Caroline Street

From Hennessy (another one of a short series on some of Fredericksburg’s most prominent streets–see our ode to a changing Sophia Street here):


The 900 block of Caroline. Note the Colonial Theater and especially--at right--Ulman's Jewelers and Goolrick's pharmacies, both in business on the same location. Courtesy Historic Fredericksburg Foundation

For more than two centuries, Caroline Street (known as Main Street for most of its existence) was the shopping Mecca for residents of the Fredericksburg region, be they borne by cars, horses, or carts.  While William Street housed businesses and the occasional warehouse, Caroline was the town’s retail center, selling everything from the latest European fashions to bat guano (for fertilizer).  Town council battled constantly to keep Caroline and neighboring streets pleasant for visitors and shoppers, urging 19th century residents to stop simply dumping refuse in the street and trying (vainly) to convince residents to keep hogs off the pavement–threatening to shoot or confiscate the hogs if the residents failed to comply.  Finally in 1832 Council simply banned hogs in town altogether.

The Victoria Theater–today an annex to the Baptist Church. HFFI

Parades and presidents (Harrison, Bush, and McKinley among others), protesters and Santa Claus have all frequented Caroline.  George Weedon kept his tavern here, at the corner of William, and there entertained some of the greatest men of Revolutionary America, including Jefferson and Washington. One hundred and eighty five years later in a department store a few doors away, more recent patriots conducted sit-ins, seeking equality under the very laws forged by Jefferson and Washington. In the 20th century, Caroline Street assumed the aspect of a classic American downtown. Two theaters (the buildings still stand) offered the latest movies; the soda fountain at Goolrick’s Drugstore dispensed milkshakes and malts (it still does, as President George Bush noted during his visit there in 1992)), and nearby stores offered virtually everything residents of the Fredericksburg region needed (though you could no longer get guano).

Rarely has the Rappahannock risen to flood Caroline, but it did in 1942. Central Rappahannock Heritage Center

Much of the upper end of Caroline above Hanover was destroyed in the great fire of 1807. You’ll find, therefore, few buildings here of anything but brick. Indeed, most of the 1000 block on the east side of the street was destroyed again in the bombardment of December 1862. But most of Caroline Street retains the character it has had for most of  two centuries. A few detached older residences like the c1769 Chimneys at 623 remain interspersed among buildings that have long-held storefront businesses.  Above these storefronts the owners often lived, and today apartments thrive there (the key to any successful historic downtown is to keep people living in it, and Fredericksburg has many).

A rather scraggly Santa is greeted at the train station for his annual trek up Caroline Street, about 1940, UMW Digital Archives.

At its northern and southern fringes, Caroline became residential. But the heart of Caroline retains its traditional functions, though the hogs are gone.  Each year Santa hauls up the rear of Fredericksburg’s Christmas parade along Caroline, following precisely the same route traveled by President William McKinley when he visited Fredericksburg for the great meeting of the Society of the Army of the Potomac in 1900. And, every year, Santa continues to draw a bigger crowd than any of the thirteen sitting presidents who have been to Fredericksburg did during their visits.


Sophia Street–historic change and a look back

From John Hennessy:

The 700 block of Sophia Street today--the site of the new Riverside Park. Shiloh Old Site is in the distance.

Every town has such a street or neighborhood—the place where all else that doesn’t seem quite to fit resides, the place where constant change is the rule, and constancy seems elusive. Fredericksburg’s Sophia Street—especially below the Chatham Bridge—is such a place.  Known for decades as Water Street, its status as Fredericksburg’s “utility room” is rooted in its nearness to the river, which every few years rises to submerge sections of the street, rendering all in its path dubious, if not ruined.  The regular ebb and flow of water—along with every town’s need for utility space—rendered Sophia/Water Street what it was: a slightly awkward, sporadic mix of open space, modest houses and (below the bridge) tenements, with a sprinkling of warehouses, outhouses, an icehouse, and even a jail thrown in.  At its southern terminus sat the town docks.

Today the 500-900 blocks of Sophia Street are undergoing a historic change, as the city seeks to reconnect to the Rappahananock River waterfront. Below Chatham Bridge over the last six seven decades, buildings have come down periodically–some to make way for more parking, and more recently for a riverside park.  Parking areas now back up to the businesses on Caroline Street, rendering the west side of Sophia slightly disarranged. The changes going on now have the feel of permanence about them, which inspires a look backward. (Bear in mind that the most recent improvements on Sophia–the construction of Riverside Park–have not claimed buildings of historic import. The lost buildings discussed below were taken down more than a half-century ago).

The former sites of buildings on the east (river) side of Sophia Street.

By far the most prominent building on mid-Sophia Street was the original Fredericksburg Baptist Church.  When the white Baptists moved to the bigger, present present site on Princess Anne Street, they sold the original church to its African-American members.  The African Baptist Church became, after emancipation, Shiloh Baptist Church, and the congregation still exists on that site.

Sitting somewhat awkwardly next to the church was the community ice house, clearly visible in wartime images.

The African Baptist Church, and next to it the ground-level roof of the community ice house, owned in 1862 by A.P. Rowe.

Below the icehouse was a mix of tenements and single-family homes, steadily demolished over the years, mostly to make way for new parking in the 20th century. These sorts of working class houses have become increasingly rare in Fredericksburg (we’ll point out a few survivors in future posts).

719 Sophia Street, just below the African Baptist Church

The site of 719 today. Continue reading