The Rappahannock region is resilient. Since the first European settlers came in the 17th century, citizens of this area have been faced with overwhelming odds, which they have overcome. Before those settlers, the native people survived wars, famine and disease. A rich tradition of oral history has passed those stories through the generations.
Often, several events occurred at once. At the beginning of the Civil War, in 1861, the Fredericksburg area was flooded with soldiers from all over the South, like those from the 1st Arkansas. Outsiders, meant to defend from invading Union forces, became ill with scarlet fever, measles, small pox and typhus. Troops occupied low-lying, swampy areas of Stafford County near the Potomac. For generations, locals had fled the heat, humidity and insects and moved to the higher and drier areas during the summer months. Not possible for the Confederates who had to defend the river. Then fighting came with many casualties. Afterward, the residents pulled together and rebuilt their lives and businesses.
Life continued into the twentieth century. America kept to itself until being pulled into World War I. The War Memorial at George and Barton Streets gives testimony to those sacrifices. When the soldiers came home, it is believed they brought the Spanish Flu. It struck down the young and the healthy. Family stories contain accounts of grandmothers, uncles and children who perished.
The area continued to grow and to prosper, thanks to the Sylvania Plant, which made cellophane. It opened at the eve of the Depression. Every family had a least one member who worked there. It afforded jobs for chemists, clerks, drivers, mechanics, laborers - all skill levels. Others worked at Fort A.P. Hill, Marine Corps Base Quantico and garment manufacturers. There are few stories about poverty and deprivation due to the stability provided by these employers.
World War II brought more changes and challenges, including the Flood of '42. Civilians and military members came to support war efforts at the local bases. Finding the area pleasant, marrying into local families, many stayed on contributed to the growth and diversity of the area. We have continued to prosper and now we are faced with another challenge, a world-wide pandemic. Make no mistake, this will bring changes, but we are strong people, we will survive.
We can't invite you to visit the Center right now, but you can take this time to do many productive things at home. Think of those family records, photos, genealogy research - all those things that you have put aside for a rainy day. Now is the time to work on these projects. And if you do have items you wish to share with the Center, please let us know.
Take care and we hope to see you soon.