The land over which the Battle of Fredericksburg was fought had been subdivided shortly before the civil war in 1856 by a group of enterprising individuals from the area. This became known as the Caldwell tract. It carried the name of John S. Caldwell, who was a local judge. With the assistance of the Fredericksburg Circuit Court Archivist, I located the original map and deed that provided a written description of the subdivision. The City of Fredericksburg, in partnership with the Rappahannock River Agricultural and Mechanical Society, was one of the major participants in this deal. Ten acres were set aside for a Fairground in the middle of this subdivision. This land was mapped by a civil engineer named William Sneden (also seen listed as Sneeden) by which the property or the parcels are sometimes known in the court records. It is an interesting side note that Sneden was then the Chief Engineer for the fledgling Gordonsville and Fredericksburg Railroad. The entrepreneurs were a virtual who’s-who of Fredericksburg at that time.
This is the full map of subdivision submitted with the deed in 1856
A blowup of the somewhat obscured title block from original map signed by William Sneden
In the early 1800’s the City of Fredericksburg struggled to compete with the City of Richmond 50 miles to the south and Alexandria 50 miles to the north. Each endeavored to draw unto itself farm and forest products from the surrounding region and the Shenandoah Valley. For Fredericksburg a number of schemes, all privately financed, were attempted. These included a canal upstream along the river, industrial development, and a narrow gauge rail line aimed toward Gordonsville to the west. Each attempt was plagued with difficulties. In the 1850’s, in what is termed the third so-called revitalization campaign, another attempt was made to capture the illusive but never reached goal of domination of trade. To be sure, various factories and businesses were started up in Fredericksburg. The Gordonsville and Fredericksburg Railroad Company had cleared and graded the right of way at least to Orange, Virginia. Into this mix of entrepreneurial dreams was an annual fair, run by the Rappahannock River Agricultural and Mechanical Society fair. Initially the fair was held on the Kenmore estate near the Mary Washington house. The fair outgrew this site and attempted to use other locations with varying success. The city fathers eventually invested in the Caldwell development, which laid aside approximately ten acres for the fair. This land development scheme subdivided the best land west of the city into parcels of varying size. This land lay between Marye’s Heights, fronted by Telegraph Road (called Courthouse Road on the subdivision map) at its base, and the city proper. On the north side, the development abutted Hanover Street which becomes the Swift Run Gap Turnpike as it progresses west over Marye’s Heights. To the south, it apparently included the railroad properties of the Fredericksburg and Gordonsville line, then under development, as well as the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad. The southern boundary of the development was at Hazel Run. Altogether, the Caldwell tract incorporated approximately 90 acres, of which 45 acres were prime lots. The ten acres purchased by the city was on the highest ground and became its centerpiece. The Fairground was given the name “Mercer Square” in honor of General Hugh Mercer, a local Revolutionary War hero who was killed at the Battle of Princeton in 1777. It excluded the less desirable and difficult to develop low land along the canal-ditch.
This enlarged and cropped copy of subdivision map highlights important points of interest as they existed during the December 1862 battle. This view is centered upon the “prime lots’. Note the parcel dimensions as well as ownership of adjacent properties just outside the actual subdivision.
