Today it is a park–“Alum Springs,” along Hazel Run just west of the Blue-Gray Parkway. I daresay not many people give much thought to how it came to be or what it was, but in fact Alum Springs has a fairly complex history. Beyond the springs themselves–in the upper end of the park and once productive of waters believed to be curative–Alum Springs was the site of one of Fredericksburg’s few upland mills, the scene of at least two duels, and by legend a refuge for refugees during the Battle of Fredericksburg.
By far the best source on historic Alum Springs is Robert Reid Howison, who became a notable historian of both Fredericksburg and Virginia in the 19th Century. Howison was a lawyer, the brother of Jane Howison Beale, and after the Civil War the owner of Braehead along what is today North Lee Drive. His article “Dueling in Virginia,” [William and Mary Quarterly, October 1924.(Vol. IV, No. 4), pp. 217-218] includes a good deal of background about Alum Springs. After this excerpt I have posted a number of images of the area today.
…It became a common source of enjoyment to the ladies and more refined men of the town to make up walking parties, and, in the temperate and delicious afternoons of the autumn season to walk out of the town, generally to the spot known as “Alum Springs Rock,” about two miles from the Court House in Fredericksburg. A mill site and dam for the old “Drummond’s Mill” then existed and a lake of pure water of the “Hazel Run” was just in front of “Alum Springs Rock.” In the freezes during he winter seasons this lake was frequented by many skaters. It furnished also the very hardest and best ice, which was eagerly gathered into ice-houses, private and public, in Fredericksburg, and was advertised as “Alum Spring ice,” and highly appreciated.
In subsequent days, the dam was broken again and again by the violent current of the Hazel Run in freshets. It was rebuilded [sic] nearly half a mile lower down, and the mill and its appurtenances became part of the “Braehead” property. I was obliged to expend considerable sums in restoring or repairing the dam. The old mill yielded well in revenue, because the meal ground there was of excellent quality.
The spot being shut in from ordinary view by small areas of surrounding forest, interlaced in many places by wild vines and shrubbery, has many charms for those who love to view and to frequent the reserved retreats of nature. But these same seclusions made it also a very suitable place for the principals, seconds, and surgeons in the not infrequent duels, with mortal weapons, which occurred in the “dueling times” of Virginia.
Howison went on to describe two duels that took place at Alum Springs, on the narrow pathway between the overhang and the mill pond. We’ll write about those in a future post. I include below a few images of the area today.
Here’s the rock outcropping. According to local legend, some local residents took here during the Battle of Fredericksburg. I have never seen a primary account to confirm this, but there is no obvious reason to doubt the legend. Howison claimed tha the duels took place on the narrow path to the fight of the rock. In its day, the mill pond was just off this image to the right.
One of the most obvious surviving features is the remnants of the mill dam. Judging from its size, the dam held back a pond that was nearly 20 feet deep. Howison recorded that the pond was an important source of ice for the Fredericksburg community–certain evidence that at least Fredericksburg’s climate is warmer today than it was 180 years ago; in the last fifteen years, ponds hereabouts have frozen solid enough for skating or cutting only once.
The raceway just above the dam carried water to Drummond’s Mill, later owned by Samuel Alsop and Howison himself.
Follow the mill race downstream and you’ll come to the mill, which sits between the modern playground and Hazel Run. Today, a pile of stones remains. Still, the site is obvious to those willing to look for it.