“On the site formerly stood office and warehouse of the
1822 – 1908
Operated by members of the Ficklen family, this concern’s flour won first prize at the world’s first international exposition held at Paris, France in 1878. In the same year the first telephone line in Virginia connected this office with the mill buildings which were situated on the west bank of the Rappahannock River just south of the present bridge on US Route 1 leading to Falmouth, Virginia.
Office and warehouse of the
Rappahannock Electric Light & Power Company
1900 – 1923
An electric generating company furnishing 2 phase, 60 cycle current, manage from 1907 to 1923 by Ellen Caskie London Ficklen, the first woman manager of an electric public utility in United States of America.”
The building that now sits on this street corner, now a Stellar One bank, used to be the office of the family that owned and ran the Bridgewater Mill. The Ficklin patriarch, Mr. Joseph B Ficklin, and his associate Mr. William Brooke bought the Slaughter Mill of Mr. Dunbar at public auction in 1822, for the sum of $5,100.(1) It was after this purchase that Ficklin was destined to become a leader in the local flour milling industry. In addition to his share in the Slaughter Mill, Ficklin also recently built a flour mill on the south side of the Rappahannock called Bridgewater Mill.
Ficklin’s flour mill at Bridgewater continued to bring an influx of money to Fredericksburg, as the mill would ship tonnage of flour all over the Virginia coastline. In 1840 alone, the ten counties that made up the Fredericksburg-Falmouth region was producing 80,938 bushels of wheat, 575, 685 bushels of corn, and 773, 745 pounds of tobacco.(5) However, in the mid-19th century, a new dam built by the Fredericksburg Water Power Company began to change the industrial face of Fredericksburg. An article in the July 1857 “Weekly Advertiser” described this construction as
a massive dam the massive granite abutments, and about 20 feet high. At one abutment is a gate house with a substantial lock, … The hydraulic power thus obtained is capable of being employed to an almost unlimited extent…(2)
A little over 30 years later, the earliest arrangement of hydroelectricity began as the Bridgewater Mills in 1887, as the company transformed its milling operation to begin producing electricity.(3) The Bridgewater Mills company later rebranded and called itself the Rappahannock Electric Light and Power Company. Soon after this transformation, the Fredericksburg Water Power Company constructed it’s facility to the south at Embrey Dam. Though both of these companies began the process of bringing electricity to Fredericksburg, “Neither local organization … would survive the business transformations undertaken by regional and state utility companies in the decades prior to World War II.”(4)
The Rappahannock Electric Light & Power Company was founded in 1887 by a group of local investors. The company’s plant at Old Mill park once provided electricity for the Fredericksburg city lights, homes, business, industries, and public buildings. On November 3, 1887, Fredericksburg was lighted by electricity for the first time.(6)
The Ficklin family was involved in the group of investors that founded the Rappahannock Electric Light & Power Company, which allowed their influence to be exerted on the new industrial frontier of Fredericksburg. In 1901 the Ficklin family came to manage the Rappahannock Electric Light and Power Company, under Ellen Caskie London Ficklin, the daughter in law of Mr. Joseph B. Ficklin. Ellen Caskie Ficklin was the manager of this company for nearly 22 years and is rumored to be the first woman in the United States to head a utility company.(7)
In 1923, the Spotsylvania Power Company bought the Rappahannock Electric Light and Power Company, taking over its customers completely. The lot in front of you was then paved, to make way for today’s building as a bank. It’s a little funny to think that the corner of Charles St. and Amelia St. was always a hot-spot for financials, being the home of Bridgwater Mills, Rappahannock Light & Power, and now a bank.
Lakelyn Wiley, “Bank on top of the Site of the Original Bridgewater Mills Fredericksburg, Virginia,” 2018.
(1) The Journal of Fredericksburg History, Vol. 2 (Fredericksburg, VA: Historic Fredericksburg Foundation, Inc., 1997), 28.
(2) Ibid., Vol. 3 (1998), 15.
(3) Ibid., Vol. 3 (1998), 16.
(5) Allan T. Comp, “Grain and Flour in Eastern Virginia: 1800-1860,” accessed 22 March 2018, (Newark, DE: University of Delaware, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 1978), 64. https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.umw.edu/docview/302921984?pq-origsite=primo
(6) Fredericksburg Area Tourism Department, “Walk Through History…Mill Sites and Water Power,” Central Rappahannock Regional Library (2014), accessed 22 March, 2018. http://www.librarypoint.org/walk_through_history_mill_sites_and_water_power
(7) John Hennessy, “The Exodus Begins: John Washington’s Greatest Journey,” Mysteries & Conundrums: Exploring the Civil War-era landscape in the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania region, published 2 May 2012, accessed 22 March 2018. https://npsfrsp.wordpress.com/2012/05/02/the-exodus-begins-john-washingtons-greatest-journey/