Amazing History at Alum Spring Park
Preserved sandstone that has been here since the Dinosaurs roamed the Earth, Civil War history, 2 duels, and George Washington? Say whaaaaat? You had me at Dinosaur!
Try and Try Again
I found Alum Spring Park while searching for things to do and explore in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The first time that I attempted to Adventure through the park, we had just experienced heavy rains so the road through the park was closed. I wasn’t sure if there were any hazardous areas in the park so I didn’t want to take my chances beyond the entry point. The second time that I attempted to Adventure through the park, it had just snowed, so the ground was very slick. Snow and ice are a new concept to this California girl, so I was not prepared for it. I took a few snapshots of the entry point and the walking bridge, but that was the furthest I got. Luckily, I finally had a decent opportunity this past weekend and I decided that short of a huge disaster, I was DEFINITELY exploring the park.
When I first arrived, I noticed that the gates were actually open, but the water was still flowing over the roadway. Evidently that’s normal, because I watched several cars drive through to the parking area on the other side. I was not that brave, so I parked in a small lot adjacent to the park. The very first thing that you notice in the park is how loud and soothing the water is. Hazel Run is the name of the body of water that flows through Alum Spring Park and according to information gleaned from the City of Fredericksburg’s website, the Powhatan Indians gathered clay from the banks of Hazel Run. I was unable to find any documented truth to that claim, but it is known that the Powhatan lived in this area of Virginia, so it’s not a far stretch.
Dinosaurs and Fossils? YES!
The amount of history that is contained in this park is absolutely incredible. The sandstone formation is thought to be over 100 million years old, from the time of the dinosaurs. The water flowed from the mountains to the Atlantic and over time the layers of sediment became the sandstone formation that is currently standing. There are wood fossils that are sealed within the sandstone and can be seen when standing beneath the cliff. I did not attempt to find any fossils because there were melting icicles when I was there and I didn’t want to take the chance that one would break loose and hit me. Unfortunately it would be my luck that I’d be looking up to see fossils and an icicle would come down right into my eyeball. Ouch!
One of the other interesting tidbits about the sandstone cliff is that during the Civil War, women and children sought shelter beneath the sandstone cliff while the town was bombarded. The Battle of Fredericksburg was devastating, as most of the buildings were leveled by artillery.
The park actually gets its name from the Alum Spring that is located on the end of the sandstone. The water near the cliff deposits alum, any group of hydrated double salts, on the ground. Historically, alum was used to preserve meat. It was also believed that the waters had special healing powers. In the late 1800’s, John H. Buis attempted to sell his vision to the public of a health resort. Nothing ever came of it.
George Washington (yes, THAT George Washington) surveyed the land for Fielding Lewis, his brother-in-law. In 1753, Lewis built a mill that ground corn and wheat. The mill stood for over 100 years until it was burned down during the Civil War. The picture above is where the race would lead from the Mill to Hazel Run. There are an awful lot of words to describe this area that make me very tired… race… run…. blah. But seriously though, the area where the Mill once stood has not yet been excavated, so is a wealth of buried history that still needs to be studied.
Records show that the buildings in Alum Spring were used as a prison during the Revolutionary War, and after the surrender of Cornwallis, used as a hospital. Another interesting fact is that it is believed that stones from the mill and destroyed bridges in the area were used at Gari Melchers’ Belmont, the home and studio of the famous American painter. Belmont is located a short distance from Alum Spring.
No, not the historic house of Vanilla Ice, but a place that ice was stored for purchase. Before the invention of modern freezers and refrigerators, ice was a hot commodity-pun intended. Alum Spring was known to produce the purest and cleanest ice, and was eagerly sought after by the local population. The ice was harvested during the winter months and kept in the ice house between layers of straw and sawdust.
There are 2 known duels to have taken place along a narrow pathway between the sandstone formation and the mill pond. The first took place on or about March 1790 between William Glassell and Robert Ritchie. According to Robert A. Hodge’s book, Alum Spring Park: A History at a ball thrown by the Masonic Lodge No.4 of Fredericksburg, words were exchanged between Glassell and Ritchie. Ritchie offered an insult to Glassell’s young female guest and then refused to offer an apology when called upon. Glassell sent a formal challenge, which Ritchie accepted. The 2 men met at Alum Spring and although Glassell attempted to get Ritchie to reconsider, but Ritchie refused. The duel took place and Glassell’s shot landed Ritchie mortally wounded. There is much more detail in Hodge’s book about this incredible event.
The other duel was between cousins, William Thornton and Francis Fitzhugh Conway. Both men took a fancy to Nellie Madison, the 20 year old niece of future President James Madison. In 1803, at a Christmas event at Chatham, William & Franics arrived on horseback; hoping to woo Nellie, Francis had a beautiful bridle on his horse. Francis alluded to Nellie that he had a surprise for her at the end of the evening, but when it was time to leave, the bridles had been switched. Francis, believing that William had the groom switch the bridles in order to win Nellie over, challenged him to a duel in Alum Spring. The 2 men met and fired, both simultaneously striking the other. Both men would succumb to their wounds the following day within the same hour of each other.
Alum Spring Springtime
I am looking forward to returning to Alum Spring Park in order to explore more of the park. There were quite a few areas that I didn’t get a chance to see, such as Fat Annie’s Old Swimming Hole, the old Virginia Railroad path, and the actual remnants from the Grist Mill. I will probably wait until spring time when things start to turn green and blossom so that I can get different shots on my camera. If you haven’t checked out my video on You Tube about Alum Spring, I have included the link below. Be sure to Subscribe to my channel in order to get all the latest updates.
Until the next Adventure,