[From John Hennessy, with great thanks to Kerri Barile of Dovetail Cultural Resources Group for the dig photos. Bear in mind that in this instance, I am just the reporter. ALL the hard work here was done by the Dovetail archaeologists.]
This week archaeologists are working in advance of the continued development of parkland between Sophia Street and the Rappahannock. As we have written before, Sophia Street below the Chatham Bridge has always been an eclectic, sometimes homely, mix of workplace and homeplace, with much change taking place over the decades. Still, its basic function as Fredericksburg’s all-purpose neighborhood remained intact for more than two centuries, until the demand for parking for downtown visitors prompted the transformation of riverside Sophia. Steadily, residences have been removed or transformed. Nowadays, hardly anyone lives on this part of Sophia.
Many believed that the constant change along Sophia Street likely destroyed much evidence of the robust community that once thrived along the street. This week’s archaeological work, done by Dovetail Cultural Resources Group, has shown otherwise. The work has uncovered the foundations of four major antebellum buildings, one of them new to us.
This is a famous picture, taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston in 1927. The buildings shown here stood just south of Shiloh Baptist Church (old site).
The work this week has revealed the building’s foundations vividly.
Behind these buildings at what was 719 Sophia Street stood a large community ice house, built about 1832 and in use until the early 20th century. The ice house shows up clearly in the great 1863 panorama of Fredericksburg. It’s the low-roofed building next to the African Baptist Church.
The dovetail folks found the west foundation of the building–closest to Sophia Street. The ice house pit (to the left in this image) is filled with beautiful clean soil.
They also uncovered the foundation of a house we had never noticed before, though it’s visible in the great 1863 panorama. This was a house that stood behind Absalom Rowe’s main residence. While I did not get a photo of the foundation while it was exposed (the crew was able to take a quick look only before the trench was filled in), it was something of a revelation that the foundation remained. The adjacent ground was built up considerably when the adjacent Masonic Lodge was built in 1921, and no one had much hope that the antebellum foundations would remain. But they do. The building in question is the one immediately beyond Ab Rowe’s outhouse in the foreground.
The archaeological work on Sophia Street will continue through tomorrow, Saturday. Stop by if you have the chance.
Here is the panorama from which the above images are taken.