Past is Prologue

Clint Schemmer writes about history, heritage preservation and the American Civil War.  On Facebook: Past is Prologue  On Twitter: @prologuepast  ContactEmail Clint or call 540/374-5424.

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Park to raze postwar house atop Fredericksburg battlefield’s Willis Hill

MORE: Read more news from Fredericksburg

In the coming days and weeks, a contractor for the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park will be mobilizing to remove the last buildings associated with Montfort Academy.

These structures, also known as the Richardson House and its detached garage, sit atop Willis Hill on the Marye’s Heights and Sunken Road portion of the Fredericksburg battlefield.

The ruins of buildings atop  Willis   Hill , looking southeast, are shown in the 1864 photo.  Willis   Hill , alternately designated 'Cemetery  Hill ' in some Civil War accounts, was the southernmost promontory in the row of hills comprising Marye's Heights. In addition to these two buildings, whose use in 1860 is unknown,  Willis   Hill  was ornamented by a third building; the brick-walled  Willis /Carter/Wellford Cemetery; and a set of deep terraces on the slope that faced Freder-icksburg. During the December 1862 battle, the father of a Confederate artil-lerist stationed in the lunette from which this photograph was taken sheltered himself behind the nearest building to moni-tor the well-being of his son. When a Union projectile 'carried away a cart-load of bricks' from the structure, the cannoneers despaired for the father's survival 'but in a moment ... were pleased to see his gray head "bob up serenely," determined to see "what was the gauge of the battle."' Judging from a circa February 1863 photograph, in which the roofs and walls of the two buildings are largely intact, much of their damage was sustained during the May 1863 battle.  DFDFDFDFDFD

Looking southeast, the ruins of buildings atop Willis Hill are shown in an 1864 photo. Called ‘Cemetery Hill’ in some Civil War accounts for its brick-walled Willis /Carter/Wellford cemetery, it is the southernmost promontory in the row of hills comprising Marye’s Heights. U.S. ARMY HERITAGE AND EDUCATION CENTER

The Richardson House was built circa 1888 and served as a private residence until acquired by the Daughters of Wisdom in 1948. The Catholic order operated Montfort Academy on Willis Hill for 50 years.

Following the 1997 sale of the property by the Daughters of Wisdom, the National Park Service took possession of the property and buildings with the intent to rehabilitate the landscape and incorporate Willis Hill into its interpretation of Marye’s Heights and Sunken Road.

The NPS removed the other Montfort Academy school buildings in 1998.

An architectural assessment of the Richardson house and garage revealed that the house had been greatly altered over the years with additional construction and expansion of the structure.

In coordination with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, the NPS determined that the compromised architectural integrity of the structures and their lack of association with the Civil War battles fought in and around Willis Hill allowed for their removal.

Adjacent archaeological resources, including the site of significant 19th-century structures, will be protected during the removal process. While contractors are removing the two buildings, pedestrian access to Willis Hill will be restricted.

Alerts and updates about the work will be posted on the park’s website,

–Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park


  • Theron Keller

    Someone smarter than me is going to have to explain why we can tear down a 126 year old building – which has been renovated over the years – and was a significant part of a school that served multiple generations of students in the area, sitting on one of the most historic pieces of land in the city — yet we CAN’T tear down a 94 year old building, which has also been significantly renovated over the years, and which sits on land that has been slated for reuse because there are no other historic buildings, sites, or artifacts anywhere nearby.

    One of these two actions must be unreasonable… which one is it?

  • mickeymat

    Would like to have seen a modern photo of the structure.

  • DumbDale

    WAIT a minute, didnt the MASON’s meet there ONCE?