The History of 523 Sophia Street in Fredericksburg, Virginia
The City of Fredericksburg Virginia was established in 1728 and was named for Prince Frederick of England. Due to its strategic location on the Rappahannock River it became an important port town for tobacco trading. Fredericksburg was the boyhood home to George Washington and his mother lived here until her death in 1789. Other notable figures associated with Fredericksburg include James Monroe whose law office is now a museum, Admiral John Paul Jones, Marquis de Lafayette, General Hugh Mercer and Matthew Fontaine Maury who was nicknamed the “pathfinder of the seas” for his important contributions charting winds and ocean currents, including ocean lanes for passing ships at sea. Thomas Jefferson drafted the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in Fredericksburg in 1777 laying the groundwork for the U.S. Bill of Rights.
In 1747 the building at 523 Sophia Street, Fredericksburg, Viriginia was constructed as an ordinary keep (tavern) and ferry which were operated by Thomas Thornton. Over the past two and half centuries this building has been occupied as a mercantile shop, a private residence many times, a taxidermy and junk store and most recently a group home. It has survived the battles of the American Revolution, The War of 1812 and the Civil War as well as many river floods. During restoration, water marks were visible on the walls, probably from the flood of 1942 when the river rose to 41 feet which was 27 feet above flood stage. It was time for some needed repairs to this building and the restoration began.
In 2012 dendrochronology was used to determine the age of the structure by comparing the tree-ring pattern of wood used in the construction to a sample known to date to a particular time. Some hand hewn post-and-beam framework was apparent during restoration while other beams had circular saw marks. It has been determined that this building is the oldest building in Fredericksburg, constructed in 1747.
In 2013 both of the upper floors were completely refinished. The framing lumber which could be salvaged was put back in place. New electric, plumbing and hvac were installed. The cellar was left unfinished because of the possibility of future flooding. Visible in the cellar are the original foundation, support structure and a fireplace opening at the base of the original chimney which was made of hand-pressed bricks.
Old Thornton’s Tavern has been painstakingly restored with hopes it will stand for another 267 years. Hilldrup Properties is the current occupant.