Fredericksburg 2016

Last updated September 10, 2016



Homesteading     Bees
    Solar PV
    Solar Thermal
Martial Arts
Misc. Links



Day One | Day Two | Day Three

On Labor Day weekend 2016, Norma, her intern, Janett, and I explored Fredericksburg, Virginia. None of us had been there before and this was my first time meeting Janett.

Labor Day weekend is a busy travel time and the area between Washington D.C. and northern Virginia can be particularly bad. So we had Janett stay over Friday night so we could get an early start on Saturday.

Day One, Saturday, September 3, 2016

Our first stop was Government Island.
This 17-acre historic site is an early American quarry originally named Brent's Island or Wiggington's Island. As early as 1694, stone was quarried from this site for use as architectural trim in Colonial America. The quarry's fine-grained sandstone was called Aquia stone, due to its location along Aquia Creek, or freestone, for its ability to be freely carved without splitting.
In 1791, the federal government purchased Brent's Island for the purpose of constructing the President's House (later referred to as the White House) and the United States Capitol.

- from sign at Government Island

Norma, Janett, and I walked across a bridge over Austin Run where we saw turtles in the water.

Exploring the trails, we walked through the woods and then to the quarry where we saw the remains of some of the freestone removal. See first photo.

Continuing our stroll, in the distance we saw lotus flowers in Aquia Creek. See second photo. The best time to see them would have been a month ago so these were making their transition from blossom to shower head seed pod. Now, many of the seed pods were green but soon they will become woody.

Making our way to Fredericksburg, we stopped at the Virginia Deli for brunch. They claim that "George ate here." They don't specify which George but next to the sign is a cutout of George Washington.

We walked through the Fredericksburg Farmer's Market at Hurkamp Park.

Information signs told us about how the town was a casualty of the Civil War.
It started with a bombardment from 140 Union guns on the morning of December 11, 1862 -- two days before the battle of Fredericksburg. Whizzing shells and cannonballs ripped through buildings, tumbling walls and chimneys. Fires spread. "Nothing in war can exceed the horror of that hour," wrote a Mississippi soldier. Most civilians had fled; those who remained huddled in basements. Federal infantry forced a river crossing and close fighting raged through the streets until nightfall.
The high casualties and the unexpected intensity of the street fighting had been terrifying. When the Confederates pulled back, infuriated Federal soldiers released their anger and stress in a rampage of looting. The next day, more Union soldiers crossed into the wrecked town. Regarding Fredericksburg as a prize of war, they further ransacked homes and businesses. Fighting resumed on December 13th and thousands of casualties clogged buildings and streets. When the Federal army retreated, Fredericksburg was a shambles.

Our next stop was the Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop.
ca. 1772 This eighteenth-century building was restored to house the Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop, a museum of medicine, pharmacy, and military and political affairs. Dr. Mercer served the citizens of Fredericksburg with medicines and treatments of the time. Leeches, lancets, snakeroot, and crab claws made up just some of the remedies.
- from Visit Washington Heritage Museums

Docents dressed in costumes from the period told us about the Apothecary Shop. We even got to see a giant leech in a jar (third photo), the same kind that the doctor would have used back in the day to invoke bleeding.

We walked to the Rising Sun Tavern but didn't go in.

A very friendly townsman spoke to us about the area and make some recommendations that we followed up on later: a diner and Chatham.

The three of us also stopped at the Mary Washington House where docents also spoke about the significance of the structure. All these buildings are part of the Washington Heritage Museums.
In 1772, George Washington purchased a house from Michael Robinson in Fredericksburg, Virginia for his mother. Mary Ball Washington spent her last seventeen years in this comfortable home.
- from Visit Washington Heritage Museums

After parking at the Old Mill Park, we set out to walk on the Heritage Trail and the Rappahannock Canal Path. I highly recommend taking the time to walk or run this 3.1 mile loop where we saw quite a few cool things.
  • Fourth photo: Butterflies making new butterflies. Possibly Great Spangled Fritillaries.
  • Fifth photo: The mighty Rappahannock River, which Union troops crossed to take Fredericksburg.
  • Sixth photo: Dragonfly.
  • Seventh photo: Aquatic vegetation set out to grow on the Rappahannock Canal. Can you see the turtle?
  • Eighth photo: Here's the turtle referenced in the previous photo.
  • Ninth photo: Writing spider.
  • Tenth photo: Green heron.
  • Eleventh photo: Young cicada. Look closely at its wings.

