My wanderings didn’t take me far from Richmond. Monday morning, just 50 miles north of Richmond, I pulled off I-95 into Fredericksburg to fill up the gas tank. I was standing at the pump in this cute little town when I suddenly remembered that friends of mine live in Fredericksburg. Even better, it was the Columbus Day holiday and they were likely to be home. ‘Maybe we can get together for lunch,’ I thought as I dialed their number.
It’s now Wednesday and I am just leaving Fredericksburg, having spent two wonderful days with my long-time friends, Steve and Annette Hussmann and their son Matthew. It is always a privilege to learn about a city/area from people who live there, and this was no exception. Matt insisted upon being my tour guide for the day.
We began on the roof of the town’s downtown’s parking lot, where I looked out over the three church spires that served as lookout towers for Confederate forces during the war. At street level we strolled past scores of retail stores that occupy the historic buildings along Caroline and Princess Anne Streets, including more than 100 antique stores that draw people from miles around.
Mixed in amongst the retail stores were museums, the old Town Square with its original Market House where people came to buy and sell their wares, and a half dozen historic houses of worship, including the Presbyterian Church, which proudly displays two cannon balls that were embedded into its front pillar during the Civil War battle of Marye’s Heights. To see the rest of the town we had a choice of transport:
We decided upon the trolley and chose seats near the back, where the plastic rain flaps had been rolled up to enjoy the mid-October sun and delightful temps in the mid-80’s. An hour later I was well versed on the history of the town and had seen sites like the Old Stone Warehouse, the Hugh Mercer Apothecary, George Washington’s mother’s house, and a variety of lovingly preserved houses, the newest of which was built in 1917.
After the trolley dropped us back at the Visitor’s Center, we made our way back to the Fredericksbug and Spotsylvania National Military Park. On this site, one of the area’s largest Civil War conflicts occurred, the battle of Marye’s Heights. Today this same site, known as the Fredericksburg Battlefield, is the graveyard for thousands of fallen soldiers, 80% of which were never identified and buried as unknown soldiers.
As we climbed the paths leading up the terraced hillside, I felt the presence of spirits. When I mentioned this to Matt he did not seem the least bit surprised. “Fredericksburg is full of ghosts. In fact, we have one in our house who turns off lights and turns up the air conditioning in the summer.” Indeed, earlier in the day I had seen a storefront advertising “Ghost Tours of Fredericksburg.
Our final stop of the day was the Mott Reservoir, where a setting sun had turned the wooden boats lining the shore to gold, and reflected the brilliant fall foliage into the mirror created by the placid lake.
Fredericksburg was definitely not on my list of stops during this trip, but that is the beauty of traveling without plans. I have the freedom to go where I want, when I want, and stay as long as I like. I am so glad I did not miss out on Fredericksburg, or on a wonderful visit with old friends!