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Matthew Fontaine Maury School

Fredericksburg City, Independent Cities, VA

The Maury School was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1]

The Matthew Fontaine Maury School ... period of significance extends from the school's construction in 1919-1920 to the final name change in 1952, when the resource went from a high school to a middle school facility. Prominently sited next to the downtown in the City of Fredericksburg, the building served the city as a public school until 1980.

Maury Stadium continues to serve the community for outdoor events and high school football games. The Maury School meets the requirements for individual listing under Criterion A because it was the City of Fredericksburg's first purpose-built public high school, and it continued to serve as a public school for sixty years. The school was built within the bounds of Liberty Town, an African-American settlement created in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War.

The Maury School occupied a central place in the community life of Fredericksburg. In addition to the education functions of the school, the stadium was the largest public gathering place in Fredericksburg, and served many community functions. In addition to sporting events, the stadium was home to Fredericksburg's Dog Mart, an annual dog show that drew as many as 15,000 people to the school, and was rooted in a trading agreement between the settlement that became Fredericksburg and the Pamunkey tribe of King William County. The Pamunkey were key participants in this annual fair in the 20 century, with the occasion serving as an important market for pottery made at the King William reservation. The Maury School also meets the requirements for listing under Criterion C as a classic example of early- twentieth-century public school architecture, with high quality craftsmanship and design.

The school also represents the work of a significant architect, Phillip Nathaniel Stern, who designed many other prominent Fredericksburg buildings. On the exterior, the structure retains a high degree of integrity, including height, mass, materials, roof form, and significant original details such as the distinctive entrance porticos, the cast-concrete sills and corner blocks, Flemish-bond and diapered brickwork, wood cornice, and banked windows. The stadium and football field are on axis with the main entry. On the interior, the structure retains integrity of design, location and configuration of circulation, floor- to-ceiling heights, wainscoting along corridors, windows, and the spaces and volumes of corridors, stairs, classrooms, principal's office, library, gymnasium, and auditorium.

Historical Background

The Maury School was built in three stages on the block bounded by Kenmore Avenue, Hanover Street, Barton Street, and Day Street. The first building was erected in 1919- 1920; an auditorium was added to it in 1930. From 1920 until 1952, the original building served as Fredericksburg's public school for grades 7 through 12. In 1937, the facility was expanded to include the city's elementary school, a separate building (called the James Monroe Elementary School) connected to the original block by an arcaded hyphen. From 1952 through 1980 it served as the city's middle school. The Maury School was closed in 1980. After several years of use by the Police Academy and as a homeless shelter, the building was vacated.

The Maury School was the first purpose-built high school in the City of Fredericksburg.' Opened in 1920, it was originally called the Fredericksburg High School. In 1937 when the adjacent James Monroe Elementary School building was complete, the name was changed to James Monroe High School. Then in 1952, the city constructed anew James Monroe High School, and transferred all the high school aged students.' In that same year, the original high school was renamed the Matthew Fontaine Maury School, and became a middle school. The school's namesake, Matthew Fontaine Maury, known as the "Pathfinder of the Seas," was instrumental in establishing the United States Naval Academy, the United States Naval Observatory, and the United States Weather Bureau. Maury is best known for his studies of ocean currents that resulted in the publication of the first accurate and reliable oceanographic charts. The Maury School remained in service as a middle school until it was closed in 1980.

Philip Nathaniel Stern

The Maury School was designed by Philip Nathaniel Stern (1878-1960). Stern, a native of Bangor, Maine, was an accomplished practitioner of Colonial Revival-style architecture. Stern studied architecture at the Technical University, Karlsruhe, Germany, earning a master's degree in 1901. By 1909, he was practicing architecture in Fredericksburg, where he was to design most of the buildings that emerged from his practice. Stern's first projects were undertaken at the State Normal School (now the University of Mary Washington) in conjunction with Charles M. Robinson, a figure who dominated the production of academic buildings in Virginia in the early 20 century. In 1909, Charles M. Robinson, Charles K. Bryant, and Philip N. Stern designed three buildings for the State Normal School: a dormitory, Science Hall, and the President's House. ' Stern would later return to the State Normal School to design two dormitories on his own.

Stern based his practice in Fredericksburg, and, after 1909, completed all but a pair of commissions in 1927-28 and 1929 as the sole architect. Stern produced numerous Fredericksburg houses, including the J. Conway Chichester residence in 1910, the G. Frank Timberlake residence in 1914, and the George Benoit residence in 1926. But a larger part of Stern's practice was focused on commercial and academic architecture. In addition to the buildings at the State Normal School, Stern designed a school in Bowling Green in 1912. Other commercial projects completed by Stern include two additions to the Mary Washington Hospital, one in 1910 and one in 1916; the Fredericksburg Hotel in 1913; the Benjamin T. Pitts Moving Picture Theatre in 1915; the People's Bank of Stafford in 1921; and the Mary Washington Hospital in 1927-28, with Wesley S. Bissell. Stern also designed the Washington Masonic Memorial Temple in Fredericksburg in 1910. In 1929, with architect Edward W. Dorm, Jr., Stern restored the kitchen at Kenmore. Stern's achievements in architecture and his knowledge of colonial architecture were recognized by his appointment to the Advisory Committee for the Restoration of Colonial Williamsburg in 1931. Further evidence of his accomplishments was acknowledged when he was appointed district officer for the Historic American Building Survey in Virginia, 1933-34.

