Founded in 1728, Fredericksburg was named for Prince Frederick Louis of Wales, father of George III of England. The town’s location along the Rappahannock River brought early prosperity, as the town soon became an inland port. During the Revolutionary War, munitions were manufactured in Fredericksburg and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom was drafted here in 1777.
Fortunes turned again when the Civil War began and Fredericksburg’s location along the river brought death and destruction. The city suffered three years of bloody battles as Union and Confederate armies marched between Washington, D.C. and Richmond, Virginia.
Fredericksburg today covers 10 square miles. Historic sites attract thousands of visitors annually but the city is also quite modern. The historic district of Fredericksburg covers 40 square blocks and contains more than 350 buildings built before 1870. George Washington’s boyhood home, Ferry Farm, is located in Fredericksburg, James Monroe practiced law here, and Thomas Jefferson lived in the city for a short time. There are financial and business centers serving the city and the surrounding counties.
Annual events celebrate the city’s past and present and include art shows, wine tastings, concerts and gardening programs. Events celebrating George Washington’s birthday include tours, Colonial games, crafts and activities for all ages. An annual birthday party is held for Hugh Mercer, Colonial patriot and physician. Corrine Melcher’s birthday is celebrated each year to honor the woman who gave her home, gallery and gardens to the citizens of Fredericksburg. Annual Easter Egg hunts are popular with kids. There are a number of annual events celebrating the various ethnic groups who call Fredericksburg home, including Tartan Day, a Greek festival, a Welsh festival, a Hispanic festival and the Black Arts Festival.
Many historic homes open for special tours at certain times of the year. Civil War battles are commemorated with reenactments, tours and family picnics. The Fredericksburg Area Civil War Weekend: Lest We Forget is among the largest and most moving of the Civil War observances. A Fishing Derby, Soap Box Derby, the Antique Car Show, the Rappahannock Riverfest, Shakespeare Weekend, and the Antique Tractor Show are fun for the whole family. Fourth of July celebrations cover several days and include fireworks, a parade, craft shows, food and live entertainment. Christmas celebrations run the gamut from Colonial in nature to modern.
The many historic sites in the Fredericksburg area attract a wealth of visitors each year. The Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County National Military Park encompasses the sites of four of the bloodiest Civil War battles. More than 85,000 men were wounded and more than 15,000 died on the land that makes up the park. The Fredericksburg National Cemetery holds many of those who died in the battles in and around Fredericksburg, but many soldiers are in unmarked graves around the park. The land within the park’s 8,400 acres changed hands seven times during the Civil War.
Markers, exhibits, trails, and buildings in the park identify the Confederate and Union lines and tell the stories of the Civil War. Chatham, an 18th century mansion, served as Union headquarters and a field house during the war. The “Stonewall” Jackson Shrine is the house where Jackson died after being mistakenly shot by his own men. Also within the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County National Military Park are open areas, wetlands, parkland and forest. The park is on the fall line between the Piedmont region and the Coastal Plain region and contains a unique variety of vegetation and wildlife.
Fredericksburg is the site of the James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library. The library houses one of the largest collections of Monroe memorabilia in the country. The Mary Washington House was the home of George’s mother. He bought the house for her in 1772 and she lived there until 1789. George received his mother’s blessing to accept the Presidency in this house. The Rising Sun Tavern was built for George’s brother Charles in 1760. It was a stagecoach stop and was later used as a meeting house for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. Today, tours illustrate what tavern life was like. Kenmore Plantation and Gardens was the home of George’s sister Betty and her husband Col. Fielding Lewis. George Washington’s boyhood home of Ferry Farm is the place where George supposedly chopped down the cherry tree.
The National Bank of Fredericksburg, built in 1820, contains displays and artifacts chronicling the history of American banking. The Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop showcases medicines and medical practices from the 18th century. Originally built in 1732, the present structure of St. George’s Church dates from 1846. The church has three Louis Comfort Tiffany windows and a window dedicated to Mary Washington.
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