Spend a History-Packed Weekend in Fredericksburg
All roads to freedom lead through Fredricksburg! This city, located in the Northern portion of the Commonwealth, is a Black history lover’s dream, whether your interest is in the Civil War or civil rights. This itinerary is packed with historical markers and trails and parks so be sure to put on your walking shoes and lace them up tight!
Day 1: Taking You to School
Visit the Fredericksburg Normal and Industrial Institute Historical Marker
This school opened in 1905 at the Shiloh New Site Baptist Church with about 20 students thanks to the efforts of Black people in the local area. By 1906, a large farmhouse was purchased and turned into school, which they named Mayfield. Mayfield’s original course of study was modeled after a university curriculum, offering classes in teacher education as well as English, math, history, geography, literature, Greek and music. By 1938, Mayfield High School, as it was then called, was pulled into Fredericksburg’s segregated school system.
See the Stafford Training School and Historical Marker
Stafford Training School was constructed in 1939 by the Public Works Administration after African American parents raised money to buy the land. On September 5, 1961, two young students, Doretha and Cynthia Montague, successfully began schooling at the all-white Stafford Elementary School, effectively ending segregation in nearby Stafford County, seven years after Brown v. Board of Education deemed school segregation unconstitutional.
The school building is still used by the county and currently houses the Parks and Recreation department. Make sure to stop by during the weekday: a mural featuring prominent people and dates in Stafford’s Black history is available for viewing just inside.
Stop for a snack at Jus Pop’n Gourmet Popcorn
Owned by local resident Carolyn Gipson, Jus Pop’n is proudly Black owned. Gipson decided to bring the idea of gourmet popcorn back to her home after attending a tasting in Waterloo, Iowa. She knew that the sweet, savory and endlessly experimental treats with flavor combinations like cinnamon toast and dill pickle would be well received. The name is a clever double-entendre—you’re always welcome to just pop in at Jus Pop’n!
See the bust of James Farmer, Civil Rights Leader, at the University of Mary Washington
James Leonard Farmer was born in Texas in 1920. In 1942, at the tender age of 22, he and other Civil Rights leaders founded the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in Chicago. In the spring of 1961, CORE organized "Freedom Riders" to desegregate interstate transportation in the Deep South. Farmer moved to Spotsylvania County in the 1980’s and taught at Mary Washington College (now University of Mary Washington) and received a Presidential Medal of Freedom along the way. He taught at the university until his death in 1999, leaving behind a legacy that has touched scores of Mary Washington graduates.
Add a little spice to your dinner at Pimenta
Owner Ray Simmons learned to cook from his mother. After cooking to the US from Jamaica when he was 13 years old, he kept making the dishes his mom taught him, all the while building his repertoire of classic yet innovative Jamaican cuisine. Now with his restaurant in downtown Fredericksburg, he’s bringing his classics to a whole new audience. The menu promises island favorites like whole red snapper and oxtails and a environment that will transport you straight to his island home.
Get some rest and feel right at home at Silver Collection Hotel
After a day of exploring and reading about history, you’ll be eager to kick back and relax with some modern amenities. Treat the Silver Collection’s well-appointed suites as your home base, you’ll find a fully equipped kitchen in every suite. There is a resort-style saltwater pool, sauna, steam room and spa services, an onsite Activities Director, and complimentary continental breakfast daily. With accommodations like this, you may be tempted to extend your trip.
Day 2: This is for the explorer in you
Kick back and relax a while at Curitiba Art Café
Curitiba Art Café isn’t your average coffee house—they consider themselves an artist’s hub. When you stop in, take note of the art on the walls and the music being played. See that group of people sitting at the long, communal table running through the space? Maybe they’re a group of writers hashing out a new draft. Community is the name of the game. Of course, their Brazilian espresso, coffee, craft cocktails, and fresh pastries don’t hurt the appeal, either.
Take a Trip to Widewater State Park to see the Palmer Hayden Historical Marker
Artist Palmer Hayden was born Peyton Cole Hedgeman in Widewater in 1890. After serving in the U.S. Army during World War I, he studied art at Columbia University. (Fun fact: it’s thought that the name he came to be known as came about as the result of a mistake on his military intake forms!) He achieved prominence as a painter during the Harlem Renaissance with his most notable works including his portrayals of ordinary African Americans in everyday life and his depictions of the legendary John Henry. The Museum of African American Art in Los Angeles houses a large collection of his work.
Head over to Aquia Landing Park for a glimpse of freedom
Aquia Landing Park is a 32-acre park located on a peninsula. It’s popular with fisherman and swimmers and is home to a large marsh that attracts a wide variety of birds, from songbirds to waterfowls like terns and gulls. According to the Stafford County website and the many historical markers onsite recount the “Trail to Freedom,” beginning in April 1862. “This beach has a special place in African-American history and is listed as an Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Site … 10,000 enslaved people … self-emancipated through Aquia Landing on their escape route to freedom." However, the Park’s importance as a railroad/steamship convergence didn’t start in 1862: notable people, include Henry “Box” Brown and William and Ellen Craft, sought their freedom along this path, as well.
It’s time to get some soul food at Souls Grill
Calling itself the “Best Food in Tha City,” Souls Grill will touch your soul with its Southern Style plates. Whether it’s fried fish, Chicken and Waffles or a Shrimp Po’Boy you’re craving, grab a plate to go—you’re sure to have leftovers!
Day 3: A good meal and historic moments
Enjoy a five-star meal at Foode + Mercantile
Founding partner of Foode and sister restaurant, Mercantile, Joy Crump is a bit of a star in the culinary world. She has appeared as a “chef-testant” on the Emmy-winning show, “Top Chef” and spent time cooking at the James Beard House two years in a row, so it’s safe to say this executive chef has proved herself. Relax over a special meal prepared with the best and freshest regional ingredients within an environment that prides itself on service and making you feel at home.
But don’t just stop by for the food! The building that houses the restaurant was originally the longest continually used bank in the United States as well as the site where enslaved man John Washington was one of the first people to self-emancipate in 1862. His autobiography, “A Slave No More” is required reading for anyone who wants to know more about the inhumanity of American slavery. You can pay your tribute to Washington by visiting his portrait—it’s hanging over the mantle at Foode.
See where the 23rd United States Colored Troops fought at Alrich Farm
The first combat in the Civil War between United States Colored Troops and Confederates north of the James River occurred at Alrich Farm. On May 15 1864, Confederate Brig. Gen. Thomas Rosser pushed forward the cavalry trying to determine the position of the Union army. His men encountered—and pushed back—the 2nd Ohio Cavalry. It was then that the nearby 23rd United States Colored Infantry hurried forward to support the calvary. After skirmishing with the Confederates, the 23rd charged and caused Rosser to withdraw.
Visit Shiloh Baptist Church, Both Old and New
At Shiloh Baptist Church ‘Old Site’, you’ll learn of the rich history of this building, but more importantly, of the rich culture of the congregations that had a vital role in making Fredericksburg what it is today. This historic church (801 Sophia Street) is located adjacent to Fredericksburg’s new Riverfront Park—a new favorite spot for those wanting to take in some truly scenic views (there’s even a splash pad for the little ones!)
Shiloh Baptist Church ‘New Site’ was established after the division of the Shiloh Baptist congregation. In 1905, Fredericksburg Normal and Industrial Institute (first and only black high school in the area) began in the basement. In the 1960s, the church played an important role in the Civil Rights Movement. On the corner of Shiloh New Site, make sure to visit the Historic markers that interpret the locations of the First Freedom Riders Stop and the important history of Princess Anne Street, which was a thriving economic area for Black residents and visitors prior to integration.