The Liberty Town Community

The Liberty Town neighborhood in which the Maury School is located has roots that reach back into the early nineteenth century. Platted in 1812, Liberty Town was an irregular arrangement of thirty-two lots, bounded approximately by the present-day William Street on the north, Hurkamp Park on the east, an alley between George and Hanover Streets on the south, and the grounds of Maury School on the west. Liberty Town was not incorporated into the Town of Fredericksburg until 1851. Following the Civil War, Liberty Town developed into a primarily African American community, and the neighborhood though much of historic Liberty Town has been lost -has remained primarily African American through the present day. Maury School, however, always served Fredericksburg's white community, and the African American children of Liberty Town were educated at the Walker-Grant Elementary and High School.

The land on which the Maury School is built has long been in the ownership of the City of Fredericksburg. In 1815, soon after the City acquired the Corporation Burying Grounds (now Hurkamp Park), the city also acquired four lots in Liberty Town. These lots -now the site of the Maury School and stadium -were "to be set aside for a burial place." However, no immediate action was taken. Despite persistent local tradition, it appears that while it was identified as a potter's field, few burials actually took place here by the mid-19th century. Gray's New Map of 1878 identifies it as the "Colored Cemetery," but "Its use as such was short-lived; as early as the 1880s, some bodies were being moved to the new Shiloh Cemetery" at Littlepage and Monument Streets. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the field was "filled with weeds." In 1914, one city official proposed fencing the remaining graves and using the land for a city stable. In 1915, the city decided to remove some of the remaining bodies. Soon after that, the city elected to locate the new high school on the site, and the remaining graves were moved. Construction of the new school was begun in 1919.

The Dog Mart

The Maury School occupied a central place in the community life of Fredericksburg. In addition to the education functions of the school, the stadium was the largest public gathering place in Fredericksburg and served many community functions. Maury School and Maury Stadium were the site of many events embraced by the community, including football games, track meets, dances, graduations, and concerts. Few events seem to have been more beloved by the community of Fredericksburg than the annual Fredericksburg Dog Mart. The Dog Mart was an annual event that was marked by parades, ceremonial visits by delegations from the local Pamunkey tribe, and a day-long festival that included the dog shows, dog races, and auction of dogs to members of the local community. The history of the Fredericksburg Dog Mart extends into the 17th century, when an annual mart, or fair, was established for the exchange of goods between the Pamunkey Indians and the settlers of Leaseland, which would in time become Fredericksburg. One of the favored exchanges was the exchange of furs and corn from the Pamunkey, for hunting dogs raised by the settlers. This annual fair continued through the Revolutionary War. The Dog Mart was revived in 1927 and became an annual event -held at the Maury School -until it was suspended during World War II. The revival of the fair always included a delegation from the Pamunke.

After World War II, the Dog Mart was once again revived. On October 14, 1949, its first year back after the war, an estimated 15,000 people gathered at the James Monroe (now Maury) High School stadium to witness the show. Visitors represented some 30 states, Canada, Mexico, and England. The Dog Mart was preceded by a "mile long parade" led by bands from the University of Virginia and the James Monroe High School.

Following the bands was the dog parade. A dog show was part of the event. In addition to such categories as "Best Pet Dog of the Show," the show included additional categories such as "Ugliest Mongrel Mutt," "Best Looking Mutt," and the intriguing "Miscellaneous Class," suggesting that good breeding was but one path to a blue ribbon.

The 1949 Dog Mart featured a delegation of 100 Pamunkey from a reservation in nearby King William County, led by Chief T.D. Cook. The Pamunkey were key participants in this annual fair in the 20th century, with the occasion serving as an important market for pottery made at the King William reservation.

The Fredericksburg Dog Mart, held at the Maury School, was one of the important social events that tied together the community of Fredericksburg. The Dog Mart became nationally known and was the subject of a June, 1951 story in National Geographic and a 25 October 1937 story in Time, The Dog Mart festival continues through the present day, held every October, now at the Izaak Walton League Park, State Route 600, Spotsylvania County.

Public Education in Fredericksburg

Fredericksburg's first public school opened in 1870 and its first four-year high school opened in 1908. Because private schools were the primary educational institutions, public schools were slow to develop. Initially the city's under-funded public schools occupied existing homes. The city acquired buildings in which to operate public schools beginning circa 1880. In 1884 the city built the two-story Colored School of Fredericksburg, an elementary school, on the current site of the Fredericksburg Fire Station. In the same year, Fredericksburg acquired the Union House (formerly a residence), at the corner of Caroline and Lewis Streets to house six grades of white students.

The first public school building built in Fredericksburg for white students was constructed on the Union House site in 1908. Designed to hold seven grade levels, it has served as the regional public library since the school vacated the building in 1969. From 1883 to 1920, when Maury High School opened, Fredericksburg had only the two public school buildings. When Maury opened its doors to white high school students there was no black public high school. The first public high school for black students, Walker- Grant School, was built in 1935 to replace Mayfield High School, whose 1905 construction had been privately funded by black parents.

Fredericksburg public schools were segregated through 1968-69. Hugh Mercer Elementary School opened in September 1969 as a result of the court ordered integration of Fredericksburg's public schools. Many schools, but apparently not Maury, underwent a major change in student bodies and grades served. Eleven years later, in 1980, Maury Elementary School closed.

  1. Green, Bryan Clark and Sadler, Mary Harding, Matthew Fontaine Maury School, 2006, nomination document, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
Barton Street