Preservation ethic commands that moving a building ought the last option, borne of desperation and the absence of any other solution. Since the 1950s, when the modern preservation movement in the Fredericksburg area began with the creation of the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation, preservationists in Fredericksburg have come to that unhappy place more than once. The result: a handful of Civil War-era buildings that have shuffled across the landscape, and a few that have vanished altogether.
HFFI had its birth in the wreckage of Matthew Fontaine Maury’s Charlotte Street home (from 1835-1842) when it was demolished in 1953 to make way for a prospective Chevy dealership on what is today the back lot of the Post Office. Two years later, the nascent organization faced its first crisis: the impending loss of the kitchen dependency (above) behind the National Bank building on Princess Anne Street, when the bank decided to put in what was probably the town’s first drive-through teller windows (the drive-through still stands). The kitchen quarters dated to 1820. In 1953, though, no one in town recognized that it was also the workplace of the slave John Washington’s mother Sara, and perhaps the birthplace of John Washington himself (Fredericksburg or anyone else didn’t pay much attention to such things in 1955). The bank immediately offered the building to HFFI for relocation, but HFFI refused, choosing instead to fight for its preservation in place.
Undeterred, the bank sold the building materials to be recycled, and demolition began. Faced with the total loss of another downtown building. HFFI reconsidered and days later arranged to buy back the building materials from the very building it could have had for free weeks before. The demolished building was rebuilt as a new visitor center at the corner of Princess Anne Street and the then-new Route 1 bypass. It remains today as an insurance office.
HFFI led a far more successful rescue of an otherwise doomed historic building in 1977, when the U.S. Post Office offered the George Gravatt House, along with funds enough to move it, to the organization. Gravatt was a carriage-maker in Fredericksburg during the mid-19th Century, by 1860 churning out as many as 100 carriages a year from the workshops behind his house at 610 Princess Anne Street. His was one of two carriage manufactories in town–the other just below the railroad tracks, owned by the omnipresent Peter Goolrick.
HFFI retained ownership of the house until 1982, when, like every other historic structure HFFI has owned over the decades (including the Wells house on Sophia Street and Wellford’s Row on Caroline), it was sold with protective easements in place.
At the time of the move, the house was ballyhooed solely as the home of Gravatt, but it was also the home of Dr. Phillip Wyatt, who kept a dental practice in the home for a quarter century and who played a prominent role in the Civil Rights movement in Fredericksburg. A plaque placed on the building after Dr. Wyatt’s 1994 death notes his place in Fredericksburg history.