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Chatham sparkles for holiday
The Stafford County Historical Society's newest Christmas ornament adds another distinction for Chatham manor

  Lee Woolf's archive
  E-mail Lee Woolf
Date published: 11/3/2004


THE CHRISTMAS season has been celebrated behind the brick walls of Chatham in many ways since the famous home that overlooks the Rappahannock River was completed by William Fitzhugh in 1771.

Some of those holiday celebrations probably involved famous guests, lavish decorations and tables loaded with food. On other occasions, Christmas Day may have passed with only a lonely field mouse scampering across the floor seeking shelter in an otherwise deserted building.

Such is the history of many large Virginia plantation houses that survived both the Revolution and the Civil War.

But one thing that never has happened to this large Georgian mansion during the holidays--until this year, at least--is for Chatham to be reproduced as a Christmas ornament that area residents can hang on a tree in their own home.

The gold-finished, 3-D images of Chatham are being sold by the Stafford County Historical Society as a means of honoring historic sites in Stafford and to help raise funds for a county museum.

The Chatham ornament is the fourth in a commemorative series that includes Stafford Courthouse, George Washington's boyhood home at Ferry Farm and the 275th anniversary of Falmouth.

The cost of each ornament is $12.50 and they may be purchased at the front desk of the Stafford Government Center and at the gift shop at Belmont, the Gari Melchers Estate and Memorial Gallery in Falmouth.

Chatham is described in the society's newsletter as "one of America's great national treasures"--a label that seems well-deserved.

The list of visitors to the home includes presidents, humanitarians, literary figures, military leaders and industrialists. The building now serves as headquarters for the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

According to John Hennessy, chief historian for the local park, Chatham is the only home in America visited by both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

"They both were on the grounds at Mount Vernon and Berkeley Plantation," said Hennessy. "But Chatham is the only house where they both crossed the threshold."

Other famous visitors to Chatham include Clara Barton and Dr. Mary Walker, Walt Whitman and Washington Irving, and Gens. Robert E. Lee and George C. Marshall.

"Thomas Jefferson almost certainly visited Chatham, as well," said Hennessy. "But that's hard to document."

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