Posted by: Mysteries&Conundrums | April 22, 2011

An umnatched visual record: the 1888 steeple shots reveal some of Fredericksburg’s lost buildings

From John Hennessy:

NOTE: I have assembled the steeple panoramas into a single image . It’s a 22mb file–that is to say, large–but I’ve loaded it here if you wish to explore it on your own. We’ll occasionally take a look at this image in the coming month or so, seeing what it can tell us about Fredericksburg’s 19th-century landscape.

In 1888 a photographer mounted the steeple of St. George’s Episcopal Church on Princess Anne Street and took a series of eleven panoramic images of Fredericksburg, spanning the compass. The panorama isn’t perfect–there are gaps–but it is as thorough a documentation of any Virginia town as exists from that period. Explored deeply, the panoramas are a gold mine, revealing a number of buildings since lost,  a town still recovering from war, and a utilitarian landscape that has largely disappeared.

Today we’ll look at the intersection of Caroline and William–the very heart of downtown Fredericksburg. This is one place where the panoramic images match nicely, and I haev put them together here.

Two things emerge from this image. First, prominent in the middle of the image is the only known photograph of the home of Dr. John H. Wallace.  [Update and correction: I missed a notation on an 1866 insurance policy that states that this structure was completed in 1866 and occupied by the Wallace’s that year. I concede the house in the image LOOKS antebellum, and the family stated that the house survived the war, but apparently in a form not satisfactory to Dr. Wallace, who had this structure built right after the conflict.  I stand corrected. Thanks to Eric Mink for pointing me to the note in the file on this.]

Pardon the distortion–the house sits at the junction of two of the images.

Wallace was one of a half-dozen prominent doctors in Fredericksburg in 1860, and like many of them dabbled in other ventures as well (he served as the President of the Farmer’s Bank on Princess Anne Street). His family was large and influential–indeed, his son Wistar would largely be responsible for the creation of what we now know as the Central Rappahannock Regional Library. Dr. John Wallace also owned “Liberty Hall,” a farm of more than 500 acres along Potomac Creek north of Truslow Road in Stafford County (north of Ellerslie, another Wallace place that still stands).

To the right of Wallace’s house, three of four lots have newly constructed buildings.

To the left, across William Street, the site of the Bank of Virginia (burned December 11) still stands empty 25 years later. Moving farther north (just above Hall’s Drug Store), the entire first half of the block was destroyed, and most of those lots still appear vacant.

The 1000 block of Caroline–parts of it still unreconstructed in 1888.

During the battle, Dr. Wallace and those parts of his family not in the Confederate army had refugeed. Family tradition holds that Dr. Wallace’s house survived by the efforts of a slave, Fielding Grant. The family found the house surrounded by the burnt remnants of neighbors’ homes, with many of the Wallace family belongings looted or destroyed. This image shows the looting on the street in front of the battered house on December 11, 1862. Noel has written about that here.

Here is the Wallace house site today.

The Wallace house site today. This building was in the 1960s W.T. Grant five and dime–the scene of sit-ins in 1960, but more on that in another post.

In our next, we’ll look at another lost building or two, plus the great visual documentation of backyards and back alleys the panorama offers.


  1. John : Simply amazing, and agree – what an invaluable documentary tool for Fredericksburg. Is anything known about the actual photographer of the steeple panoramas, any additional Virginia images attributed to his artistic hand, etc. All the best, -David Nelson

    • David – It is believed that the artist who produced these images was William G. Turner, a Fredericksburg area jack-of-all-trades who dabbled in photography in the 1880s. An article that includes 48 of Turner’s photos, including these steeple shots, and provides biographical material on the artist, appears as “Southern Exposure: Forty-eight Views of the Fredericksburg Area, 1880s” in _Fredericksburg History & Biography_, Volume Six (2007).

      – Eric

      • Eric: Appreciate the link to Volume 6 containing information on photographer Wm. G. Turner of Fredericksburg. -David N.

  2. Great post, John. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to climb the scaffolding around the steeple during a major renovation and exposed a series of images that roughly mirrored the 1880s shots. They are published in one the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation’s “Journal of Fredericksburg History “(one of the 1990s volumes). The 1880s shot is on one page and the corresponding 1990s shot is on the opposite page. They are not exact, but may still be of interest. I look forward to your additional research.

  3. A nice job of putting the cyclorama together, Mr. Hennessy. Wouldn’t it be cool to have a large scale presentation like this, showing the armies passing over the landscape?
    Around 2000 I went up there from the inside of the bell tower to replicate the view of Market Square from this series, showing the home and bakery of John Henry Myer, my project de jour. It was quite an experience, especially when the clock struck two!

  4. John: I just realized what you were speaking of about the gaps. The set you have access to it incomplete. The whole series consists of eleven individual stereo views, all of which were published, as Erik Nelson says, in the 1998 issue of “The Journal of Fredericksburg History”, Volume 3. It seems to have been the same copies used in Ronald Shibley’s 1976 book, “Historic Fredericksburg, A Pictorial History”, although in there he used ten of the eleven, leaving out the left hand side of the pair showing Scotia. The two missing from your set are the one looking down river toward Ferry Farm and the railroad bridge, and the one looking essentially north, up Princess Anne Street, which also shows the rest of Market Square.
    I can not at this moment lay my hand on the 2007 issue of “Fredericksburg History and Biography”, to compare if that is the same set you assembled here. Both the Nelson and Shibley uses credit the images as courtesy of the National Park Service, but if my memory serves me, they have since then been donated to HFFI or the Central Rappahannock Heritage Center. This second set must be the one in a private collection and is perhaps the ones also used in Eric Mink’s 2007 article.
    Can you clarify who does have the first known set, HFFI or CRHC?
    Still, as you assert, they are a very vivid and important view of the post-war recovery of the city.

    • John. You are right. I used the wrong version–an incomplete one. But I have replaced the faulty version with the one that has all eleven photographgs. Thanks.

    • John – All of the reproductions you reference come from the same set of photos. While Shibley and Erik Nelson reference images in the collection of the National Park Service (NPS), what the NPS actually had at the time, and still has, are modern copy prints from original stereoviews.

      The original set of William G. Turner stereoviews were offered to the NPS by a private collector in 1984. It appears the NPS had access to these images prior to the offer, at which time print copies of some of the images, including the steeple shots, were made. This would explain Shibley’s use of NPS copies in 1976. The NPS declined the 1984 offer to buy the stereos, but they were purchased by the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation, Inc. (HFFI) and in whose hands they resided for 20 years. In 2007, HFFI transferred the stereos to the Central Rappahannock Heritage Center, which is where they are currently stored.

      When you see the photos credited to the NPS, it is actually copy prints that are being credited.

      – Eric

  5. The Wallace home and store burned on 21 Feb 1866. A fairly detailed report appears in the 23 Feb edition of the “New Era.”

  6. Any more info you can give me on Dr. Jon Wallace would be great. He was my 5th great grandfather.

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