At one time, people thought the squat, stone structure on the corner of William and Sophia streets was used to confine newly arrived slaves. And for many years, it was believed to be a jail.
It's likely neither was true.
The warehouse's storied past is something Jack Edlund hopes to shed light on.
Nearly two years ago, Edlund--president and principal investigator of Salvage Archaeology--leased the building from the city.
At that time, he thought it would be the perfect repository for the thousands of artifacts he's collected over the years.
Edlund's background includes archaeology for the Silver Cos., at Central Park, as well as projects for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
Although the first floor is open to the public as a museum, Edlund, 53, spends much of his time excavating the building's basement.
No one is absolutely certain when the stone warehouse was built. It is, however, believed to be one of Fredericksburg's oldest buildings, probably putting construction around the mid-1700s.
The building is made of hand-shaped stone. And giant wooden beams--some measuring 14 feet in width--are still holding the building up. The warehouse also has small, barred windows, which probably gave rise to the idea that it was a prison at onetime.
"People heard that the jail here was stone with bars on the windows and they assumed it was the warehouse," he said. "But I think around 1980 someone found out that the old stone jail is underneath the courthouse."
There's no heat or running water inside--more evidence that it wasn't a jail--and there was no electricity up until five years ago.
Soon after it was built, the building was probably used to warehouse tobacco before it was shipped to England.
It was also owned at one time by Charles Dick, who supplied the Virginia troops during the French and Indian War in 1755.
"He was a prominent merchant," said local historian Paula Felder. "So it was natural that he would be appointed to supply the troops."
But a flood likely destroyed that building, and one put up to replace it was later ruined by the fire of 1807.
In 1812, the warehouse was rebuilt by Thomas Goodwin and likely used to store guns and ammunition.
In the summer of 1813 and again in 1814, Fredericksburg residents feared the British would launch a raid on the city. Instead, the British went north and sacked Washington.
During the Civil War, Union artillery struck the building at least five times. Cannonball craters are still visible from the inside. The building was also used as a morgue during the battle.
"There were about 326 dead Union soldiers stacked like cordwood in here," Edlund said.
After the war, the building was used as a brewery. It was also a feed and fertilizer warehouse in the 1900s and was used to cure salt fish.
Before Sophia Street was raised in 1939 and 1941 to accommodate the new Chatham Bridge, three of the warehouse's four levels could be seen from the street.
The city bought the building in the 1940s and left it empty until the 1970s when the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation took it over, opening it temporarily.
Edlund also leased it for a while in the 1980s.
Edlund is now doing archaeology in the building's basement and restoring the back yard.
So far, he's found tools, bottles and ceramic pieces.
After digging through 17 layers of dirt, the original brick floor of the building was also found.
"We're still cleaning and doing a thorough investigation," Edlund said.
Edlund is not only passionate about history, he also loves to paint.
As a result, the middle floor of the warehouse doubles as a gallery where he sells his artwork. Eventually, it will be used to display all the artifacts found at the site.
Edlund said he'll continue mucking around in the dirt at the warehouse until all of its secrets are revealed.
"I really like it because it's a working-class building," he said. "Very few regular buildings remain."
ELIZABETH PEZZULLO is a staff writer with The Free Lance-Star. JOE AMON is a staff photographer with The Free Lance-Star.
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