A Domain of Her Own

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Changing Fortunes

From almshouse to student residence

They called it Mount Nebo. The lovely hill overlooking Fredericksburg provided a clear view of the town, just as did the biblical peak from which Moses glimpsed the Promised Land. But the name also evoked a longing for the unattainable − as the residents of the Fredericksburg incarnation of Mount Nebo in the late 1800s and early 1900s must have felt keenly. It was on Fredericksburg’s Mount Nebo that the almshouse stood, providing a haven for the destitute but also setting them apart from the bustling town. According to research by Assistant Professor of Historic Preservation Michael Spencer, the house on the hill was built in 1877 as the “handsome frame residence” of Frank Beckwith. But a case of smallpox in 1882 so frightened Fredericksburg residents that they bought the Beckwith home, for $1,700, as an infirmary. As it happened, the town was spared a further smallpox outbreak. Soon the home was enlarged and turned into an almshouse, where the poor could exist on … [Read more...]

Halls of History

Preservation professor traces UMW’s story through its bricks and columns

The UMW Department of Historic Preservation has a national reputation for scholarship about historic buildings. Now it’s turning that scholarly eye on its own backyard. The UMW campus is a trove of 20th-century architecture and history, but preserving that character can clash with 21st-century needs − as students, faculty, and administrators learned from a 2010 controversy over a plan to put a new student center on the site of Seacobeck Hall. Students and alumni argued to save Seacobeck, which they saw as one of the most significant buildings on campus. Ultimately, Chandler was chosen as the site because renovations over the years had left little of its original design intact. The administration’s thoughtful response to the “save Seaco” effort led to a request that the historic preservation department produce a comprehensive preservation plan. The task fell to the new guy, but he wasn’t being picked on. Michael Spencer ’03, an assistant professor of historic … [Read more...]