TAKE A TRIP down memory lane—or, more precisely, a city street.
Historic Fredericksburg Foundation Inc. will feature Sophia Street in its third annual Vintage Route 1 and Downtown Community Day on Saturday. Sept. 6.
Previous years featured stretches of U.S. 1 that channeled north–south travelers straight through small-town Fredericksburg in the pre-bypass, pre-interstate years of the mid-20th century.
Restaurants, service stations and tourist homes flourished along the national highway, which merged with Fredericksburg’s Princess Anne Street and Lafayette Boulevard.
One block away, Caroline Street—once named Main Street—also fared well.
Two blocks away, where the edge of town meets the edge of the river, Sophia Street—once the hub of Colonial river trade—missed out on the teeming tourist trade.
Organizers of Saturday’s event have condensed history into a 75-minute walking tour: “Sophia Street: The Road Route 1 Forgot.”
Not that being forgotten was necessarily a bad thing.
Kerri Barile, local archaeologist and architectural historian, compared the character of Sophia Street to the flip side of 45 record—45s were small vinyl records with hit tunes on one side, the “A” side, and a secondary tune on the other side.
Sometimes the “B” side offered intriguing surprises.
Sophia Street is like that, Barile said.
“So many wonderful hidden gems there embody the whole history of Fredericksburg. Its ups, its downs, its trials and tribulations.
“When Route 1 came in, Sophia Street got whatever didn’t fit on other main streets. That made it eclectic and exciting, but I don’t think people think about it that way today. People think about it as a leftover, but what people think of as a leftover has some really exciting ties to our past,” she said.
Like many of the city’s oldest streets, Sophia Street is named for 18th-century royals. There were several Sophias, but—according to Edward Alvey’s book “The Streets of Fredericksburg”—it is believed the Colonial city was honoring George II’s sister, Sophia, who was living when the streets were named.
As the town grew beyond those first streets, officials approved a new naming plan. Sophia Street became Water Street. It was, after all, beside the river.
The plan didn’t last, however.
In the 1930s, the city revived the old names. Water Street was history. Sophia was back with its own local pronunciation: Not So–FEE–a (the usual pronunciation for the feminine name), but So–FI–a (long “i” sound).
The Rappahannock River parallels Sophia Street, which has been flooded many times. Homes and businesses along the street bore the brunt of the first hours of the Battle of Fredericksburg. One survivor was Thornton’s Tavern at 523 Sophia St., which is confirmed as the oldest building in town. It’s had many lives: tavern, store, residence, tenant house, junk shop/taxidermy business (see photo), Serenity Home halfway house for recovering alcoholics, and now, newly restored to house businesses.
Shiloh Baptist Church (Old Site) has been a constant and vibrant presence at 801 Sophia St. since its construction in 1890. The congregation’s formation goes back even further, to 1854.
Some buildings on Sophia Street have been demolished; others have been at the center of preservation controversies. At 813 Sophia St., the home of an 18th-century silversmith was saved; it is now the Fredericksburg Center for the Creative Arts.
Plans for construction of Riverfront Park in the 600 block are underway.
The park will be the hub for much of the action Saturday. Other attractions will take place on nearby streets.
Emily Taggart Schricker, event coordinator, said, “We get the businesses and downtown involved. We want people to come spend the day downtown.
“There’s been a lot of interest,” she said of the annual event. “People think it’s really neat we’re doing
a different time in history.”
Jennifer Strobel: 540/374-5432
IF YOU GO
VINTAGE ROUTE 1/DOWNTOWN COMMUNITY DAY
10 a.m.: Riverfront Park opens with activities including classic cars, junior archaeology lab, hula-hoop headquarters, 20th-century history exhibits (1940s women’s fashion; water power; flood of 1942). Free tastings, Made in Virginia Store; free studio time, Pots & Palettes pottery studio.
11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.: “Sophia Street: The Road Route 1 Forgot.” Walking tour, $15 for nonmembers, $12 for Historic Fredericksburg Foundation Inc. members. Tickets on sale at Lewis Store, 1200 Caroline St. 540/371-4504.
11:30 a.m.: Stafford Standard Time (vocal standards)
1 p.m.: Vintage fashion show
2:30 p.m.: Mo Jo JaM (blues rock)
Home-video footage of the Heubi–Beck family from the 1940s and 1950s, including scenes of downtown Fredericksburg, the 1942 flood, Christmas parade. Shown through the day in the home theater showroom at Raven Hi–Fi, 214 William St.
Vintage Route 1/Downtown Community Day is supported by a JumpStart! grant from the Fredericksburg Economic Development Authority and individual sponsors.