Just like nobody is perfect, no place is perfect, either. But some of them come close to perfection on Route One. I tend to like places that have a little grit! It feels honest when viewed against all of those well-manicured yards surrounding stately, freshly painted homes along the leafy streets. Gritty places are similar to those people who can look you in the eye and speak the truth.
Fredericksburg began as an outpost for colonists, who were subjects of the King of England, in 1728. The grandchildren of those colonists would eventually serve in the militia and live in the midst of an armed conflict against the crown. The Marquis de Lafayette and General George Weedon prevented the advance of the British, led by Cornwallis, to destroy the iron works and the bridge at Fredericksburg in 1781. One of the hometown heroes of the Revolutionary War, Hugh Mercer’s statue has been placed upon a high pedestal in town, three blocks from Mary Washigton’s home. As in George Washington’s mother!
Fredericksburg has grit and history.
Before Europeans arrived, Native Americans named the waters of the Rappahannock and settled along the banks of the river, which winds almost 200 miles inland. The name means “the place where the water rises and falls”. The Falls, just above the oldest part of the city presented a problem and an opportunity to the English settlers. Their ships could not sail past the rocks in the shallows of the river, part of the Piedmont Escarpment. However, the exposed rock could be used as a foundation where they could build a bridge across the water. That’s where Route One crosses today.
Why did port towns develop like this all up and down Route One? Because the Route follows the Piedmont Escarpment along the mid-Atlantic. This was a part of its design when US1 was established in 1926.
The Fredericksburg settlement, named for Frederick, Prince of Wales (1707-51), eldest son of King George II, established itself on the west bank of the river, just below the falls, and became an important point of trade and manufacturing in the Colonies. In addition to the river crossings, roads began to develop inland, but most travel and freight transit was conducted by water until the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac railroad came through town in 1837.
Change was swift in the middle of the 19th Century. By 1842, 119 miles of rails connected Richmond and Washington, DC. A stone and timber dam was built across the river, providing power for mills and a navigation channel for barges in 1854. But the Civil War changed things the most, and when Richmond fell, Fredericksburg would be slow to rebound. One of the crucial skirmishes in the Civil War battle for the Virginia Secessionists was along Rocky Lane, when they repelled a Union force of 12,000 following Burnsides’ attack on Fredericksburg across the Rappahannock in December, 1862. Despite the enormous military victory for the Confederates, much of the City of Fredericksburg was sacked and looted by the Union Army.
Fredericksburg has blood stains, history and grit. Almost 20,000 soldiers perished in battle there. Those stains never wash off. Imperfection persists.
But Fredericksburg is resilient. The divides of the Civil War have begun to heal, although people of color are not on an even footing, yet. The Rappahannock still rises and falls in the way the Algonquin- speaking Rappahannock Tribe described it. The 1854 dam was replaced in 1910 by a concrete structure, which brought hydro-electric power to the City. Route One was established in 1926, providing reliable ground transportation to internal combustion vehicles. Most of Fredericksburg has been rebuilt or repurposed, and is once again a place where business can prosper and families can thrive.
Located equidistant from Richmond and Washington, DC along I-95, US1, and the AMTRAK corridor, Fredericksburg is a growing city of commuters in the 21st Century. The city, which used to be centered upon the Rappahannock River is now dispersed inland around the I-95 interchanges and along the Route One corridor.
Peter Evans VA Fredericksburg May 06, 2021 History