A new and stunning image

From John Hennessy:

No, it’s not a period photograph, but rather an aerial view taken in 1933. It came to us today, thanks to one of our regional landscape architects, Eliot Foulds, who was poking around the National Archives and came across a collection titled “Airscapes.” This was a project of the Army Air Corps that produced low-level aerial views of important places.  This image offers a view of the Fredericksburg region–one that shows the landscape beyond town virtually unchanged since the Civil War.  The image includes the only comprehensive view of the south end of the battlefield we have ever seen. Beyond that, there are hundreds of details worth noting.  We’ll get to just a few of them today.1933 Aerial FRSP RG 18AA BOX 128 smaller

The picture was taken over the Rappahannock River looking a few degrees east of south. Fredericksburg is to the right, Chatham is at lower left. There are lots of details in the view of Chatham that we’ll talk about in another post. But look beyond, to the south. If you have ever wanted a vision of what the south end of the battlefield looked like in 1862, this is likely as close as you’ll get.  We have included a hi-res scan of the image at the end of this post, which you can download and explore yourself. In the meantime, here are the first things that came to our eyes. Click on other images to enlarge them.

1933 image below town labeled

Here is some detail on the lower crossing site.  As many of you who have been there with us in the last few years know, this is now a virtually impenetrable jungle. In this view, you can see clearly why the spot was so attractive to Union engineers–a wide, flat area with an easy ascent to the surrounding bluffs.

1933 Aerial FRSP RG 18AA BOX 128 cropped on lower crossing

Also in this image is the field much as Pelham saw it when he opened fire from the corner of what is today Route 2 (the historic Bowling Green Road) and Benchmark Road.  Pelham’s corner is at the left edge of the photo, the postwar buildings on Slaughter Pen farm at the right edge.

1933 Aerial FRSP RG 18AA BOX 128 pelham's field of fire

One part of this landscape had changed dramatically by 1933. Here’s an enlargement of the city dock–the middle crossing site. As you can see, it was a vastly different place then, covered with tanks and other infrastructure. The tanks in this view were swept away in the flood of 1942–clearing the way (literally) for a transformation of the area (and, surely, a dramatic rise in real estate values on lower Caroline Street, today perhaps the nicest streetscape in town).

1933 Aerial FRSP RG 18AA BOX 128 cropped on city dock

There is much more in this image, including Ferry Farm and numbers of buildings in town that are now gone and for which we have no other photographic record.  It’s a boon, whether you are interested in battlefield landscapes, the changing landscape at Chatham, or the evolution of a town whose downtown was, in 1933, the shopping mecca for the entire region. We’ll be offering more about it as we get a chance.

In the meantime, go ahead and explore the image yourself (a hi-res version is included below). If you spot something interesting, shout it out in the comments.  We have only had this image for a few hours, so we’re sure there is much there we’ve not yet noticed.

1933 Aerial FRSP RG 18AA BOX 128

For those of you who were with us, here is an approximation of the ground we covered during our 2011 tour of the lower crossing site.

For those of you who were with us, here is an approximation of the ground we covered during our 2011 tour of the lower crossing site.


26 thoughts on “A new and stunning image

  1. The low angle of the photo gives Franklin’s Crossing an odd “pointy” look. Can you indicate the area you visited in 2011 to give us an idea of where you explored then, as compared with the 1933 view?

  2. This is an exciting find! Thanks to Eliot Foulds for solving a mystery photograph that appears in the 1933 and 1934 editions of the Historic and Business Guide for Fredericksburg published by James A. Brown, Princess Anne Hotel. These brochures are in the Virginia Room collection of the CRRL.Over 30 years ago I made local inquiries about this arial photograph
    hoping to find where the original was and who took the picture but found no answers. The two page photograph had the following caption ” A portion of the City of Fredericksburg from the air, showing the new Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad bridge over the Rappahannock River. In the lower right is shown Ferry Farm, where Washington’s boyhood days were spent, and where in all probability he downed the famous cherry tree”.
    There are still unanswered questions. This arial photograph is taken from the southern end of the city looking north. It clearly shows the Hazel Hill house(now demolished) and all the buildings on the Ferry Farm. Is this photo in the Natiional Archives? Did Mr. Brown buy this photo for his brochure? Were there other views taken of the city from the east and west?
    I have in my private book collection both the 1933 and the 1934 Guides. I would be glad to bring over to Chatham for the Park Service to post this version of the arial view of Fredericksburg on this blog.
    Barbara P. Willis
    Retired March this year from Virginia Room. Nancy Moore is now in charge and brings all her expertise and tech skills to the job.

    • Thanks Barbara. The magic of this is in its detail. We are curious to learn if there are more Fredericksburg images in the “Airscape” series. We’ll be looking.

      As for your departure from the Virginiana room, it’s impossible to express how much good you have done this community and anyone interested in history during your years there.

      Many thanks.

      • Wouldn’t you like to make a copy of this arial view to send to Eliot Foulds. It could help in finding it. I feel certain it was taken the same time as the picture you posted. I also think you will find it interesting to compare this view from the south to the view from the north. Maybe you can see Civil War sites in this view. Call me at 373-7288 if you want me to bring it over today to copy.

  3. Thanks for those photos — After writing the only book dedicated to the Meade Breakthrough attack it was exciting to see those photos of the area where Meade formed and where Pelham interrupted his assault plans

  4. What a great find! Most kind of Mr. Foulds to share it with the park. … A picky editor’s note: I believe the project was that of the U.S. Army Air Corps.

  5. There are literally thousands of observations and questions one might make about this picture.

    Here’s one: There is a 3 story building directly diagonal from today’s Hyperion Espresso. It appears to be built right up to the sidewalk on both Princess Anne and William. What was it, when and how did it get removed?

  6. P.S. It seems very cool to have an aerial photo taken at the same time that the topographical map of the Fredericksburg region was being surveyed.

    • Yes. Among the buildings in that image were the freight depot, the Excelsior Mill, and the buildings atop Willis Hill. All gone. Indeed, the area along the railroad through town has been almost entirely transformed, largely turned into parking for the rail station.

      • The R.F.&P. Railroad cleared the lots around the station in 1927, following expansion of its station and elevation of the tracks above street level. They were used to store various types of equipment. They were not turned into parking until the 1990s. The photo shows two freight elevators that served the elevated tracks. One remains in use as a passenger elevator. The other was demolished by the railway company to track level.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s