The Idlewild Subdivision in Fredericksburg, Virginia, is one of the newer developments in the city. Tucked away in the woods is the Idlewild Mansion for which the subdivision was named. The home is rich in history and dates back to 1859 and played a pivotal role in the Civil War. Confederate General Robert E. Lee utilized the home as his headquarters from May 4-5, 1863, during the Chancellorsville Campaign.
Sadly, after the house was abandoned in 1989, people began to vandalize it. And, in 2003, someone (or multiple people) set fire to the home, basically destroying it. A very, very sad event that was not warranted for a home that had stood for well over 100 years and made it through the Civil War. The city attempted to save the ruins of the structure of the main house by supporting it with steel beams. There are other outlying buildings including a summer kitchen, a meat house, and a laundry building that are still standing. In 2009, the mansion and property were listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places. They are now owned by the city of Fredericksburg.
It has been over 10 years since the fire, and almost 4 since I moved to Fredericksburg and became aware of the situation and to think of what happened to the home still makes me angry. Why would someone seek to ruin a beautiful relic that stood for that long and was engrossed in so much local history? What had the mansion done to deserve this treatment? Why did you have to take this beautiful structure away from all of us? Let’s hope that justice one day prevails for the responsible party, or parties, that committed this vile act.
When I lived near the mansion, I would often walk over to it and just admire the ruins. The area is extremely quiet and it gave me an opportunity to think and reflect. The home overlooks Hazel Run and faces towards downtown Fredericksburg. I would try to imagine what the view looked like during the 1860s before the city developments. Other things I considered is where the children would play, what direction would visitors come from to visit the family, what paths were traveled around the property, and what was daily life like here. Whenever I visited the mansion, a unique feeling would come over me. It is difficult to describe – it was both eerie yet strangely comforting. Even being alone, I didn’t feel scared but I could feel something – not physically – but almost like an aura. Perhaps what this place was, and still is, and what it means to the city and our history is what I was feeling. The fire destroyed the building but it didn’t destroy the pride that the property and mansion still emanates.
For additional reading on the mansion, please see the Wikipedia entry.
During late 2009, we had a major snow storm here and I visited the property to take pictures of the mansion in the snow. When I arrived, the site that I beheld was absolutely mesmerizing. Again, the same eerie, but peaceful feeling came over me as I strolled around. I wanted to share those pictures and I hope you will, without physically being there, be captured by the beauty and be in awe of the pride the home still possesses. Perhaps, you will feel the same feeling that overtakes me each time I view the pictures. I hope you enjoy the pictures but please note, the property is not actually open to visitors and is restricted to them as there is multiple signs from the city conveying this idea. If you decide to visit, proceed at your own discretion and risk.
(Note: All pictures of the ruins are from my personal collection: Copyright 2013 Jarrod R. Champagne)
Here is a picture of the Idlewild Mansion before the fire in 2003. I haven’t been able to locate any pictures of the interior before the fire but wish I could have seen it in person.