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Fredericksburg emphasizes history

I recently had the opportunity to make my first visit to Fredericksburg, Va. Why it took me so long to get there, I don't know. I've been told it was a place I should visit for many years. One big selling point is that it's only 90 minutes from my home.

This is a town steeped in Civil War history, which is one main reason there are so many visitors each year. On Dec. 13, 1862 there was a major battle as the Union fought the Confederates in a bloody battle within the town itself and along the Rappahannock River. By Dec. 16, it was all over. What was left was a destroyed town. Actually, the Confederates would fight four times on these grounds. Among the more notables names who fought here was Robert E. Lee.

In all, over 100,000 casualties resulted from these battles along with over 100 buildings leveled.

Today the town is alive and vibrant, perfect for walking. There are 350 original 18th and early 19th century buildings that remain within a 40-block area in the Historic District. The main street is Caroline where you'll find shops, restaurants, lodging and historic sites.

The town got its name from King George II's oldest son and it became a town in 1728. This is the boyhood home of George Washington. His mother's home is one of the attractions on the historic tour. I'm told if Washington were to return today, something very unlikely to happen, he'd recognize much of the town.

I enjoyed my strolls along Caroline Street. I discovered many interesting places. One of them was Goolrick's, the oldest continuously run soda fountain in America. It opened in 1867 and the fountain was installed in the 1920s. I just had to go in and talk to the owner and customers. It seems to be a popular place for the locals to meet. Try the lemonade.

Then there was Wally's Homemade Ice Cream. I asked if I could talk to Wally. That got a big laugh from those who heard me. It seems as if Wally is a parrot. He is kept in the back because he'd spend all day talking to the customers. I did get to taste about six flavors of ice cream. Down the street is Frenchman's Corner Shop offering outstanding chocolates from Belgium. I don't know why, but I spent quite a bit of time there. I was probably waiting for them to put out the samples.

I recommend you begin your visit with a stop at the Visitor's Center (706 Caroline) and pick up brochures. Then just step outside and take a trolley ride. This is a 75-minute narrated tour that will take you past many points of interest. Adult tickets are $17. If you like something, go back after the tour.

Some of the places of interest I'd suggest are the James Monroe Museum and Library - named after our 5th president - Hugh Mercer's Apothecary Shop, the Mary Washington House - bought in 1772 - the Fredericksburg Museum - which tells the story of the town's past - and of course the Fredericksburg Battlefield which should begin with a stop at their Visitors Center that will give you an overview of the battles. There are many other attractions, and this is where the Visitors Center comes in handy. They'd be happy to send you material before you go.

Interestingly, I learned that many people commute to Washington everyday for work by car or train. I do feel sorry for these folks. That trip (one way) can take 90 minutes.

If the weather is bad, they might as well call in sick.

For more information on the area go to http://www.fred.com.

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