THE CITY COUNCIL faces yet another important decision impacting Fredericksburg’s, and indeed America’s, history; in this case, regarding another major historic monument.
In question is the caretaker’s cottage adjacent to the Mary Washington Monument on Washington Avenue. No consideration was evidently given to the historic importance of the house in relationship to the monument. It was seemingly regarded as just a neighboring house. .
As a matter of fact, both the granite obelisk and the house made of local stone are part of the same monument to Mary Washington, the mother of our first American president.
She chose a rocky site just north of Kenmore, her son-in-law’s house, as her burial site. It was a place she frequently came to pray for her son, George, especially during the Revolutionary War.
Fielding Lewis, Mary’s son-in-law and George’s brother-in-law, made the chosen site available, and in 1789, Mary Washington was buried there. It was decided that she needed a monument, and a donor came forward with funds to erect one.
The monument was designed and President Andrew Jackson came down from Washington to lay the cornerstone. This small, but important monument suffered vandalism over time and severe damage during the Civil War.
Not much happened until 1889, when a developer acquiring the Kenmore property decided it would be necessary to move the Mary Washington Monument to another site.
Upon learning of the potential move, local residents were very upset, as Mary Washington was an iconic Fredericksburg figure with national and international notoriety.
The resulting public fight over the monument led to planning for a larger memorial on the site, to which the developer agreed. Sculptor William J. Crawford was selected to design the current memorial.
By 1894, the monument, as well as the monument’s caretaker’s cottage, were evidently completed. This house played an important role in the monument’s opening ceremony, with President Grover Cleveland attending the dedication.
For 160 years, the entire site has pleased thousands of other dignitaries, visitors and citizens who have visited, driven, or walked by and viewed the monument and house on Washington Avenue.
What should be considered here is that the entirety of Washington Avenue, Fredericksburg’s most beautiful and historic street, is an asset of the Mary Washington Monument. This unique avenue should be preserved with the monument and caretaker’s cottage as its capstone.
The council should now take decisive action to make sure the caretaker’s cottage continues its role as a companion structure to the monument.
When the Mary Washington Monument and Caretaker’s Cottage were deeded to the City of Fredericksburg in 1966, the two were considered one 4-acre parcel to be owned and cared for by the city in perpetuity.
Such things need to be left alone. They are part of our present and our past. They ought to be part of our future as well.