Front Porch Fredericksburg - September 2018

Page 19

history’s stories


What’s in a Dream?

fredericksburg flames

Agora Downtown Coffee Shop

A look at the Central Rappahannock Heritage Center collection

By wendy migdal

In early August Anne and I had the pleasure of spending the night at Belle Grove Plantation located on Route 301 just across the Rappahannock River from Port Royal. Our stay was a wedding gift from our friends Robbie and Bill Rome who reside in Louisiana.

The Belle Grove Plantation bed and breakfast along with the many tours and activities is under the supervision of Brett and Michelle Darnell. Brett a retired Navy Submariner and Michelle a former Marine are very impressive with their extensive knowledge of the many families that have lived at the Plantation. The Mansion is open year-round and host a variety of events from weddings, Spirits Festival, Thanksgiving Dinner and a New Year’s Dinner to name a few. The land that Belle Grove sits upon was granted in 1667, by the Governor of Virginia as a reward for the colonization of the New World. Established as a tobacco plantation with a thousand acres the estate has survived the American Revolution and the War between the States. The mansion stands today built over the original settlement around 1791, has seen many expansions and changes in the past three centuries. Belle Grove is a Virginia Landmark famous as the birthplace of the Father of the Constitution and fourth President James Madison. I find it most interesting the story of how James Madison came to be born at Belle Grove, when his family lived in Orange county on the estate of Montpelier nearly 100 miles to the West. Belle Grove had been in Madison’s mothers’ side of the family (Conway) since the latter part of the 1600’s. The home he was born in is long gone, however, the actual location of the foundation and area is known to be where the dining area is located today in the mansion. Eleanor Rose Conway Madison left her home in Montpelier and traveled to her family’s home when she was expecting the birth of James. She traveled that long distance over many rough roads as she had a fear of the Small Pox epidemic that was spreading around Montpelier in Orange County. James was born on March 16, 1851, Eleanor or “Nelly” as her family called her was twenty-one years old. Nelly and James or as he was called “Jemmy” stayed until she felt it safe to return to Montpelier. It is said that James was one of the Conway’s favorite grandchildren. The estate was owned by several different families during the last three hundred years and has survived. The Federal style of the early years was expanded with a Greek Revival style along with a river facing porch. The property did not receive any known damage during the Civil War period as it was used by the Union Army as a headquarters. Other Plantations along the river were damaged by the Union gun boats. There is an account of the Union soldiers stopping there on their way to look for John Booth as he was found hiding at the Garrett farm just a few miles across the Rappahannock River. Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Ambrose Burnside are said to have been visitors at Belle Grove during these years. In 1987 Belle Grove was purchased by the Haas Corporation from Austria, however, a restoration was not started until ten years later in 1997. Several million dollars in repairs and reconstruction on the large Mansion with eleven fireplaces, has resulted in in a bed and breakfast first opened in 2013, that is ranked as one of the best in Virginia. Brett and Michelle are excellent hosts and if you and the family would like a wonderful over-night or several days Southern Plantation experience, Belle Grove is the place to visit. A trip that is less than an hour from the Fredericksburg area. You may encounter Civil War soldier walking in the field or on the porch, as they have a Paranormal event scheduled in September. Dedicated to the memory of: Barry Jett, Craig Jones and Ronnie Payne Tuffy is Front Porch's resident FXBG historian



