The Fredericksburg Club of Choice
That bit of land that is now home to the Fredericksburg Country Club is rich in both history and people. Prior to the arrival of the first white settlers, Native Americans of the Algonquin tribes hunted and fished on the grounds and waters bounding the Club property. In 1676, the early settlers built a fort in the vicinity of the Club's 10th tee, to protect themselves from these same Indians.
The Club’s property played a prominent role during the Civil War as well. In December of 1862, Union troops crossed the Rappahannock near what is now the Spotsylvania County Industrial Park, and marched down the Richmond Stage Road (now State Route 2) toward what is now the Country Club. From here, they were able to make a right flank movement, and attack the Confederate forces on the high ground about a mile to the west of the Club. A young Alabamian, Major John Pelham, CSA, in a daring and unorthodox move, brought a battery of artillery down from Hamilton's Crossing to a point near what is now the road leading into the clubhouse. From here he fired on the Union troops, resisting efforts of his senior officers to withdraw until his casualties were such that the battery was no longer effective.
During this same December, the present clubhouse became a Union hospital. With the Confederate artillery on the high ground to the west, and the Union artillery on the east bank of the river, cannon balls undoubtedly crossed the property concurrently from both directions. Many who fought over this ground, including Lee Jackson, Longstreet, Burnside, Hooker and Sumner, had a clear view of the mansion that is now the clubhouse.
In 1671, Charles II of England granted about 5,000 acres to a Major Lawrence Smith of Gloucester County, Virginia. After an abortive effort to establish a settlement here, Smith broke the grant into parcels, one of which was sold in 1730 to Francis Taliaferro. The property was later inherited by a Robert Brooke, who built a home thereon and named it Smithfield in honor of the original owner of the land. Here, Robert Brooke raised four sons who all fought in the War of Independence and later gained prominence in the new nation. Laurence Brooke, the eldest, sailed with our nation's first naval hero, John Paul Jones. Captain Jones, a citizen of Fredericksburg, appointed Laurence surgeon of the Bon Homme Richard and both participated in the famous engagement with the Serapis. After the Revolution, Laurence became one of the most respected doctors of our new nation. Robert Brooke, the second son, was captured by the British and sent to England by Lord Howe. He escaped via Scotland and France, returned to Virginia, joined a volunteer troop of cavalry and was captured again at Westham, seven miles above Richmond. In 1794 Robert was elected Governor of Virginia and later served as Attorney General for the state. Francis and John Brooke were twins and the youngest of the family. Both served as officers at the age of sixteen for Generals Lafayette, Harrison and Spotswood. John later served in the House of Delegates from Stafford for many years. Francis served in the House of Delegates until he became a Judge in 1804 and served until 1849.
The Smithfield property was purchased by John Pratt of Caroline County in 1814. Shortly thereafter, the original dwelling burned down, and in 1819 the present mansion house was built; the Pratt family retained ownership of the property until the beginning of the 20th century.
In 1905, Captain Conway Vance of New York purchased Smithfield and added the current wings and white columns of the house. In 1907, Captain Vance purchased a portion of the adjoining Mannsfield estate and renamed the current clubhouse, Mannsfield Hall. The historic Mannsfield mansion, located on the current North Club subdivision, burned to the ground in January 1863 when southern troops mistakenly built their fire on the hardwood floor. Captain Vance died in the collapse of the Knickerbocker Theater in Washington in 1922.
Founding of The Country Club
In 1925, after Captain Vance's death, the property was purchased by a group of Fredericksburg area citizens who incorporated it as the Mannsfield Hall Country Club. The dwelling that had been built in 1819 now became their clubhouse, and a nine-hole golf course, tennis courts, and a swimming pool were added. Mannsfield Hall soon became one of the social centers in the Fredericksburg area, and the host to many parties, weddings, balls, and meetings.
Unfortunately, with the advent of World War II, gasoline rationing, the shortage of supplies, and the departure of many young men and women to the military, circumstances required the corporation to be dissolved and the property sold at a public auction. It was purchased by Colonel Richard F. Riddell of Washington for $39,000. In 1946, after the war, a group of citizens , many of whom were former club stockholders, purchased the property again for $60,000, and incorporated under its present name, The Fredericksburg Country Club.
Club Improvements and Additions
Since its repurchase, a host of changes and improvements have been made. In 1961, another nine holes were added to the course, several greens relocated, new bunkers built, approaches contoured, and extensive landscaping enhancements undertaken. Of historic note to golfers: The small pond to the right front of the 9th tee covers up what used to be the old 8th green. The original swim facility was replaced with an Olympic style pool, and a wading pool for the youngsters. The outdoor tennis courts were relocated and a new building, housing two indoor courts, was constructed.
The clubhouse itself has undergone several major changes as well. In 1973, a large ballroom and several ancillary facilities were added to the east side of the building. In 1988, further major modifications were made to include increasing the dining area, adding a new kitchen, locker rooms, showers and storage areas. In 1990, a new building was erected to house the golf carts and ground maintenance equipment. A new pump house was installed in 1993, making it possible to double the amount of acreage that could be served by the water sprinkling system.
The Club underwent major construction changes in 1998, necessitated in part by the increase in membership, as well as adding new physical plant amenities. The former kitchen area was remodeled, and became an employee lounge and storage area. The Rappahannock dining room was enlarged, and the former Hunt and Mannsfield rooms joined and remodeled for gourmet dining and small parties. Added construction provided space for a new bar and bar room; an enlarged new modern kitchen; and a Great Room under the new kitchen. This room provides space for the youngsters to come in from the sun or rain, play or watch television, and to get a snack. This Great Room is also used for meetings, banquets, and is adjacent to an area built for al fresco dining. Improvements were made to enhance the play on an already fine golf course, and two new clay courts built for tennis playing members. A fully equipped new exercise room was also added during 1998.
The Country Club Today
Over 300 years after the first buildings were erected on the property, 175 years after the present clubhouse was built, 130 years after the last cannon was fired in anger across its boundaries, and 50 years after it was repurchased for $60,000, the Fredericksburg Country Club is now a family oriented, nonprofit enterprise with over 500 members, and assets valued in excess of $5,300,000. The golf, tennis and pool facilities are in fine condition and in active use. The original charm of the 1819 mansion has been preserved, with later additions adapted to contemporary styles and customs. It is a place of luncheons, meetings, youth activities, parties, bridge, banquets, weddings, dances, dinners, and conversation. Its historic setting, architecture, grounds, and landscaping are among the finest in Virginia.