A view into the heart of town

From John Hennessy:

Poking around some images last night, I looked again at this one. In many ways it’s similar to other panoramas of town taken from near the same spot at about the same time. But a closer look reveals a few interesting details, including the capture of a couple of buildings not otherwise photographed during the war.

Most obvious are men perched in the tree, peering across the river, probably during the fighting beyond town on May 3, 1863.  At first glance there appear to be two, but on closer inspection, there are in fact three.

Looking deeper into town, we can see two buildings that do not appear in any other photographs that I know about. To the right is the home of Dr. Brodie S. Herndon, known universally today as “The Chimneys.” Dr. Herndon’s pre-war and wartime diary, edited by the park Superintendent Russ Smith, has been published serially in the CVBT journal Fredericksburg History and Biography

Here is Brodie Herndon’s house today.

Also visible is the only known wartime image of the town’s theater, Citizens Hall–the bright-white gable end next to the sign painted on the parapet of Hope Foundry.  Citizens Hall (click here for more) was an important hospital in 1864–indeed the domain of Jane Swisshelm, who we wrote about here. It was also the place where the Irish Brigade held the ceremony accepting their new flags just a day after the Battle of Fredericksburg.  Here is the only other image I know of Citizens Hall, from the 1856 Sachse panorama. 

Citizens Hall is the bright white building at center.

This panorama also gives us the best known view of Absalom Rowe’s slaughterhouse (we wrote about his outhouse here–he lived just a block up Sophia Street), just upstream from Marye’s Excelsior Mill. Note the fencing on the river’s edge.  Woe be to the people who lived in the homes just across the street (these sorts of juxtapositions were the birthplace of zoning). OSHA and EPA were nowhere to be found in 1860, and likely this was a odoriferous place.

Finally, this images offers perhaps the very best view of the tenement housing along Sophia Street.  We have written of these houses elsewhere, but suffice to say that we often forget that this is how the majority of people in Fredericksburg lived. None of the tenements visible in this view survive. 

Here is a later view of the trio of tenements to the right in the image above.


One thought on “A view into the heart of town

  1. I realize this is an older post, but I’ve been looking for Fredericksburg panoramas and ran across it. Is this image part of the NPS collection? Was it taken by Andrew Russell? It’s certainly a fascinating image–I wouldn’t have seen the third man in the tree if you hadn’t pointed him out.

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