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Venerable Dick house long a city landmark

May 29, 2009 1:57 am

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A barrel ceiling follows the contour of a half-round window in the master suite. hh0529charlesdickhouse4a.jpg

The sunroom doubles as a guest bedroom, with river views. hh0529charlesdickhouse1.jpg

The Charles Dick House at 1107 Princess Anne St. sits well back from the street, giving it a broad front yard, a rare feature downtown. hh0529charlesdickhouse3.jpg

Reine-Marie Wojciechowski turned this room, next to the dining room, into her home office and library.

BY RICHARD AMRHINE

Houses are historic not merely because they are old, but also because of the people who lived in them.

The Charles Dick House, at 1107 Princess Anne St., not only has the old part sewn up, dating to around 1750, but it was also originally owned by notable resident Charles Dick, a key member of a circle of friends that included Fielding Lewis and George Washington.

After 259 years, a variety of additions and several changes in ownership, the house remains a Fredericksburg landmark and one of its oldest surviving homes.

Now, after four years of ownership, Reine-Marie and Robert Wojciechowski have listed the property for sale with Bill Smith of Sun Realty of Virginia. The asking price is $1.85 million.

Since 2006, the Wojciechowskis have operated a two-bedroom bed-and-breakfast at the property under a special-use permit that new owners would need to reapply for, according to city officials.

The house remains a solid structure full of original features. Utilities have been updated over time to what is now a six-zone central heating and air-conditioning system.

Features such as odd-sized doors and original foyer flooring that alternates heart pine and mahogany boards are among the home's many endearing qualities, Reine-Marie Wojciechowski said.

"The house has many quirks, but that's what makes it so much fun to live in," she said.

MAKING RENOVATIONS

The couple has been investing in renovations for the house since moving in, but such houses are always a work in progress.

The house is listed with six bedrooms, four bathrooms and two half-baths. There are nine fireplaces, putting one in nearly every room. All are working and wood-burning. Finished living space is about 5,000 square feet. The house sits on an L-shaped lot of nearly a half-acre.

All of the rooms are large, and even the original portion of the house has ample closet space--seldom seen in 18th-century homes.

The house includes a separate cottage believed to date to the mid-19th century that is currently renter-occupied. When the Wojciechowskis bought the property, the cottage roof had collapsed, allowing interior water damage. It has been completely repaired and given a new roof. The second-story living space is above a two-car garage.

HISTORIC ROOTS

The Charles Dick House's history reaches back to Fredericksburg's earliest days. Local historian and author Paula Felder has written and researched extensively on the property.

Felder reports that Dick first came to the neighborhood in 1744, buying a portion of lot 51 on Caroline Street from developer John Allan. Dick would put his new store there, less than a block away from the Lewis Store.

Though little is known about Dick before the 1740s, other than that he lived in Caroline and Spotsylvania counties, 1750 proved a big year for the 35-year-old Scotsman. He married Mary Roy, daughter of Caroline County physician Mungo Roy. He also bought another parcel, lot 52, from Allan. It adjoined the rear of lot 51 and bordered on Princess Anne Street, which was an unpaved path at the time.

Lot 52 was on a bluff overlooking his Caroline Street store and the Rappahannock River beyond. A stairway let him move easily between the two. It was the perfect spot for him to build a new and fitting house for his bride.

He may have felt compelled to build a nice home because Mary's sister had married attorney John Mercer, who already owned Marlborough, a mansion on Potomac Creek.

Dick's house, originally a single story, was oriented toward the river, making the Princess Anne Street side the rear of the lot, where the privy was located. The main stairway in the foyer still lands at what is now the back door.

According to Felder's research, "Physical evidence in the home supports a mid-18th-century construction date, including mortised and tenoned joints in the basement beams, pegged and [Roman] numbered rafters in the attic, a T-shaped chimney structure, and the use of wrought-iron nails."

The house has long entertained historic figures and events. George Washington visited at least once, when he "dined and supped" in 1771, according to his diary. The house took Minie-ball fire during the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862. Presidents Grover Cleveland and Calvin Coolidge stopped by during their administrations.

DICK AND THE GUNNERY

In 1775, Dick teamed up with Fielding Lewis (now that Lewis had completed Kenmore) to run the Fredericksburg gunnery. It would supply muskets for Colonial troops throughout the Revolution, while also repairing muskets captured from the British.

The operation took a heavy toll on the health and finances of both men, who apparently viewed it as more of a patriotic enterprise than a profit-making business.

Lewis died in 1781, and Dick, who had been suffering from asthma since at least 1779, died in 1783 at age 68. The working conditions at the gunnery were probably partly to blame. He also was deeply in debt, another cost of the gunnery.

Subsequent owners of Dick's house made several changes. In 1802, a stone kitchen was added to the home's south end. It was the first time the house had an attached kitchen, and Aquia sandstone was used because of its fire-retardant qualities and its ready availability. Shortly thereafter, by 1808, the roof was raised to create a second story.

A century later, John W. Masters bought the house and added the two-story columned portico, officially changing the orientation of the house to face Princess Anne Street. Later, a two-story addition, with upper and lower sunrooms, was built on the back.

More recently, in 1985, a modern wing, with family room downstairs and master suite upstairs, was added by owners John and Mona Albertine.

Richard Amrhine: 540/374-5406
Email: ramrhine@freelancestar.com





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