September 2018

Front porch fredericksburg

Cooking over a flame, candlelight, blowing curtains, wooden buildings—it’s a wonder towns managed to survive in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries at all. Like most other American towns of its size, Fredericksburg was the victim of many fires during this time and was slow to make important changes to help prevent recurrence. Map showing area devastated by the Fredericksburg fire One of the more destructive fires in of 1807, Drawn by Bulent Atalay, as seen in the book The Fredericksburg Fire of 1807 by Edward Alvey, Jr." Fredericksburg occurred on the night of April 3, 1799. donations from Baltimore to Norfolk and It started on Charlotte Street, between distribute them to those in need. Princess Anne and Caroline streets, and Finally, the city began to take destroyed all the buildings on that block, more preventive actions, including including the office of theVirginia dividing the city into zones, appointing Herald. When the fire reached seven brick residents to patrol the streets to buildings on the east side of Caroline extinguish unsafe fires, and ensuring that Street, residents—presumably manning a enough water was kept on hand. bucket brigade—were able to control it. Nevertheless, buildings continued to be The worst fire in Fredericksburg’s constructed mostly of wood, and with history began at the home of William droughts and high winds common, many Stanard on the corner of Princess Anne more fires broke out. and Lewis Streets (later called the After a decade of fires in the “Shepherd House”) on October 19, 1807. 1820s that all started in wooden stables The family was already dealing with the and warehouses, people finally began death of Mr. Stanard, whose body lay in building even those structures out of brick repose in the parlor, when a fire broke and slate. Today, very few structures out. Quite possibly it was started by remain in the core of town that predate sparks in the chimney where food was 1830. being prepared for his funeral, although no one knows for certain. As the grieving family fled the Wendy Migdal is a freelance writer and history teacher for Spotsylvania County house, the flames spread quickly. Aided by who enjoys walking her dog in the a strong wind from the northwest and a historic district long drought, the fire soon engulfed the heart of the town. Making a bad situation even worse, many residents were not at home but watching the horse races just below town, in the location of the current National Cemetery. By the time people organized to fight the flames, the fire was a roaring blaze that had swept down the east side of Caroline Street and the west side of Sophia Street, down as far as George Street. The equipment belonging to the two fire companies was woefully inadequate, people began panicking, and before 4 hours had passed, much of the town lay in ruins. In the end, three entire blocks plus parts of two others were destroyed, including 45 homes and numerous stores and warehouses. Remarkably, no one died, but material losses were enormous. Many people were homeless and unable to save any possessions at all. Merchants lost their entire stock. A committee to aid the fire victims worked for years to collect

Local musicians like Laurie Rose Griffith and Peter Mealy perform in the o u t d o o r courtyard. Agora also features eclectic art by local artists and craftsmen. No wonder it's such When you step inside Agora Downtown Coffee Shop at 520 Caroline Street, you know there is something special about this place. It's one of the oldest buildings in Fredericksburg (1787). Here, dreams have been incubated; dreams realized. And it's still true to this day. Agora is best known as a thriving local business, combining a wonderful coffee shop, bakery, art gallery and used bookstore. Here, customers can grab a cup of coffee and a bite to eat, pick up an interesting book, and sit down to enjoy a good read. All of the books are for sale.

a popular place. Co-owner M.J. Stone explains that her father came up with the name "Agora". As a Greek word it means a community gathering place (The Agora was a public marketplace in ancient Athens). It also means "the present moment" in Portuguese. A perfect name, Agora Downtown Coffee Shop is where folks gather and experience being "in the moment". Besides serving excellent coffee, Agora has a liquor license. Popular drinks include White Russians, Irish Coffees, and the Black Mamba Mocha - a dark chocolate

mocha made with Caramel Bourbon Crème liquor. Yum! And if you're hungry, the kitchen features tasty homemade sandwiches and a wonderful array of baked goods including sweetbreads, macarons and cakes. With a passion for developing good-tasting food for people with dietary restrictions, co-owner Andi Stone, the head baker, is living her dream. The other visionary in this story is Elizabeth Lontz, who once restored 101 Fauquier Street. She dreamed of buying and renovating the old building at 520 Caroline Street, saying it reminded her of where she grew up as a little girl. Betty turned her dream into a reality. Financial help came from Virginia's Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit program and the Fredericksburg Tax Credit for Rehabilitated Property, keeping the costs manageable. In 2014, after renovation was complete, the building was sold to the current owners, and Agora opened for business in 2015. Agora sits on a continuum of history. The timber-framed, brick filled structure is built on a foundation of Rappahannock Freestone. Today, a large

By jon gerlach

plexiglass window in the front room lets you glimpse interesting details of how this building was constructed. Across the centuries the building saw various commercial and residential uses. Once the site of Elisha Dickinson's blacksmith shop, it was also a mercantile store for many years, selling groceries, hardware, furniture, household items and firearms, under proprietor Richard Johnston among others. Unlike some structures on Caroline Street, the building survived the Union artillery bombardment of December 11, 1862. A century later it was a barber shop. Happily, the barber pole conveyed with the building and can be seen in the front room today! So … what's in a dream? Vision, hard work … and success!

An attorney and retired archaeologist, Jon Gerlach chairs the Architectural Review Board in Fredericksburg. Artwork by Jon Gerlach

front porch fredericksburg

September 2018


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