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Couple worked wonders in renewing Little Whim

There may be questions about Little Whim’s past, but there is no question that at present it is a stunning example of restored antebellum architecture.

It is also one of the many remarkable historic structures that help the Fredericksburg area maintain ties with its rich and colorful past.

“When we first saw this place 20 years ago, it was in foreclosure, eaten up by termites, and the [two-story] front porch was supported by six tw0-by-fours,” said Jim Schwartz, a dentist in North Stafford who owns 375 White Oak Road with his wife, Bernadette. “We bought it on a whim.”

The “whim” reference is appropriate, of course, because of the White Oak Road property’s name. Historical records suggest that the builder and original owner, James Scott, built the house “according to his wife’s whim,” thus the name, Little Whim.

Upon buying the property in 1993, the Schwartzes proceeded to completely rehabilitate and redecorate the house, raise children and entertain friends there.

But now they’ve decided to give it up, and the next owners will take over a house that has been thoroughly updated and modernized for comfortable family living. They have listed it with Janel O’Malley and Robin Marine of Coldwell Banker Carriage House Realty in Fredericksburg. The asking price is $1.2 million.

OASIS OF GREEN

Little Whim sits on nearly three acres, about the length of a football field back from White Oak Road. Trees, hedges and fencing insulate it from its surroundings and allow it to exude its Southern charm.

The stacked bay windows and porches, overhang brackets and window mullions lend Victorian characteristics to the Greek Revival design of the porch columns and the front-facing gable. The old siding was removed and replaced with white-painted cypress clapboards, and the roof was replaced with lightweight faux-slate shingles. Insulation was added throughout.

There are built-in copper gutters. The two brick chimneys went from exterior to interior when the wings were added decades ago. The Schwartzes did away with original black shutters, leaving a cleaner-looking façade.

Research conducted in the early 1990s indicates the property was once part of a huge parcel owned by the Fitzhugh family in the 17th and 18th centuries. That report also found that the original house, built in 1852, was somehow largely destroyed after the Civil War and not rebuilt until 1904, apparently replicating the original two-over-two on its original brick foundation.

The extensive use of interior arches, large pocket doors and wide, squared-off trim with bull’s-eye rosettes at door and window frame corners are typical of turn-of-the-century Fredericksburg design.

In the early to mid-20th century, the house was enlarged with wings on either end and additional living space on the back, providing its current footprint.

Sometime later, perhaps post-World War II, Schwartz believes, the original main level heart pine flooring was covered over by maple hardwood that extends into the wings. It’s a beautiful and unifying element reflecting changes made over time.

Though he did a significant amount of the the rehab work himself, Schwartz gives much of the credit for the renovation’s success to carpenter Steve Hall, the contractor who became something of a brother to him during the process.

Schwartz describes three aspects of the project, the “true to origin,” or original features that were repaired, cleaned up and retained; the renovation; and the rehabilitation. From the original plaster ceiling medallions that were cleaned up and replaced, to the architectural modifications, to the new kitchen and bathrooms—the project reflects all three phases.

THE LITTLE WHIM TOUR

Visitors are welcomed into a wide foyer that is bright and inviting thanks in part to the transom and sidelights that surround the front door. Straight ahead is the handsome main staircase landing with newels of cleaned-up tiger oak.

To the left of the foyer is the bay-windowed living room with one of the home’s nine fireplaces. The craftsman of the ornate surround, William Dickinson (who was 80 at the time) paid a visit a while back, and remarked how well his work of 60 years earlier had held up.

When the wings were added, two-sided fireplaces were created and the resulting structure provides a natural separation between the rooms. The wing adjoining the living room is a game room with a pool table.

To the right of the foyer is a symmetrical floor plan, with a dining room and family room, again separated by back-to-back fireplaces.

At the rear of the main level is the kitchen. Beautifully updated and reappointed in 2006, it is a blend of mottled beige granite with Brazilian cherry floors and cherry-finished cabinets. Granite that matches the island and countertops was used to create a nearby breakfast table.

Near the kitchen is a galley-style half-bath, designed to fit in a hallway that originally led to an exterior door.

A back stairway, probably used by the maids recalled in historical accounts about the house, leads from the kitchen to the second floor.

Up here, the lustrous heart pine floors live on. There is a master suite, three secondary bedrooms and two secondary bathrooms, one at each end of the main hallway. Each room retains original trim and wainscoting that recall the home’s past.

The master suite is a comfortable space that was reconfigured by taking an adjacent small bedroom and turning it into a luxurious master bath of granite and marble tile. There is a jetted tub and large separate shower with special fixtures that allow a preferred water temperature to be recalled when the shower is used.

Down the hall is the laundry room, brought upstairs from the basement during the renovation.

Another stairway leads to the attic, which does not have heat or air conditioning but is suitable for storage. It reveals the home’s original roof support structure.

The basement is anything but a dark, dank place. Schwartz said he removed the drywall that had been added to reveal the brick foundation that looks every bit the part of pre-Civil War masonry.

There is a recreation room with home theater in the main area that includes what was the original home’s cooking fireplace, noted for its cook-pot bracket.

The home’s fifth bedroom is a spacious but cozy brick retreat with fireplace and exposed beam ceiling. The saw marks on the beams are more evidence that the house was rebuilt. A full bathroom with bead-board walls fills out the suite.

There’s a workout room and a workshop down here as well.

The renovation included all new plumbing, electrical, and central heating and cooling systems.

THE GROUNDS

Little Whim’s grounds are special, as well. The circular driveway forms a heart-shaped grassy area with a small monument at its center noting the house’s brief tenure as Union Gen. Ambrose Burnside’s headquarters and camp during the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862 (see the accompanying sidebar).

To one side of the house is the detached three-car garage that was built during the renovation. In the space between is a large patio for outdoor entertaining.

The rest of the yard includes manicured grassy areas with a variety of trees and shrubs.

Richard Amrhine: 540/374-5406

ramrhine@freelancestar.com 

THE LITTLE MONUMENT

It’s a peculiar little monument, in the form of a tree stump, that greets Little Whim visitors. It notes that as the Battle of Fredericksburg unfolded in December 1862, the house served as Union Gen. Ambrose Burnside’s headquarters while his troops were encamped on the surrounding grounds, which at the time measured 290 acres. But there is no corroborating evidence that Burnside ever actually set foot inside the house.

In any event, the general apparently moved on quickly as it became clear his strategy of trying to storm Fredericksburg’s Sunken Road wall by sending in wave after wave

of Union blue had become a monumental military blunder.

—Richard Amrhine

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