Fredericksburg, located in between the two Civil War capitals of Washington, DC, and Richmond, Virginia, is situated on the falls of the Rappahannock River. For Virginia’s Native Americans, the falls were fishing and hunting grounds. For early settlers, the fall line was the colony’s first frontier. And for succeeding generations, the river brought both wealth and conflict.
Once a thriving inland port, Fredericksburg was a major contributor to the American cause during the Revolutionary War. In 1777, Thomas Jefferson was one of many who met there to draft the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which lay the groundwork for key elements of the U.S. Bill of Rights. Many buildings of the era still stand in the well-preserved historic district.
After the Revolutionary War, the city enjoyed a long period of prosperity, until its location made it a pivotal point in the Civil War, with both the Union and the Confederate troops clashing with each other, with significant losses on both sides.
Today, Civil War re-enactors bring the past to life for visitors, but Fredericksburg has also kept up with the times with a thriving historic district, a growing foodie scene, and activities from antiquing to wine-tasting to cater to every visitor. The kids aren’t forgotten either!
Music fans will be interested to know that the power chord of modern guitar was first developed by Link Wray in Fredericksburg in 1958 during his first improvisation of the instrumental piece “Rumble,”a single released by Wray & His Ray Men.
Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop
1020 Caroline St.
Kids will love learning about 18th-century Colonial medicinal practices, including watching creepy live leeches in a jar! Find out what treatment was used to cure a lady’s “hysteria” and what medicine could “cheer a man with a bad wife.”
Downtown Trolley Tour
This 75-minute tour throughout Downtown Fredericksburg’s 40-block historic district explores some of the city’s most popular and significant sites. Tours start at the Fredericksburg Visitor Center at 706 Caroline St. in Old Town.
Indulge Your Sweet Tooth
At Goolrick’s Pharmacy (901 Caroline St.), the oldest continuously running soda fountain in the U.S., you can sit at the counter and enjoy a classic malted milkshake, or sip an authentic cherry and chocolate Coke. Goolrick’s opened in 1869 as a pharmacy, and added the soda fountain in 1912, the first establishment to sell Coca-Cola products in Fredericksburg. Frozen custard devotees (I count myself as one!) won’t want to miss Carl’s Frozen Custard (2200 Princess Anne St.), a 1940s ice cream shop listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its Art Moderne architectural façade. The three flavors (vanilla, chocolate and strawberry) are churned in 120-gallon Electro-Freeze ice cream machines.
More than 100 specialty and antique shops, art galleries, and boutiques are located in the Historic District, which boasts more than 350 original 18th and early 19th century buildings. The city’s specialty antique shops draw objects from rural and urban estates throughout the Southeast, and include antique furniture, home accessories, jewelry, and eclectic curios.
Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania National Military Park
120 Chatham Lane
The Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania National Military Park is the second largest military park in the world, covering more than 8,000 acres and four battlefields: Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, The Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House. You can take a walking tour guided by park historians, and two visitor centers, at Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg, help interpret the battlefields with audiovisual presentations and museum exhibits.
Grapes & Grains Trail
Add some “spirit” to your visit with a behind-the-scenes, self-guided tour of four Fredericksburg area award- winning wineries, a brewery, and a distillery, including Hartwood Winery, Potomac Point Winery, Lake Anna Winery, Mattaponi Winery, Blue & Gray Brewing Co. and A. Smith Bowmen Distillery.
Through Dec. 31
Celebrate Stafford’s 350th Anniversary
Stafford County has a long history and much to celebrate and is doing so throughout the year with a lecture series, films, and special events such as this autumn’s History Fair, Wings & Wheels Festival and Air Show on October 18, and the Rowser African-American History Wall and Trail of Freedom Tour on Nov. 1.
Through Oct. 11
Brick and Boards in the ‘Burg
1001 Princess Anne St.
The Fredericksburg Area Museum & Cultural Center and Hallowed Ground Tours host history and architecture tours of Fredericksburg’s National Historic District, every Saturday at 10 a.m. from April through October, beginning at the City’s Market Square, located behind the Fredericksburg Area Museum. The tour lasts about an hour and covers 8-10 blocks. There is an admission fee.
Washington Heritage Museums County Fair
Old Mill Park at 2410 Caroline St.
Enjoy a classic county fair with food, music, entertainment, and family-friendly games, put on by Washington Heritage Museums, which maintains many of the city’s historic sites including the Mary Washington House, Rising Sun Tavern, and Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop. Purchase tickets in advance through the website.