The City of Fredricksburg
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Located on the Rappahannock River near the head of navigation at the fall line, Fredericksburg developed as the frontier of colonial Virginia shifted west out of the coastal plain. The land on which the city was founded was part of a tract patented in 1671. The Virginia General Assembly established a fort on the Rappahannock in 1676, just below the present-day city. In 1714, Lt. Gov. Alexander Spotswood sponsored a German settlement called Germanna on the Rapidan River, a tributary of the Rappahannock upstream from the future site of the city, and led an expedition westward over the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1716.

During the Civil War, Fredericksburg gained strategic importance due to its location midway between Washington and Richmond, the opposing capitals of the Union and the Confederacy. During the Battle of Fredericksburg, December 11–15, 1862, the town sustained significant damage from bombardment and looting by the Union forces. A second battle was fought in and around the town on May 3, 1863, in connection with the Chancellorsville campaign (April 27, 1863 – May 6, 1863). The battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House were fought nearby in May 1864.

After the war, Fredericksburg recovered its former position as a center of local trade and slowly grew beyond its prewar boundaries. The University of Mary Washington was founded here in 1908 as the State Normal and Industrial School for Women. Adopting the name of Mary Washington College in 1938, the college was for many years associated with the University of Virginia as a women’s liberal arts college. The college became independent of UVA and began to accept men in 1970. Recently, the college changed names from Mary Washington College to The University of Mary Washington. A separate campus for graduate and professional studies is located in suburban Stafford County. Today Fredericksburg is the commercial hub of a rapidly growing region in north central Virginia.

Despite recent decades of suburban growth, reminders of the area’s past abound. A 40-block national historic district embraces the city’s downtown area and contains more than 350 buildings dating to the 18th and 19th centuries. Notable homes include Kenmore, home of Washington’s sister Betty, and the Mary Washington House, where his mother spent her final years. Crowds of tourists are drawn to the historic district of Fredericksburg during the summer months. Other historic buildings and museums include the late 18th century Rising Sun Tavern, Hugh Mercer apothecary shop, and the James Monroe law office museum. Important public buildings include the 1852 courthouse designed by James Renwick, whose works include the Smithsonian Institution’s castle building in Washington and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, and the 1816 town hall and market house. The latter building now houses a local history museum and cultural center.