Located fifty miles south of Washington, D.C., on the fall line of the Rappahannock River, Fredericksburg, since its establishment in the 1720s, has been an important commercial junction for river traffic (steamboats lasted until the 1940s), turnpikes, railroads, and, more recently, the automobile. Originally laid out in a grid pattern, with the streets named for the British royal family, it has considerably expanded. All of the town's development until the early twentieth century took place with relation to the Rappahannock River. Several prominent north–south streets, which parallel the river—Caroline (known as Main Street between c. 1880 and 1960), Princess Anne, Charles, and Washington)—became the principal sites for major buildings. The east–west streets, with a few significant exceptions (Hanover, William, and Amelia streets), received less impressive structures. Originally, mills clustered at the north end of Fredericksburg along the river, but little of significance remains. Numerous large houses survive, however, to testify to the town's wealth in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Because of its strategic location, Fredericksburg was frequently fought over during the Civil War, with several bloody encounters in the town and the area.
In recent years Fredericksburg has become a suburb of Washington and northern Virginia, with attendant development of sprawl, suburban tracts, and strips surrounding portions of the city. However, the downtown still remains vital and provides an object lesson in planning by its determined avoidance of the “olde towne” look. The older sections of town have a variety of important structures, and the University of Mary Washington displays impressive campus planning. The town's connections to George Washington and his family have meant considerable focus on the early period in preservation efforts. Some of the APVA's earliest activity was here (see entries on the Mary Washington House and Rising Sun Tavern), and another impetus came in the 1920s from a mother-daughter team, Vivian Minor Fleming and Annie (“Miss Annie”) Fleming Smith. More recently, the Civil War legacy has meant several million tourist dollars annually. Fredericksburg's 2000 population stood at 19,279; counts for the surrounding counties were far larger.
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