City of Fredericksburg

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Fredericksburg is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia located 50 miles south of Washington, D.C., and 58 miles north of Richmond. As of the 2000 census, the city had a population of 19,279. The Bureau of Economic Analysis combines the city of Fredericksburg with neighboring Spotsylvania County for statistical purposes. It is a part of the Washington Metropolitan Area.

A sizable part of the population of Fredericksburg and its side of the Washington Metropolitan Area commute to work by car, bus, and rail to Fairfax, Prince William, and Arlington counties, as well as Washington, D.C. This has led to a long-standing debate in the area over whether or not Fredericksburg has become a part of Northern Virginia culturally, with strong arguments on both sides.

Located on the Rappahannock River near the head of navigation at the fall line, Fredericksburg developed as the frontier of colonial Virginia shifted west out of the coastal plain. The land on which the city was founded was part of a tract patented in 1671. The Virginia General Assembly established a fort on the Rappahannock in 1676, just below the present-day city. In 1714, Lt. Gov. Alexander Spotswood sponsored a German settlement called Germanna on the Rapidan River, a tributary of the Rappahannock upstream from the future site of the city, and led an expedition westward over the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1716.

As interest in the frontier grew, the colonial assembly responded by forming a new county named Spotsylvania (after the governor) in 1720 and establishing Fredericksburg in 1728 as a port for the county, of which it was then a part. Named for Frederick, Prince of Wales, son of King George II, the colonial town's streets bore the names of members of the royal family. The county court was moved to Fredericksburg in 1732 and the town served as county seat until 1780 when the courthouse was moved closer to the county center. Fredericksburg was incorporated as a town, with its own court, council, and mayor, in 1781.

It received its charter as an independent city in 1879. The city adopted its present city manager/council form of government in 1911.

The city has close associations with George Washington, whose family moved to Ferry Farm in Stafford County just off the Rappahannock River opposite Fredericksburg in 1738. Washington's mother Mary later moved to the city, and his sister Betty lived at Kenmore, a plantation house then outside the city. Other significant early residents include the Revolutionary War generals Hugh Mercer and George Weedon, naval war hero John Paul Jones, and future U.S. president James Monroe.

The city's development and success was based on other significant residents, enslaved Africans with varied skills, who were critical to its growth. "Slaves worked on plantations, on the docks, in iron industries, mining and quarries, mercantile businesses, construction, domestic services, and others were skilled blacksmiths, coopers, cobblers, and draymen. African Americans were vital in the development of the area."

During the 19th century, Fredericksburg sought to maintain its sphere of trade but with limited success. It promoted the development of a canal on the Rappahannock and construction of a turnpike and plank road to bind the interior country to the market town. By 1837, a north-south railroad, which became the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad, linked the town to Richmond, the state capital. A much-needed railroad joining the town to the farming region to the west was not finished until after the American Civil War.

During the Civil War, Fredericksburg gained strategic importance due to its location midway between Washington and Richmond, the opposing capitals of the Union and the Confederacy. During the battle of Fredericksburg, December 11–15, 1862, the town sustained significant damage due to bombardment and looting at the hands of Union forces. A second battle was fought in and around the town on May 3, 1863, in connection with the Chancellorsville campaign (April 27, 1863 – May 6, 1863). The battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House were fought nearby in May 1864.

After the war, Fredericksburg recovered its former position as a center of local trade and slowly grew beyond its prewar boundaries. The University of Mary Washington was founded here in 1908 as the State Normal and Industrial School for Women. Adopting the name of Mary Washington College in 1938, the college was for many years associated with the University of Virginia as a women’s liberal arts college. The college became independent of UVA and began to accept men in 1970. Recently, the college changed names from Mary Washington College to The University of Mary Washington. A separate campus for graduate and professional studies is located in suburban Stafford County.

Today Fredericksburg is the commercial hub of a rapidly growing region in north central Virginia. Despite recent decades of suburban growth, reminders of the area’s past abound. A 40-block national historic district embraces the city’s downtown area and contains more than 350 buildings dating to the 18th and 19th centuries. Notable homes include Kenmore, home of Washington’s sister Betty, and the Mary Washington House, where his mother spent her final years. The historic district draws crowds of tourists to Fredericksburg during the summer months.

Other historic buildings and museums include the late 18th century Rising Sun Tavern, Hugh Mercer apothecary shop, and the James Monroe law office museum. Significant public buildings include the 1852 courthouse designed by James Renwick, whose works include the Smithsonian Institution’s castle building in Washington and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, and the 1816 town hall and market house. The latter building now houses a local history museum and cultural center.

Nearby points of interest include George Washington Birthplace National Monument, located 38 miles to the east in Westmoreland County, and the Ferry Farm historic site in Stafford County where Washington spent his boyhood across the river from Fredericksburg. The historic community of Falmouth lies across the Rappahannock to the north and includes the historic house Belmont, home of American artist Gari Melchers.

The area’s Civil War battles are commemorated in Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. Formed by an act of Congress in 1927, the national military park preserves portions of the battlefields of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House. The Fredericksburg National Cemetery, also part of the park, is located on Marye’s Heights on the Fredericksburg battlefield and contains more than 15,000 Union burials from the area’s battlefields.

The power chord of modern guitar was first developed by Link Wray in Fredericksburg in 1958 during his first improvisation of the instrumental piece "Rumble", a single released by Wray & His Ray Men. The local music scene includes a wide variety of genres.

In 2008, Fredericksburg, like the rest of Virginia, became a focal point for candidates in the presidential election. On September 27, 2008, on the University of Mary Washington campus, United States Senator and Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama and Vice-Presidential candidate, Senator Joe Biden, held a campaign rally that drew roughly 26,000 supporters. Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Governor Sarah Palin drew 8,000 people to a rally on October 27.

City of Fredericksburg

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