This document clearly lays out intended streets as well as their widths. The named streets were Mercer, Fair, Weedon, Spottswood, Charlotte, Frederick, Spring, and Willis. In 1862, at the time of the battle, most streets were undeveloped or merely unimproved tracks. Mercer Street located between the Fairgrounds and the Stratton property probably did not connect to Telegraph Road based upon recent archeological work. Fair Street (today called Littlepage) appears as a north-south road trace in period photographs. The Charlotte Street extension from the city proper to the eastern wall of the fairgrounds, crossing the canal ditch did not exist. The deed reads;
MERCER SQUARE or FAIR GROUNDS
14 March 1855 Deed Book/Page R/349/351 Caldwell et. al sells 10 acres to Mayor of Community of the Town of Fredericksburg
“…witnesseth, that in consideration of coupon Bonds of the Corporation of Fredericksburg to the amount of three thousand dollars payable on 14th day of March 1875 … do grant with general warranty unto the Mayor of Commonalty of the Town of Fredericksburg a certain lot or parcel of ground situated in the Town afore said and bounded as follows viz, Beginning at a point S26E four hundred and seventy two feet from a point in the stone wall on the south side of the Swift Run Gap Turnpike opposite the house now occupied by George Rowe, Running from the said beginning point S26E seven hundred and twenty six (726) feet hence S26W six hundred (600) feet; thence N26W seven hundred and twenty six (726) feet and thence N24E six hundred (600) feet to the beginning point, containing by a survey made by William Sneeden and hereto annexed as part of this deed, 10 acres – and the parties last named above do hereby and fore consideration herein before mentioned, also grant with general warranty unto the Mayor and Commonalty of the Town of Fredericksburg, the ground which will be occupied by three avenues or streets leading to the said ten acre lot, as follows, viz; one sixty feet in width leading from the Turnpike afore said to the lot; another fifty one feet in width connecting with the said lot with the Courthouse Road, the location of both of which avenues or streets shall be fixed and determined by the proper authorities of the said Town; and the third also fifty one feet in width shall be a prolongation or extension of Charlotte Street to the said lot and the said William Mitchell with hereby, for consideration here-in-before mentioned, grant with general warranty unto the said mayor and Commonality of the Town of Fredericksburg the ground which will be occupied by Charlotte Street extended fifty one feet in width through the land purchased by him of J.W. Whittemore and Peter Goolrick and Hay B. Hoomes, the ground hereby conveyed to be occupied by avenues or streets is to be held by the said Mayor and Commonalty of the Town of Fredericksburg as public highways, in Trust for the free use and enjoyment thereof by the public and for all such uses and purchases and with the same control over, rights as to and powers hereto appertaining and none others, as appertain to the streets of the said Town, which have also been dedicated as public highways….”
Between 1856 and 1860, the initial investors were able to sell off a considerable portion of their parcels, or hedge their bets. For instance, Peter Goolrick and Absalom Rowe, substantial landowners in their own right, were selective in which parcels they retained. Peter Goolrick owned the land immediately east of the Caldwell Tract. On the following map, I highlighted the ownership as it existed in 1860-1862.
Land ownership map from data found in the Circuit Court tax records.
The largest landowners were 1. The railroads – 45 acres, the City (Mercer Square) – 10 Acres, Rowe/Phillips – 8 acres, Rowe – 5 acres. Dedicated roads and streets consumed another 5+ acres. Many of these land holdings were partially developed by the time of the battle in December 1862. Enough so that fencing is mentioned in numerous Union accounts of the battle. Considering the names of the individuals involved, this was in reality a railroad development plan sweetened by the Fairgrounds with prime development plots which could be used for farming or other purposes. I will visit some of these properties in future posts.
Following the Civil War, the city was broke. It needed to recoup its investment by selling the land. The City of Fredericksburg, and the entire south for that matter, was economically crippled. The City had lost citizenry, both white and former slave, to the chaos of war. It is well documented that the city was a ravaged shadow of its former self. In fact, it would take until World War II before it recovered its population to pre-Civil War levels. We find this record on file in the court. The deed reads;
6 May 1868 Deed Book/Page U/408 Town of Fredericksburg sells of Fair Grounds to Albert G. Carver.
“That the Public Property Committee be instructed to sell the property known as the “Fair Grounds” for the sum not less than $2,500, the proceeds to be conveyed under direction of the Finance Committee, into the bonds of the Corporation in the most favorable terms possible ”And Whereas the said Public Property Committee, consisting of John G. Hurkamp, George, Eve and William Morrison, in purchase of the said instructions, have contracted to sell the said real estate to the said barer of said sum of twenty five hundred dollars ~ Now this deed witnesseth , that the said Mayor and Community of Fredericksburg, in consideration of the premises, and of the said sum of twenty five hundred dollars, paid and secured to be paid, do grant and convey, with general warranty, unto said Albert G. Carver all that parcel as lot of land situated in the said town and known as the “Fair Grounds” or “Mercer Square”, containing ten acres of non-occupied [land] and into the possession of Dr. William G. Scott – It being the same ten acres of land which was conveyed to the said Mayor of Community of Fredericksburg by deed dated the 14th day of march 1855 and duly executed by Geo. A. Caldwell and others – to which deed which was duly recorded in the Clerk’s office of the Corporation Court of Fredericksburg, reference is references is hereby in order for a full description of the boundaries of the ten acres of land hereby conveyed ~ In witness thereof the said Mayor of Community of Fredericksburg, by the hand of Charles E. Mallan, their acting mayor, hereby duly authorized by resolution of their Common Council, have hereunto set their Corporation seal… May 6th 1868.”
The property was then sold to William A. Little on the same date.
More about this land and its subsequent development in later posts.