  • In some ways, Fredericksburg is like Savage in that both flourished around mills.
    In 1855, the Fredericksburg Water Power Company adapted the Rappahannock Company's navigation canal to be an industrial power canal. The canal turning basin became a mill pond and several raceways soon branched off to power the Germania Flour Mill and the Washington Woolen Mills.
    - from sign on Rappahannock Canal Path

    After building up a bit of an appetite, we ate dinner at the Paradise Diner where the catfish was mediocre. But sitting outside, we had a beautiful sunset. See twelfth photo.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Day Two, Sunday, September 4, 2016

    Norma, Janett, and I drove out to Orange County, Virginia to see Montpelier (first photo), the home of James and Dolley Madison. While being known primarily as the fourth President, the "Father of the Constitution," and co-author of the Federalist Papers, he thought of himself as a farmer.
    As early at 1790, before the death of his father, Madison began using this complex [Montpelier] as a laboratory in which he applied the methods of scientific agriculture. Madison recorded weather variations, compared plowing techniques and tool designs, experimented with crop rotation and fertilization, and tested species and alternate varieties of seeds. In 1807, Thomas Jefferson described Madison as "the best farmer in the world."
    - from sign at Montpelier titled "A Tobacco Plantation"

    The three of us took the "Signature Tour" which I really enjoyed. Our tour guide might well have been a history professor. He was very knowledgeable and communicated his knowledge well. Of particular interest, we learned about Paul Jennings, a slave who was the personal servant to James Madison. After buying his freedom, he wrote A Colored Man's Reminiscences of James Madison.

    After this tour, we walked around the grounds and then took another tour that focused on the life of African Americans at Montpelier. In the second photo are recreations of the slave housing. That speaker was also excellent. Her volume was on par with my former co-worker, Crazy Jenn.

    Madison was around my height but only about 100 pounds. The statues in the third photo show him and his wife, Dolley.

    After Montpelier, we walked around the town of Orange. Not much there.

    On our way back, we visited Motts Run Nature Center and then walked on the trails at Motts Reservoir.
  • Fourth photo: Bee apiary.
  • Fifth photo: Mushroom.

  • If tomorrow's kayaking plans didn't work out, we would consider returning here (Motts Reservoir) since they have a boat ramp.

    That evening we ate at the Sunken Well Tavern. I found the service quite slow but the entertainment was excellent. They had a bluegrass jam session. See sixth photo. Much to my surprise, they did not have a banjo player but the fiddle player's fine playing almost made up for that.

    A young guitarist in the band (not shown) reminded me of Carmen.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Day Three, Monday, September 5, 2016, Labor Day

    After a good breakfast at the Waffle House, Janett, Norma, and I headed out to Chatham Manor.
    Chatham has watched quietly over Fredericksburg for almost 250 years - an imposing, 180-foot-long brick manor house once visible from much of town. It has witnessed great events and played host to important people. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln were here; Clara Barton and Walt Whitman too. To some residents it was a home, to others a place of toil, and to soldiers during the war a headquarters or a hospital.
    - from sign at Chatham Manor

    The Manor is part of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.
    ...this is the bloodiest landscape in North America. No place more vividly reflects the Civil War's tragic cost in all its forms. A city bombarded, bloodied, and looted. Farms large and small ruined. Refugees by the thousands forced into the countryside. More than 85,000 men wounded; 15,000 killed - most now in graves unknown.
    - from sign at Chatham Manor

    The three of us toured the Main House, built in 1771. See first photo. I found the most interesting things behind the house, overlooking the Rappahannock River.
  • Second photo: Civil War cannon.
  • Third photo: Union troops used pontoon boats to construct floating bridges to ford the Rappahannock River so they could attack Fredericksburg. This is one such piece of the bridge with Fredericksburg behind.
  • Fourth photo: Catalpa tree at Chatham Manor that lived during the Civil War.

