Fredericksburg Agrees To Close Sunken Road
By Deborah Fitts
FREDERICKSBURG, Va. - The famous Sunken Road at
Fredericksburg is slated to be snatched back from the 21st century,
thanks to a vote by the Fredericksburg City Council May 22 to
close the road to vehicular traffic.
The 6-1 decision was a victory for Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania
National Military Park, whose officials conceived restoration
of the battlefield landmark as the centerpiece of a $2 million
improvement project in the next two to three years.
"We're very pleased," said park superintendent Sandy
Rives. "I feel we can create a wonderful historic attraction
here. A member of the council said it best when he said it was
time to give the road back to the American people."
The park's proposal prompted objections that traffic would find
its way onto neighboring streets, and that the handicapped,
the elderly and others who depend on vehicles would be prevented
from visiting the Sunken Road. But council members said the
park had been sensitive to concerns.
The 18-foot-wide road on Marye's Heights was the focal point
of a failed Union assault Dec. 13, 1862. From behind a stone
wall bordering the road, Confederates fired down sloping ground
into successive waves of attackers, tallying more than 7000
The National Park Service has allocated $580,000 in Fiscal Year
2002-03 to restore the road and adjacent landscape to its wartime
appearance. The section to be closed is several hundred yards
long, between Hanover Street and Lafayette Boulevard.
The remainder of the $2 million will go to create new exhibits
for the nearby visitor center.
Archaeologists will attempt to locate the original bed of the
1830s thoroughfare, part of the "Telegraph Road" linking
Fredericksburg and Richmond. The modern pavement will be replaced
with a surface more similar to its wartime appearance and lowered
to the original grade.
A fence that separates pedestrians from passing cars will be
removed. "Visitors will be able to walk eight-tenths of
a mile without having to deal with traffic," Rives said.
The road will remain open to cars till the work begins. Rives
said much planning remains to be done, including deciding what
surface material to use. "We can't have it like what it
probably was in the winter of 1862-63, a mud bog," he said.
Other considerations include providing access to historic Brompton,
the nearby home of the president of Mary Washington College,
and determining what utilities lie under the road. Also, the
park will decide to what extent they will replace missing sections
of the stone walls that bordered the road. The walls' original
In arguing for the road closure in January, Rives said it was
a matter of creating "a world-class attraction versus providing
a road that people can drive on."
He argued that the closed road, which already is the most-visited
historic site in the Fredericksburg area, would serve to boost
tourism even more.
Rives pointed out that since the opening of a Fredericksburg
bypass, the Blue-Gray Parkway, in 1996, and the closing of nearby
Montfort Academy two years later, traffic on the Sunken Road
has dropped nearly 80 percent, to about 275 vehicles a day.
Responding to objections to the closure, the park and the council
discussed possible creation of a turnaround from adjacent Mercer
and Willis streets so that visitors could view the road from