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In 1889, new mansion was on the edge of town
1601 Caroline St. looking for a new owner and significant restoration work.

 The rear of the house has a two-story porch attached to the original portion and addition.
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Date published: 9/21/2012


To look at 1601 Caroline St. is to know that it is, or at least was, someplace special, and that in the proper hands it could become a magnificent addition to Fredericksburg's historic home collection.

What it is today, however, is a remarkable piece of city history that is riddled with potential, but in dire need of restoration. The wood-frame mansion could be a private residence or a bed-and-breakfast. It sits on a lot measuring two-thirds of an acre that extends back from Caroline Street with a significant slope down to the Rappahannock River. It's one of the few properties that extend from Caroline to the river after Sophia Street ends.

It is also just outside the city's Historic District, thereby not subject to the Architectural Review Board. But that also makes its eligibility for rehabilitation tax credits a bit more circuitous. Putting it on a path toward listings on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register would be one way. (See the separate information on tax breaks available to a new owner.)

It has been placed on the market by the Herman Groves estate, under the auspices of the executor and local attorney Blanton Massey. The asking as-is price is $795,000.


How this house came to look like it does, and how various additions were built and used, is what this story is all about.

"It's evolution since the turn of the century has left it with these mysteries and charm," said Massey during a tour of the house earlier this week. "There are all these questions about the construction decisions that were made."

The house was built in 1889 by J.W. Colbert, a local businessman and grocer. He had bought the lot from Anne Fitzhugh and the Stafford County Board of Supervisors, which had acquired it apparently as a landing site for a "free bridge" across the river, but those plans were subsequently abandoned.

Colbert's design was a standard four-over-four with a center hall. The four rooms on each level are typically large with tall ceilings and have fireplaces.

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The restoration of 1601 Caroline St. could be eligible for federal and state historic rehabilitation tax credits--a dollar-for-dollar reduction in the owner's tax liability for up to 45 percent of the project expenses. But because it is not within the city's Historic District, certain things would have to happen first.

To qualify for the federal program, a 20 percent break, it must be a certified historic structure. That means it must be listed in the National Register of Historic Places or be a contributing structure in a Historic District that is listed, according to Sean Maroney, executive director of Historic Fredericksburg Foundation.

The state credit, which by itself would cover 25 percent of expenses, hinges on the building being income-producing, such as a B&B. It would also need to be listed in the Virginia Landmarks Register, certified as eligible for it, or be a contributing structure in a Historic District that is listed.

Also, the city has included the property in the Historic District overlay in order to make it eligible for its real estate tax abatement, meaning that the increase to the assessed value of the restored structure is exempt from city real estate taxes for the year in which the improvements are made.

To operate as a B&B or an events venue, which sources suggest city officials would embrace, special exceptions would need to be granted.

Maroney said HFFI believes the building is worthy of restoration and preservation and would offer any assistance it could in advocating its tax credit eligibility.

For the tax credits, periodic inspections by state Department of Historic Resources officials are required as is detailed record-keeping of expenses incurred.

The tax breaks are considered pivotal in the affordability of expensive historic rehabilitation projects. However, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, deficit reduction measures being debated in Congress could reduce or even eliminate the federal historic tax credit.

--Richard Amrhine