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Respecting 'what came before': Family preserves, lives in Colonial-era house
The Mortimer house on Caroline Street in downtown Fredericksburg was built in 1764.
Photos by SUZANNE CARR ROSSI/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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Date published: 4/12/2007
For Dr. Michael McDermott and Cindy Taylor, the 14-month restoration of their home at 213 Caroline St. yielded one buried treasure after another.
Out of curiosity, they ripped up the home's oak-plank flooring only to discover beautiful heart-pine floors beneath that date back to the house's construction in 1764.
Tucked into the walls next to numerous picture windows, they uncovered the home's original fold-out shutters, complete with butterfly hinges, hand-cut nails and a coat of Colonial-era paint.
Stripping away plaster, they revealed the home's original brick walls.
And between floors and behind walls, they unburied treasure of a more personal nature: pharmacy bottles, letters, pictures and newspaper clippings left behind by previous residents.
"I always say my favorite thing about being here is the sense of who walked these floors, who had Thanksgiving dinner in the dining room--which we do--who stayed up with a sick child. You think about it," said Taylor. "I love that about the house."
Before Kenmore, before Chatham, before Federal Hill there was the Mortimer House. It was named for its first resident and Fredericksburg's first mayor, Dr. Charles Mortimer, the physician to George Washington's mother, Mary.
Legend has it that Mortimer hosted a dinner in his dining room in 1784 that counted George Washington, the Marquis de Lafayette and the Count de Rochambeau among the guests.
That dining room is one of the home's best-preserved attractions, featuring floor-to-ceiling wood-paneled walls, a style that had passed by the time Kenmore was built in the 1770s.
Though other design elements were altered over the years to keep up with changing styles--about 1817, a fireplace separating the living and family rooms was moved to a side wall to open up the downstairs--no one ever touched the dining room.
"Pretty much this room, from 1764 until now, is the way it was," said McDermott.
The couple bought the home in 2001 and lived in it with their three children for a year before moving into a downtown apartment to make way for the restoration.
"We knew what we needed to do to live here--to respect the house and live here," Taylor said. "We wanted to respect what came before us."