The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Culpeper recalls Sugar Bottom
BY DONNIE JOHNSTON
Jean Gray looked over at the newly unveiled Sugar Bottom marker and told those gathered on West Street Friday, “I’ve been waiting a long time for this.”
Gray and her husband, Frederick, were among two-dozen descendants of the black families who lived in Sugar Bottom until, as with many older neighborhoods, progress overtook it.
One by one, the houses and shops of this once-vital community were torn down to make room for modern buildings and two large municipal parking lots.
The most recent to go was the Blair House, torn down last year to allow West Street to be widened and the Culpeper Street parking lot to be expanded. Now only the Antioch Baptist Church and one two-story home remain.
Leroy Baumgardner points to a spot in the bottom where there was a spring from which most of the residents in the neighborhood got their water.
“I used to drink water out of that spring every day,” he told those gathered in the Municipal Building just prior to the unveiling ceremony. “My father would send me down there with a cream can.”
Mayor Chip Coleman said he “would love to have a glass of that spring water with a little lemon in it.”
Jean Gray recalled the cold winters she spent in Sugar Bottom and Baumgardner remembered selling bags of wild cress salad to the residents there.
Sugar Bottom encompassed the low land where the north side of the Culpeper Baptist Church sits now (the spring would have been almost at its office door), north up West Street to Antioch Baptist Church and east on Locust Street to where Regal Cinema is now located.
Some older homes were torn down in the 1940s to make room for the Medical Arts Building, which housed the offices of doctors O.K. Kyle Burnette and Cecil Finney, neither of whom lived in the neighborhood.
“Dr. Burnette was a wonderful man,” recalled Gray. “He delivered me and many other people in this neighborhood.”
Councilman Frank Reaves, who grew up in Sugar Bottom, recalled the last small frame house on Culpeper Street that was razed in about 1973, and Jimmy Payne’s shoe repair shop that was taken down in the 1990s.
After the Blair House went (the Town Council offered to give the structure away if someone would move it), town officials decided to install the historic marker to commemorate the community that once was.
“It is so lovely of the town to do this,” Gray said.
During an opening prayer, the Rev. Adrian Sledge, pastor of the Antioch congregation, asked God to ensure “that the future of Sugar Bottom be secured through the generations.”