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On the market: Civil War survivor on Caroline Street

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A house with a historic résumé that includes a photograph taken of it by Mathew Brady after the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862 is easily a consensus choice for the annals of city lore.

But 136 Caroline St. also carries with it a chain of distinguished local owners with names like Shelton, Goolrick and Rowe, a series of sensitive renovations and additions, and even some disagreement on the date of its original construction.

It is also looking for its next steward. Michele Ducharme–Barth and John Barth have listed the home with Janel O’Malley and Robin Marine of Coldwell Banker Carriage House Realty downtown. The asking price is $619,900.


Facing the historic Sentry Box and the Rappahannock River beyond, 136 Caroline is in one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods and has been the subject of considerable historical research. The Greek Revival-style structure is half of a duplex that is separated by a massive brick wall. A near-identical duplex is next door, and a single-family home of similar design is alongside that.

The original house was a two-over-two, with an English basement. Brick steps rise to the covered porch.

In 1990, research conducted by Sandra X. Staley for the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation’s marker program determined that the house was built in 1855. That is based on tracing the chain of ownership of the property to 1854, when the executors of the Hugh Mercer estate sold four lots to William Burke, who then subdivided the parcels into eight building lots.

It also considers the Doric porch columns (since replaced), the Italianate trim over the windows and the “S” brackets under the eaves as typical of the Victorian era.

In 1985, research apparently done by a Mary Washington College student who was not identified in the documentation suggests that the house was built in 1833.

That assertion is based on information that the house and land were sold at public auction in 1833 to William C. Beale (husband of author Jane Beale), that the brick foundation work is similar to homes of the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and that the lathes behind the plaster walls are both handmade and machined, a transition that took place in the 1830s.

It also notes that in 1985, when storm damage required replacement of the standing-seam metal roof, cedar shakes were found underneath.

There is no disagreement that the house sustained significant damage during the Battle of Fredericksburg, both documented in Brady’s photograph and uncovered during renovation work.

Also in the house are preserved examples of Civil War soldiers’ graffiti. The house is said to have been used as a Union hospital at the time, perhaps saving it from further plundering. As it was, the soldiers are believed to have torn out the original interior trim for use as firewood.

The Barths have documented various discoveries including artillery ordnance, opiate bottles (labeled Goolrick’s pharmacy) and various personal effects.

In any event, the old house remains in remarkably good condition today, owing to the care it has received over the years.


The structure is referred to as the Spicer house. With 38 years of ownership, from 1964 to 2002, Henry and Grace Spicer kept the property longer than any other owner. They built a modest addition to the rear that included a small kitchen and additional living space.

Construction of a large rear addition along with an extensive restoration were undertaken after Michele Ducharme–Barth bought the property in 2002.

On the main level, the addition provided a large new eat-in kitchen that features oak cabinetry, high-line appliances with Corian countertops and center island. Behind that is an inviting sun-room. To one side, laundry machines are hidden behind folding closet doors.

A new rear deck and side patio also were added. Even so, there is still open space left in the fenced-in backyard.

The original portion of the main level includes the foyer, living room and family room, all with period chair rail, crown molding and high ceilings. The two main rooms have original random-width flooring and two of the home’s five decorative fireplaces. They were built to use coal and remain unused.

Space from the earlier addition became a dining room to one side and a powder room to the other.

Upstairs, the original portion includes two bedrooms with fireplaces. Over the years the rooms have been altered to include closets. They share a secondary bathroom that has been completely remodeled with a bureau-style vanity and tile shower.

The second story of the Barths’ addition holds a new master suite with a sitting or small office area. The luxurious master bath includes a jetted tub, separate tiled shower and double vanity.

Also on the upper level, space from the original addition became a fourth bedroom.

The basement is where the home’s early days really show, with exposed brick foundation walls all around. A small former pub space was converted to a kitchenette that the Barths used while the renovation took place.

Beneath the living room is a recreation room with a classic pressed tin ceiling and the fifth fireplace.

An unfinished basement utility room doubles as a workshop.

A major part of the renovation was to retrofit central heating and air conditioning in the original portion, eliminating the need for radiator heat and window AC units.

The exterior wood siding and brick on the original part of the structure are freshly painted. The rear addition is covered in maintenance-free HardiPlank siding.

Richard Amrhine: 540/374-5406

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