belmont, (540-654-1015 or www.garimelchers.org), 224 Washington St., is the 27-acre hillside riverfront estate where Melchers and his wife Corinne resided from 1916 until his death in 1932.
A formidable array of art and antique treasures adorn the house and studio, including works by Jan Brueghel, Morisot, and Rodin that hang among the Melchers pieces.
Though his portrait patrons included the upper class (Vanderbilts, Mellons, and Roosevelts), Melcher also liked to paint simpler folk. He used themes that remind many of Normal Rockwell's paintings.
Admission to Belmont is $10 for adults, $5 for children 6-17, and free for kids under 5. A photo of Belmont's garden flora is shown above.*
Also take time for a few stops that depict Fredericksburg’s three centuries of heritage. It oozes from the bricks, mortar, and church steeples of this river town.
In colonial times, the town was a major tobacco trading center. It also was home to the Washington family.
George Washington, our first President, spent most of his childhood on Ferry Farm (540-370-0732 or www.ferryfarm.org). Admission to Ferry Farm is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors 60+; $3 for kids 6-17, and free for under 6.
George's mother, Mary, lived out the last 17 years of her life in what's -- not surprisingly -- called the Mary Washington House (540-373-1569 or www.apva.org/marywashingtonhouse), 1200 Charles St. The white frame home was purchased by George for his mother's comfort in 1772.
Admission to the Mary Washington House is $5 for adults, $2 for kids 6-8, with younger children admitted free.
Another restored architectural gem associated with the Washington family is Rising Sun Tavern (800-678-4748, 540-373-1776 or www.apva.org/risingsuntavern), 1304 Caroline St. It's a restored 18th century watering hole.
Above, visitors talk to a costumed interpretor at the Rising Sun Tavern.*
Kenmore Plantation and Gardens (540-373-3381 or www.kenmore.org), 1201 Washington Ave., belonged to George’s sister, Betty Lewis. The mansion is a treasure trove of colonial plasterwork.
Entrance fees to Kenmore (shown in the photo at right*) are $8 for adults, $7 for seniors 60+, $4 for children 6-17, and free for those under 6.
You might also soak up Colonial-era history at the James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library (540-654-1043 or www.umw.edu/jamesmonroemuseum), 908 Charles St.
Here you'll learn about the fifth president of the United States; see the family's fine and decorative arts, jewelry and costumes; and gaze at Monroe's books, documents and the desk at which he wrote the Monroe Doctrine. Admission is $5 adults, $1 for children.
Civil War Sites
Civil War history buffs will find much to interest them in the Fredericksburg area. The war ravaged Fredericksburg’s streets and surrounding hillsides repeatedly; control changed seven times during the conflict.
The major battles of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House are in the town’s legacy.
Clara Barton came to Fredericksburg to tend the wounded. War scars still show in cemeteries where 17,000 soldiers lie, and in the buildings that remain.
Fredericksburg Area Museum (540-371-3037 or www.famcc.org), 907 Princess Anne St., is one place to uncover the tales.
Admission is $7 for adults, $2 for students, and free for ages 6 and under. The museum is shown at left.*
In addition, the United States National Park Service has an excellent Web portal that gives visitors information about all the Civil War sites in the area. Visit www.nps.gov/archive/frsp/vc.htm
Relax and Dine
Waterfront dining is popular for after-tour relaxation. Barefoot Greens Seafood & Deli (540-373-2012) on the river is good for casual summer seafood dining. Fillets, chops, and Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches range from $8-$30 at Brock’s Riverside Grill 540-370-1820 or www.brocksgrill.com), 503 Sophia St.
Many Irishmen died fighting in Fredericksburg's Civil War battles. Retailers Bernadette and Mike Esler of Irish Eyes (504-373-0703), 725 Caroline St., have expanded their heritage interest into a hot new food spot -- Blarney Stone Restaurant & Pub (540-371-7468 or www.theblarney.net), 715 Caroline St. If you stop in on weekends, you'll enjoy "live" Celtic and American folk music.
Ghosts of Fredericksburg
Paranormal specialist Mark Nesbitt calls Fredericksburg the most haunted city, per capita, in the U.S. because of its bloody Civil War history. So he’s just brought his Gettysburg ghost tours expertise to town.
Costumed guides combine dead men’s tales and folklore in the 80-minute Ghosts of Fredericksburg Tours (540-654-5414 or www.ghostsoffredericksburg.com) on Friday and Saturday nights.
The ghost tour price is $10 per person plus tax. Children 7 and younger accompanying the adults may come along for free. It's up to parents to assess, though, whether the tour will scare (or not) their little ones.
For More Information
The Fredericksburg Area Convention & Visitors Bureau
800-678-4748 or www.visitfred.com
Ruth A. Hill is a Washington, D.C. area-based travel writer who covers the pleasures and industry of global travel. She advises her readers about such pressing matters as to why they should consider a small rather than a mega ship cruise in Alaska, and who really is in charge when they buy a Montana dog sledding adventure. She also reports on travel and hospitality industry trends and topics. Hill was previously as a speechwriter and press assistant to a U.S. Senator as well as a corporate business editor.
*Photos are owned, copyrighted and used courtesy of the Friends of the Rappahannock (FOR), the Virginia Tourism Commission or Fredericksburg Tourism. All rights reserved. Do not copy nor link to these photos. Thank you.