  • We drove across the river to the Fredericksburg National Cemetery where we walked on the Sunken Road Walking Trail. This was
    ...part of a heavily used 19th-century road system that linked Washington, D.C. and Richmond.
    - from sign outside Cemetery Visitor Center

    Our final stop at the Military Park was the cemetery. See fifth photo.
    Approximately 20,000 soldiers died in this region during the Civil War, their remains scattered throughout the countryside in shallow, often unmarked, graves. In 1865 Congress established Fredericksburg National Cemetery as a final resting place for Union soldiers who died on area battlefields. Confederate soldiers were buried in cemeteries located at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania Court House.
    Work on Fredericksburg National Cemetery commenced in 1866 and was completed in 1869.

    - from sign at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Next, Norma, Janett, and I drove to Eley's Ford. This would be our take-out for our 8 mile kayak trip. The plan was to leave my bicycle locked up here under a wasp nest (see first photo, first column). Then we would drive to Germanna and launch. Paddling downstream on the Rapidan River, we would then take out at Eley's Ford. They would wait while I biked 11.5 miles back to Germanna to retrieve the car. At least that was the plan. It was one I learned about via my Virginia DeLorme map and Canoeing on the Rapidan: History, Ecology, Environmentalism.

    I locked up my bike and took a GPS reading. Then we drove to the Germanna Foundation/Visitor Center, only to find that it was closed. That meant we couldn't access their parking lot so launching from there was not feasible. We drove back to Eley's Ford and put the boats in the river there. The plan now was to do an up-and-back route.

    So here's our trip.
  • Second photo, first column: View under route 610 bridge looking west from Eley's Ford.
  • Third photo, first column: Eley's Ford boat ramp.
  • Fourth photo, first column: Janett and Norma in my Ocean Kayak Cabo boat.
  • Fifth photo, first column: The river was very shallow...too shallow in many area. This meant we had to get out and portage sometimes.
  • Sixth photo, first column: The area was heavily wooded and natural.
  • First photo, second column: Sometimes you find nature and sometimes it finds you. This damselfly was quite comfortable perched on my Prijon Catalina.
  • Second photo, second column: The water was clean. There were many snails, fish, clams, and vegetation in the water.
  • Third photo, second column: Taking a break.
  • Fourth photo, second column: Exposed tree roots.
  • Fifth photo, second column: Some riffles.
  • Sixth photo, second column: Stuck on a rock.
  • Seventh photo, second column: Final stretch of kayaking.

  • We saw several kayakers and canoeists. One couple in a canoe were carrying gold mining equipment. A fellow near the launch site had a big gasoline powered gold mining device that he said cost about $4600 and was the largest that he could legally operate. Up until this weekend, I never thought of there being gold on the east coast. But Fredericksburg is the exception.
    Beginning in 1829, the Rappahannock Company constructed a series of dams and canals along the river, to transport bulk cargo. Gold had been found in Spotsylvania County in 1806 and a canal could bring heavy equipment and other materials to the area's numerous mines. Gold production grew in the Rappahannock valley during the 1830s and 40s and the Town of Fredericksburg invested heavily in the canal enterprise that appeared to support a promising future.
    Extracting gold by crushing quartz required heavy equipment and proved expensive. When the California gold strikes in 1849 drew mining companies to the West, Virginia mining declined.
    In 1849, the U.S. Mint received $129,382 in Virginia gold, while receiving $5.5 million in California gold.

    - from signs on Rappahannock Canal Path

    We got in about 6.5 miles of kayaking.

    After loading up, we starting making the drive home. Unlike the drive up which was very fast, the journey home in late afternoon and early evening end of holiday traffic was slow torture.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    It was a good weekend despite the bad traffic on the way home. I enjoyed meeting Janett and hope we get to spend more time with her before her internship ends.