The Cultural Landscape at Chatham Manor
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The Cultural Landscape at Chatham Manor


[Birds chirping] [Music begins] [Chris] The country around us here still looks pretty, although the lively variegated landscape of spring has given place to
the more softer and richer ones of summer. The rapid changes on the face of
nature serve to remind us forcibly of the flight of time and of the changes which
a few fleeting months may make in the lives, thoughts, and prospects of mankind. That’s a good one. So, a cultural landscape report is
the document that the National Park Service uses to manage
its historic landscapes, and in a Cultural Landscape Report we document
the history of the landscape; we document its existing condition; and then we
compare those two pieces of information through a process of analysis and
evaluation to make some recommendations about improvements to the landscape. [John] I think oftentimes CLRs confirm, or kind of formalize, what the park already knows,
the work of decades of our predecessors here, but this CLR for
Chatham told us things we didn’t know. Reading it was like, holy cow, we didn’t know that! [Chris] Chatham is both the name of a house and
also the name of the estate that that house is on. It was built by a man named
William Fitzhugh, beginning in 1768. [Eric] What we have here is all the layers of
history, which are present from the 1700s up through the last private owners, the
Pratts, who lived here, and when you visit Chatham, you see 200 years of history. [John] You know, it is this place that is built upon the
labor of enslaved people, literally probably built by them, certainly
sustained by them. The business here was an income-producing place as all
plantations in there original form were intended to be. It was built on the backs
of enslaved people, and then during Civil War, of course, it was disrupted, damaged; the
place was transformed. [Kirsten] One of the things about National Park
units, with over 400 of them across the nation, each one has to be unique in of
itself, so when you’re thinking about Frederickisburg and Spotsylvania National
Military Park, everybody always thinks about the Civil War first. When you come to
Chatham, you stand on the grounds, you see the gorgeous gardens that are here
overlooking the City of Fredericksburg and you go, Civil War? Then you begin
to learn a little bit more about the history of Chatham. [Leslie] I think my favorite
historical fact about Chatham is the story about Walt Whitman coming to Chatham,
looking for his brother during the Battle of Fredericksburg, or maybe it’s
just after the Battle of Fredericksburg and he wrote of the carnage that he saw
outside the window where the surgeries were being performed, and the arms and
legs that had been amputated, he said that they would fill up a horse cart, and
that was right under the catalpa trees that are still out front and are very
interesting in their own right to look at. [Eliot] The most significant changes that happened
to the property were the complete devastation of the property during the
Civil War. Where your trees were cut down, the grounds were just beaten into a muddy
pulp by the boots and wheels, and the animals belonging to the Union forces
there. It became a big, sprawling encampment of the Union forces, and
many of the local people described how the Union occupation of
the grounds had really spoiled what had been a very beautiful place. [Chris] What’s special
about the Chatham landscape is its diversity. On the river side of
the house you have these earthen terraces that are these enormous
earthmoving projects that kind of descend in slopes down towards the river,
and in the broader landscape you have agricultural fields, which are beautiful
in their own sense. You have this great natural topography
to the site, with ravines that flank either side of the house and also the house itself, which
basically sits on a plateau overlooking the Rappahannock River and the City of
Fredericksburg below. And then on the land side of the house, at one time,
you had a u-shaped access drive that brought visitors up to the the door
to the house. And today you have a 1.2-acre walled garden, which was designed by,
historically, one of the most important women garden designers in
our country. [Kirsten] And through the work of not really just the National Park Service,
but through a myriad of groups, especially the Friends of Chatham, and
the volunteer gardeners that are here, we have an amazing spot that people can
come to and see some of the grandeur of old and see themselves in the
beauty that is today. [Nancy] I care about Chatham because it truly is a
reflection of the American experience. All of those layers of history really do matter. We can learn from the past;
we can learn from the way people have treated this landscape, good
and bad; and we can learn to take care of it, and to preserve it, and to make it
better, so that everybody can enjoy it. [Kirsten] It’s unusual for anyone not to find
something here on the landscape, in the house, in the stories, in the history of
this area that they can’t relate to in some way — that they can’t feel connected
to. So, I think, I would challenge anyone to come to Chatham and find themselves
here at Chatham Manor. [Music slows down]

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