A Survivor Threatened

From John Hennessy:

The Free Lance-Star carries the news of a request to demolish a wartime building on Fredericksburg’s waterfront.

401 Sophia Street in 1863

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.

401 is clearly visible at left in this blowup of one of the 1863 panoramas of Fredericksburg. Excelsior Mill is at right. The two-story house between the mill and 401 no longer stands.

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.

The house at 401 Sophia was much enalrged after the war. The original wartime section is at right.

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.

A salvo at Clara Barton

From John Hennessy:

Our apologies for the pace of posts lately, but we have all been involved in some form in the Manassas 150th, and so things have been a bit hectic. For another post that speaks to Clara Barton’s service in Fredericksurg, click here.

Plain sight is often the worst place for something to be, for in our ardor to dig deep in our search for interesting and new things, we often miss that which is before us.  We are grateful to th park’s former Chief Historian, Bob Krick, for pointing out a passage that we have had for years, but missed.

J. Franklin Dyer’s The Journal of a Civil War Surgeon (edited by Michael B. Chesson) is flat-out one of the best chronicles of its kind. Dyer worked extensively at Chatham after the Battle of Fredericksburg, and his is by far the most detailed account we have of the use of the place as a hospital.

His diary does not mention Clara Barton, but in the introduction, Mr. Chesson quoted a letter Dyer wrote after Gettysburg. In it, Dyer offers harsh commentary on volunteer nurses male and female, and reserves especial criticism for Clara Barton. In so doing, he gives us some more information about Barton’s work at Chatham, and also reveals a great deal about the unprogressive attitude of many Union surgeons toward the civilian volunteers that came forward to help them.  Continue reading

Peter Goolrick becomes a “diplomatic incident”

From John Hennessy (parts of the below are derived from a broader profile of Goolrick I did for the HFFI Journal of Fredericksburg History, which you can get from HFFI here. That article includes full documentation for what appears below.):

Few Fredericksburg civilians could boast a resume of influence to equal Peter Goolrick’s. The Irish-born merchant  had thrice been elected mayor, served on bank and corporate boards, and was the town’s most aggressive real estate speculator–owning in 1860 more than 30 properties worth $76,000. Indeed, if not for a spat with council in 1860, Goolrick and not Montgomery Slaughter would have been Fredericksburg’s wartime mayor. But the stubborn Goolrick resigned the mayoralty in a petty dispute over the appointment of police officers.

Still, Peter Goolrick  (whose son would found and build famed Goolrick’s Pharmacy, which still stands on Caroline Street) would inevitably find his way into the public spotlight during the war.  And he did it in a way that garnered the attention of the British Foreign office, the US  Secretary of State, and even President Abraham Lincoln.

In 1853, British consul for Virginia (and well-known novelist) G.P.R. James appointed Peter Goolrick vice-consul for the port of Fredericksburg and district of Tappahannock.  Much about this appointment is a mystery.   Why did the British government select the scion of an Irish nationalist to represent its interests? And why was a vice-consul necessary at all so close to the British embassy in Washington?  In any event, while the appointment was real, the British government never bothered to notify the U.S. Department of State. Whatever labors Goolrick undertook as vice-consul (they appear to have been slight), he did so without notice from virtually anyone—at least until the Yankees arrived in 1862.

Peter Goolrick's house at the corner of Caroline and Hanover. Today, Goolrick's spacious home encompasses both Irish Eyes (appropriately) and the Griffin bookshop.

Continue reading