In addition to our intensely interesting landscapes, we also manage a fairly robust museum collection at the park. Today, a momentary departure from our usual focus to share with you our newest arrival at Chatham, received yesterday: the piano that belonged to the family of Charles Wellford, who lived at what is today 1501 Caroline Street. The piano comes to us from Ricmond’s Valentine Museum (which decided to de-accession it–we’re thankful for their generosity) and, indirectly, thanks to the Fredericksburg Area Museum, which decided the thing was too large to accommodate in their collections area and graciously put us in contact with Valentine.
The piano was purchased by Charles and Mary Wellford from White’s Bookstore on Caroline Street in Fredericksburg in 1848. By virtue of long involvement in the community, the Wellfords were among the most prominent of Fredericksburg families. Charles’s brother John Spotswood Wellford was the founder of Catharine Furnace–later famous in connection with the Battle of Chancellorsville–and owned extensive properties at the corner of Caroline and George Streets, a complex still known in town as Wellford’s Row. Charles himself (below left) ran a drygoods store in Fredericksburg, and in 1862 reopened the dormant furnace at Catharine. The family moved between their home in Fredericksburg and their place just west of the Furnace, a site marked today along Jackson Trail East.
On December 11, 1862, the family had already departed Fredericksburg, leaving behind much of their property, including this piano. Of all the homes in Fredericksburg, none played a more prominent role in the street fighting of that day than did Wellford’s place at the corner of Caroline and Pitt. The family recorded that at least two Union soldiers were killed inside the house–and one of those was killed at this piano. Another source suggests a Union soldier fell on the doorstep of the house (below) as he pushed out onto Caroline Street. (Thanks to David Ellrod of our staff for the photo below.)
The piano is said to bear battle damage, and there is indeed a spot above one of the front legs that shows evidence of repair. Until the day when we can display this at Fredericksburg, we will exhibit it at Chatham as the centerpiece of a new exhibit that looks at the bombardment of the town and the vivid, important experience of civilians and their homes during the four days of battle.
While the park manages a collection of more than 100,000 objects (many of them from archeological digs), about 6,000 items constitute the heart of the collection–that which we consider for use in public displays and seem to be of occasional interest to researchers. The Wellford piano instantly takes a place probably in the top 20 of those artifacts, if not higher.
If you get a chance, stop by Chatham to see the Wellford piano and the other new addition to the collection: J. Horace Lacy’s traveling trunk. The exhibit materials for these are now in development, so they currently stand somewhat starkly, but they offer great opportunities for additional interpretation of the Civil War and its many facets.