Historic Fredericksburg Foundation’s 49th annual Candlelight Tour comes to Upper Caroline Street this year, with five homes in the 1300 and 1500 blocks specially decorated for the event.
In a city of historic neighborhoods, Upper Caroline Street is a frontrunner for most historic. Its origins as owned land date back to as early as 1662, when a patent was awarded to Capt. Thomas Hawkins, a friend of the earliest Virginia Washingtons.
The building that became Rising Sun Tavern at 1304 Caroline St. dates to 1760 and was originally the home of Charles Washington, George’s younger brother. Much of the neighborhood’s land by then was owned by Fielding Lewis, George Washington’s brother-in-law and builder of the 1772 Kenmore Mansion. (Fielding’s father, Col. John Lewis, built the Lewis store, now the headquarters of HFFI, at 1200 Caroline St., in 1749.)
In 1862, the Union army came to town, crossing the Rappahannock on pontoon bridges, one of which was just upstream from where the Chatham Bridge is now, and proceeded to leave a path of destruction through that area of town.
Though Union troops torched some structures and wrecked others with cannon fire from Chatham on the Stafford side of the river, some damage was no doubt inflicted by the city’s Confederate defenders, whose own artillery fire fell upon houses as well as the Union invaders.
How Rising Sun Tavern survived the onslaught with repairable damage is unclear, but maybe the fact that it was a tavern had something to do with it. Many, or most, neighboring structures were left beyond repair or destroyed. Rebuilding was going to take time. Two of the homes tour-takers will visit, 1308 and 1310 Caroline St., weren’t built until 1911.
The home at 1308 Caroline has undergone a major renovation by owners Chuck and Susan Fennell, who continue to work on the house. The Fennells bought the property in 2015 but waited to move in until 2017 as renovations continued.
These days, the house looks to be in pristine condition. And for the Candlelight Tour, it will have the added benefit of being decorated by Lauren Becker of The Layered Home in Fredericksburg. Though Becker will provide some decorations, and HFFI will supply the fresh greens, many items incorporated into the décor are from the Fennells’ own collection.
“This is their home and it should reflect their personality,” Becker said this week. “Everything I do is done in harmony with the house and the client.”
To that end, for example, Becker noted that Chuck Fennell’s collection of old Lionel trains will be on display here and there amid the decorations.
Tour-takers will be greeted by a 1911 American flag, which had 46 stars at the time. They’ll see a house that’s an authentic and well-preserved example of late Victorian architecture as it transitioned into the Craftsman style of the early 20th century. Visitors should take note of the tiger maple columned fireplace mantel in the front parlor, and the egg and dart carved trim on the mantel and front door. The heart pine floors look great with the patina of their age.
As the Fennells tell it, the work they’ve done and had done on the house was a labor of love.
“This was something Susan and I always wanted to do,” Chuck Fennell said. “We looked for years until we found the right property.”
He added that people who take on old-house renovations are often greeted with surprises as the work proceeds. Fennell prefers to call them “opportunities.”
Susan Fennell recalls the hours she spent scraping plaster and paint off of brick chimneys and fireplace surrounds that now contribute to the handsome period décor.
“The idea was to keep everything as original as possible,” Susan Fennell said. Though the home’s walls are the original plaster, some ceilings that had sustained water damage were replaced with drywall.
She added that work above the front parlor ceiling revealed both gas lines and the early knob-and-tube electrical system that served the house. A chandelier in the parlor is a combination design that used both gas and electricity—perhaps because electricity was not all that dependable at the time.
A previous Free Lance–Star story about 1308 Caroline had it built by prolific early 20th century local builder E.G. “Peck” Heflin. But a new HFFI marker report compiled by researcher Richard Hansen suggests that it was designed by local architect and Heflin contemporary Philip N. Stern, and that the actual builder is uncertain.
Visitors will be limited to touring the main level, which provides plenty to see. The foyer is large and welcoming, with the stairway to the right and the front parlor to the left. The rear parlor, separated from the front by large pocket doors, serves as the dining room. The ceilings are 10 feet on the main level.
The Fennells sing the praises of both the general contractor for the renovation, Dallas Barnes of Stonehaven Homes, and local architect Sabina Weitzman of Design Works Studio, who designed the structural changes. Shoutouts also go to Emily Dolan, a designer with Kitchen Works, and Jeff Gandee of Fredericksburg Painting Services.
A major part of the project was the “down-to-the-studs-and-joists” renovation of the kitchen, which also involved a reconfiguration of a previous remodel. Doorways were widened to open up the space and blend it with the adjacent sun room. The sun room was created by previous owners Stafford and Carol Caldwell by enclosing rear porch space—exterior clapboards, window and shutters retained.
The Fennells are particularly proud of the pantry chest or cabinet they found at Salvagewrights, Inc., an old structure parts warehouse in Orange. The pantry, claimed from an old United Methodist parsonage in Luray, has its original wavy glass and was a near-perfect fit in the intended space. The pantry’s back panel was missing, but wood saved from elsewhere in the house was used to replace it.
The second story, which is not part of the tour, now has three bedrooms and two full bathrooms. One bedroom was sacrificed and space reconfigured during the renovation to add a master bathroom, walk-in closet and a laundry alcove.
Attic space already finished off but in need of TLC has become inviting office or spare bedroom space. Elbow grease and a layer of clear coat have beautified the original heart pine floor.
In the backyard is a detached garage, designed by Weitzman and built by Stonehaven, with workshop on the main level and living space upstairs. The upstairs floors were another interesting find by the Fennells—1.5-inch oak hardwood discovered in Bowling Green that had served as flooring for the Fredericksburg Opera House, which no longer exists.