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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Then & Gone - When the Will to Preserve Fails

The following images are of a home which stood at 1407 Caroline Street in Fredericksburg, but it was demolished by the current property owner this past June. By law, the owner was within his right to tear it down as there was a standing code violation issued to the previous owner, deeming it an unsafe structure, unfit for human habitation. Much interest and concern had existed toward this structure for over a decade, yet no serious efforts were mounted to protect or purchase it for restoration, a project that would have carried a sizable price tag.The first solid date that can be given to at least a good portion of this building is approximately 1790. Damage claims filed by Robert Hart after the Civil War indicate the building had been severely damaged during the Battle of Fredericksburg. Tax records show the structure had been brought to a value of $0, and by 1867 extensively rebuilt or repaired. There are no known images of this building that provide an indication of its wartime appearance. All the well known photographs  of the upper pontoon crossing, showing buildings along upper Sophia and Caroline Streets from the Stafford County shore, are unfortunately angled in such a way that this address is out of view. The same goes for sketches by period newspaper artists such as Alfred Waud.
This is the Caroline Street front of the house, as seen in a April 2010 photograph. Despite suggestions otherwise, the home had not been a total loss when damaged by Union artillery fire in December 1862. Information gathered from former residents of the house speak of visible shell damage within the superstructure and small arms projectiles lodged in exterior woodwork. Knowledgeable historical architects attest to many interior elements of the house appeared to be original to the supposed date of construction. Despite the need for obvious repairs and exacerbating damage by mysterious fires in its final days, witnesses who had gained access to tour the interior claim it was surprisingly sound and not altogether worthy of mandatory demolition.
The same approximate view as seen within days of its demolition, in June 2011.
Two mysterious fires damaged the house over the last winter of its existence,
some of which is seen in this view of the rear taken in April 2011.
The same approximate view below, after demolition.
Here (click link) is a letter (heavily edited) that was submitted to the City and various media outlets, by Marilynn Deane Mendell, who resigned as chair of the Architectural Review Board after the demolition of this house.
 Above is a detail from a stereo view image taken by Timothy O'Sullivan in March 1863. Please click on the image to enlarge. Note the approximate position of the south east property corner for 1407 Caroline Street as it rests on Sophia Street. The house itself is unfortunately obscured by the tree foliage on the right edge.
An aerial map of the area around 1407 Caroline Street, oriented in a similar fashion to the photograph above. Click to enlarge. Hawke Street is indicated by the bordering red lines as it comes up the slope from the pontoon boat landing. Note the south east property corner in relation to the location of the house.

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