From John Hennessy:
The Free Lance-Star carries the news of a request to demolish a wartime building on Fredericksburg’s waterfront.
The building appears in a number of wartime images of Fredericksburg taken from across the river. Built in 1843, it was in 1862 owned by John L. Marye Sr., owner of the adjacent Excelsior Mill. We do not know who lived in the house during the war–tenants are often unrecorded. The very modesty of this house in many ways heightens its value, for it is an uncommon survivor of the sort of then-common, lower- and middle-class housing that most Fredericksburg residents occupied.
Of course, anyone can ask for anything–and so in itself the request by the owners to tear the house down may mean little. But, two things sustain the fabric of historic communities, and foremost among them is the commitment of those who live in the community to preserve and nurture it. When someone decides to act in favor of demolition rather than preservation, it’s not a hopeful beacon for a building’s future.
Fredericksburg has been fortunate in having a high percentage of residents who care deeply about the historic fabric of the community, especially when they own a part of it. But, in the face of this request to demolish 401 Sophia Street, it’s hard not to be a little alarmed. Last week an 1840s warehouse came down as part of the removal of the Hardware store complex on William Street. Last month, 1407 Caroline Street vanished from the landscape. Over the last few years, several other historic buildings have come down, all of them victims of neglect.
The greatest threat to historic places–be they battlefields or downtowns–is not the big stuff like malls and theme parks (they invariably attract great attention), but the steady chipping away in increments, death by a thousand cuts: a building gone in Fredericksburg, “just” another store near Salem Church, a new lane through Chancellorsville. Each cut may seem minor in itself–and thus spur meager public outcry–but over time, the accumulation of such things can transform a place. It is the seemingly small things that are so difficult to manage–and then suddenly it’s often too late.