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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Chilly Spring Day at Chatham

IMG_2969On our way to points elsewhere, the family made a stop in Fredericksburg, Virginia, at an historic, Georgian-style house overlooking the Rappahannock River. Once a huge plantation with dozens of outbuildings, from dairy, to fish hatchery, to orchards, gristmill, ice house and stables, the 1,280-acre estate also utilized the services of about 100 slaves. The late 18th century home was built by William Fitzhugh, who finally put the house up for sale in 1796 because he had IMG_2949hundreds of guests visiting each year, driving him into near-poverty.

Through the years, many famous personages visited, dined, or lodged at Chatham, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Robert E. Lee, and Abraham Lincoln. During the Civil War, the estate was abandoned and overrun by the Union Army who made it into an encampment and surgery. Medical  attendants, commentators, and helpers spanned from Clara Barton to Walt Whitman, writing of a heap of soldiers’ amputated limbs piled high outside the estate’s front door.

IMG_2971Now just 85 acres, with a number of the outbuildings no longer on site, Chatham enjoyed a thorough restoration in the 1920s. Instead of bloodstains and graffiti, the house regained its reputation of elegance. The gardens, lawns and forests were replanted, as well.

Not boasting much in the way of actual furnishings any longer, Chatham was willed to the National Park Service in 1975. Volunteer docentsIMG_2952 staff the rooms which hold brief historical information. Entrance is by donation and a well-done, 12-minute film may be viewed.

Our family enjoyed the terraced lawn with its neo-classical statuary leading toward the river on a cold, spring day. Tulips and daffodils made their brave appearance, as did a couple of beavers on the edges of the property near a watery ravine. Civil War cannons pointed the way to what was once a chilling battlefield.

All told, a visit can easily be planned for a spare 30- to 60-minute time slot.  Chatham stands very close to Ferry Farm, boyhood home of George Washington.   On a warmer day, we might enjoy returning to stroll the grounds and see what else there may be to explore.

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