Reconstruction and Growth (1865-1917)

The period of reconstruction in Fredericksburg following the Civil War is marked by a struggling economy and slow growth. The collapse of the plantation system severely impacted the city's economy, as it relied heavily on trade with the rural interior. Like other urban areas, Fredericksburg sought to establish a greater industrial base for the city. While the canal system that was expanded in the 1850s paved the way for water-powered mills and factories, it was not until the arrival of the railroad in Fredericksburg in 1872, along with capital from northern investors, that industrial activities began to surge and transform the city. Factory workers and free blacks settled heavily in the working class neighborhoods surrounding the factories, while those with newly acquired wealth constructed stately mansions in the developing neighborhoods to the west of the city.

1881 Image

Looking north toward the intersection of Caroline and William Streets
(Courtesy of the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation and the University of Mary Washington Historic Preservation Program)

The growing African-American population established neighborhoods, churches, and social halls within Fredericksburg. Many of these neighborhoods contained their own small commercial districts. Racial segregation was high during the decades following the Civil War, forcing African-American populations into neighborhoods on the fringes of the city.

In 1908, the State Normal and Industrial School for Women was founded which was later renamed Mary Washington College in 1938 after former Fredericksburg resident and mother of the first president of the Unites States, Mary Ball Washington. This institution was one of many public schools established in Fredericksburg during this period. Although still segregated, educational opportunities became available for both whites and blacks. This period of enlightenment also led to advancements in health care, the establishment of libraries, and social reforms.