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Two Fredericksburg-area groups collaborate in historic preservation venture


Two longtime area groups keen on Virginia heritage will partner on a program to benefit education and historic preservation, they announced Wednesday.

Together, Historic Fredericksburg Foundation Inc. and the Rappahannock Valley Civil War Round Table will acquire and monitor a conservation easement on a Rapidan River tract in Orange County.

A state tax credit on that 66 acres is expected to yield $200,000 in donations to HFFI by 2019. The money will be split between the two groups.

The land is next to Somerset subdivision off State Route 3 near Orange’s border with Culpeper County. A Walmart superstore will be built on Route 3 next to the subdivision.

The state easement will keep the land in agricultural use, preventing intense development.

“The partnership will permit the Round Table to fund scholarships and internships in perpetuity, and HFFI be able to accomplish more of its stated missions,” Round Table Secretary Bob Jones said.

Under an agreement between their presidents, the Round Table and HFFI are sharing the easement proceeds–$25,000 per year. The Round Table will devote its portion to its high school scholarship program, a summer intern’s post at Fredericksburg and National Military Park, and other educational activities.

HFFI will put its portion into its heritage stewardship fund, which helps owners of historic structures.

In time, if enough donations are received from various sources, the foundation hopes to provide small, short-term loans to property owners for repairs to their buildings–say, for a chimney.

The easement deal will plant “a small seed” in what HFFI wants to eventually build into a substantial revolving fund, HFFI President Scott Walker said in an interview Wednesday.

“We’re very appreciative of every dollar we receive for this new program,” he said.

Part of the idea behind the fund is to avoid the kind of “demolition by neglect” cases that have caused controversy in Fredericksburg in recent years, Walker said.

The fund’s creation was announced last year during an HFFI open house at Fall Hill, a Colonial-era home on the Rappahannock River.

The easement deal has been in the works since mid-2010, when the landowners approached the Round Table’s Bob Jones, then leading its scholarship committee, and asked his group to act as the easement holder.

They were impressed by the group’s scholarship program and its battlefield preservation efforts with other regional organizations, Walker said. They wanted a local group to benefit from the tax-credit proceeds.

But the Round Table didn’t qualify to hold the easement, so it sought a partner. State law requires such 501(c)3 nonprofits to have been on the books for at least five years.

In its 57 years, HFFI has held easements on historic properties in Fredericksburg and the counties of King George and Stafford, Walker said. While its main focus is Fredericksburg, the foundation accepts preservation easements across the Rappahannock watershed, he said.

Recently, Preservation Virginia announced HFFI will hold easements–acquired from the former group–for the newly formed Washington Heritage Museums on four of the area’s most important historic sites: the Mary Washington House, Rising Sun Tavern, Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop and the St. James’ House.

“The foundation’s easement program has long been one of our most effective tools,” Walker said. “It remains a key part of our efforts to protect, promote and revitalize the distinctive historic environment and cultural resources of the Fredericksburg region.”

The foundation, established in 1957, will hold the Rapidan easement. The land fronts on the river and includes Somerset’s golf course and woods and open fields sloping down to the river; the property is zoned agricultural/recreational.

A similar conservation easement, recorded in 1994, covers the Skinker family’s 1834 manor house and about 50 surrounding acres, the Round Table’s Jones said.

Confederate and Union forces occupied the Somerset area during different periods of the Civil War, Jones said. The easement’s riverfront includes Skinker’s Ford, significant in Union cavalry operations.

Troops under Union Gen. Joseph Hooker crossed there during the Chancellorsville Campaign in 1863, Jones said. Some of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s men crossed there during the Wilderness Campaign of 1864.

The Round Table, founded in 1989, will monitor the property’s condition annually, in keeping with state requirements. HFFI will report to the Department of Taxation each year.

The property is owned by Rapidan Holdings LLC, Walker said.

A call yesterday afternoon to the corporation’s Fredericksburg attorney was not returned.

The groups received the initial $25,000 from their arrangement last month, when the landowners recorded the easement in Orange Circuit Court and completed other documentation.

HFFI’s board of directors voted Wednesday night to affirm the partnership with the Round Table. The Civil War group’s board voted earlier this month.

Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029