“We do not usually consider houses,” said Dr. Mike Stevens, CVBT President, “but Braehead is an important part of the Fredericksburg battlefield. When it went up for sale,” he added,” we thought it important to get it off the market, at least temporarily, so we could ensure its protection.”
Central Virginia Battlefields Trust Signs Contract to Purchase Historic Braehead
Project Update !
The brick mansion on the Fredericksburg battlefield, known as Braehead, has been placed under a preservation easement held by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. The property was already listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but register status simply notes historic importance. A property can be listed on the National Register one day and demolished the next (if the property owner is so inclined). An easement, however, applies a protective requirement on the property. The CVBT has worked with the current owner, Dr. Graham Stephens, to ensure permanent protection of this antebellum house where Robert E. Lee had breakfast on the morning of December 13, 1862. The easement will protect the historic aspects of the property, while allowing the house to remain in use as a family dwelling. The associated 18 acres of woods, which remains a private holding within the National Park boundary is also protected from ever being subdivided or developed. This significant battlefield landmark will remain intact and continue to contribute to the visitor experience at Fredericksburg. The CVBT is pleased to have been a part of this effort and is excited to announce the completed sale of this property.
A home with a bullet hole next to the front door. A blood stained floor. Soldier graffiti on a plaster wall. These things are not likely to make it onto an owner’s list of things to repair. Instead, they are part of the history and character of Braehead, an intact antebellum mansion on the Fredericksburg battlefield, just put under contract by the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust.
Purchasing a home is an unusual step for this battlefields group. Formed ten years ago, the CVBT has acquired land on each of the area’s four battlefields. After each purchase, the Trust has capped any wells, removed debris (usually a lot of debris), and then either sold the acreage to the National Park Service, to be made accessible to the American people, or continued to hold it in trust as preserved ground. A house, however, is something entirely new. “We do not usually consider houses,” said Dr. Mike Stevens, CVBT President, “but Braehead is an important part of the Fredericksburg battlefield. When it went up for sale,” he added,” we thought it important to get it off the market, at least temporarily, so we could ensure its protection.”
The CVBT plans to place easements on the property, to prevent anyone from subdividing the more than 18 acre site and to avoid inappropriate changes to the historic building. The group will then resell the property to any private homeowner who wants to undertake the care of this wonderful brick mansion. Easements are often thought to devalue a property, but the CVBT believes that easements will add to its value since anyone undertaking to renovate and live in this historic house will be assured that their efforts will not be undone or compromised by any subsequent owner.
Braehead , also known as Howison and Hurricane Hall, was constructed in 1859, by John Howison, for his extensive family. From there, he would also control his 600 acre estate, 400 acres of which were considered improved. Howison owned one slave and hired 13 others. Three fifths of a mile north of the house was Howison’s Mill, on Hazel Run (near Lafayette Boulevard). The house was also situated on the east slope of Telegraph Hill, which is now known as Lee Hill.
During the Civil War Braehead was a well known landmark during the battles of Fredericksburg in December of 1862 and May 1863. Braehead also was used as a hospital for Union Sixth Corps, Second Division wounded.
Braehead entered the Civil War early on. Confederate troops made use of the dwelling as early as September 13, 1861 and as late as July 1863. $5,000 worth of services as well as supplies were procured from Braehead. Included in these services were seven days rent for a room and five fence panels used by troops of Perry's Brigade for firewood while on the front line of battle. In fact, Confederate General Robert E. Lee had breakfast at Braehead on the morning of December 13, 1862, the day of the battle of Fredericksburg.
Braehead also served as a sort of way station for people traveling to and from Fredericksburg during the war. Screened by topography and thick vegetation, the Howison House could not be seen from the Union lines. As a consequence, local folks seeking to enter or leave Fredericksburg without drawing attention to themselves, such as soldiers visiting their families, would stop over there, both coming and going.
Two of the Howison sons also went into Confederate service, joining the local unit known as the Fredericksburg Artillery. Neither son came home. John Howison, Jr. (called Jack by his family) was killed at Gettysburg. Edward Howison died the following year at Ream’s Station, near Petersburg. The house remained in the family, but most of the land was sold off after the war. The remaining acreage is quiet woodland, but the scars on the house attest to its presence when contending armies passed through
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