The steps of Abraham Lincoln and John Washington–the Farmer’s Bank Building

From John Hennessy [we wrote about Lincoln’s visit to Fredericksburg and the bank building here.  We wrote about the bank building more broadly here, and Lincoln’s visit generally here.]:

steps AL JWAbraham Lincoln spent an afternoon in Fredericksburg, on May 23, 1862.  We know his route through town, we know what he saw, we know some of the people he met.

But at only one spot we can place him in our mind’s eye with certainty: the former Farmer’s Bank/National Bank building, at the corner of George and Princess Anne Streets.  More specifically, it’s easy to imagine him on these steps–the steps to the George Street entrance (which led to the portion of the building used a residence, and likely as offices by the Union occupiers.)

Prior to his ride out George Street to Marye’s Heights that day, Lincoln perhaps walked these step.

Bank steps3Five weeks before, on Good Friday, Fredericksburg slave John Washington also walked  down these steps, though he had done so probably thousands of times, for he lived in the bank building with his owner. Washington’s trek down the steps that Good Friday was, for him, momentous. The Union army had arrived across the river that day; Washington had returned to his mistress’s house; she urged him to flee to the south, “so as to keep away from the Yankees.”

John Washington replied, “Yes Madam.”  He then opened the door to the spring day outside and walked down these steps. In so doing he passed from slavery to freedom–the exercise of his own free will. He walked down the hill to the Rappahannock River and soon passed across into Union lines, to freedom.

Fredericksburg is full of small, common places with immense associations.  


3 thoughts on “The steps of Abraham Lincoln and John Washington–the Farmer’s Bank Building

  1. I agree that this site is high on the list of Fredericksburg historical CW sites- but is it endangered by its new owners?
    Who is protecting the original facade?

    Than you,
    John Gordon Wallace Silleck

    • Unfortunately, it remains threatened by the new owner. There are no easements on this building and the owner is not interested in using historic tax credits at his point, which means no professional preservation review of the work he wants done. Its patina, and even these stairs, and targeted for removal. Share this story and tell everyone you know how sad this loss would be!!! It seems that public shaming may be the only way we might make a difference.

  2. It amazes me that we can not balance between the individual rights of property owners and the collective rights of citizens to preserve at least the outward appearance of historically significant land marks. Erasing (destroying, eradicating, etc.) historically significant landmarks has become far to common place and accepted in recent years.

    What happens when the places disappear, the history books are rewritten and those who remember historic events and places are no longer among us? Does the history die with them? What will history look like in 100 years? Will the historic landmarks and places and the history which made them so still exist? Will the Civil War be relegated to a footnote in history?

    The impact of our actions, inaction and responses to these questions need to be carefully considered before we loose more historically significant locations and structures.

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