- Robert Hodge
This article was first printed in the January, 1979 issue of the Fredericksburg Times magazine and appears here with the author's permission. Hazel Hill no longer stands.
The old Fredericksburg home, Hazel Hill, was built about 1793 by John Minor (1761-1816) at the time of his marriage (his second) to Lucy Landon Carter. It remained the Minor home until about 1855 after which its ownership passed through several hands including Montgomery Slaughter (Fredericksburg Mayor, 1860-1868) and Judge Henry Souther. It was the latter who, in the spring of 1890, sold Hazel Hill to the Honorable Joseph S. Potter.
Mr. Potter was a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1866 to 1871 and the Senate from 1871 to 1874. He was appointed to a high government office in Germany where he served until April, 1890 at which time he moved to Fredericksburg. He was described as a man who could spread sunshine among people; who could make two blades of grass grow whe= re none had grown before!
At the time he purchased Hazel Hill, the house and its thirty-seven acres suffered from the ravages of time and lack of upkeep. He was soon responsible for the sharp contrast in appearance of "C" (Princess Anne) street extended -- a locality well-known to every resident as "Lover's Lane".
Photograph of Hazel Hill, April, 1891, from the Hoffman Collection, courtesy of the National Park Service. The photograph may also be found in Ronald E. Shibley's book, Historic Fredericksburg: A Pictorial History.
By the last week in August, 1891, it was no longer the resort of numerous cows who sought the shade of the twisted and gnarled Trees of Heaven. The trees had been trimmed up; the unsightly fence that hid the view of the house had been removed; a perfectly graded and gravelled carriage way substituted for the mudholes; a neat brick pavement was laid; the tall, unwieldy gages were removed and the surrounding lawn was neatly trimmed. The blacksmith shop and dingy outbuilding had been removed and two neat wooden dwellings covered the holes left by the old ice houses.
Mr. Potter opened the grounds to the public. Bowering's Band was stationed on the lawn and discoursed sweet and appropriate music. There were tables beautifully decorated with decanters of native and foreign wines and liquors as well as being loaded down with substantial and sweet edibles. When darkness came, lanterns extending from the gate to the house were lighted and the scene was a fairyland.
Three years later (1894) Mr. Potter had wrought an almost magical change over the ruined old mansion, converting it into a handsome residence surrounded by parks sparkling with fountains and pools disporting gold fish. The interior of the house was termed a "cabinet of wonders". The hall and salon were crowded with exquisite works of art; the most elaborately decorated china plates, vases and panels. The panels were ornamented with emblems of the crowned heads of Europe; of historic events of both the old and new worlds; and were set in the most magnificent embroideries of gold lace and fancywork.
In the parlor were a pair of vases, about three feet tall, worth more than $5,000. The were just part of a collection of over a hundred pieces. The greatest beauty was a 15-foot by forty-foot American Flag, woven in Germany of the finest and heaviest silk. There was a Swiss organ performing whole operas; on the floors of the bedrooms were Persian art squares worth $900; a massive old wardrobe inlaid with metal and fine wood, manufactured in the time of Luther. In the library were 8,000 photographs of Europe and America.
Mr. Potter had just completed a handsome volume, descriptive of his home, which brought out in strong light his capability as an artist. The volume was large, bound in morocco and was illustrated by water colors and photographs of the house and the grounds. The text was in India Ink penwork of great clearness and beauty, the initial letter on each page a water color sketch remarkable for its detail in illustrating the fountains, flower beds, fish ponds, terraces, and water falls of the grounds. The photographs showed the details of the drawing room and hallways, with their furnishings of almost priceless ornaments.
Mr. Potter, in 1873, had delivered to the Massachusetts Senate the most far-seeing, well-constructed plan for the future of greater Boston based on its past and present conditions. In the 1890's he was asked to deliver such a plan for advertising more extensively the advantages of Fredericksburg. His presentation was made in the Opera House (present site of Woolworth's store)* which the Manager, B. Goldsmith, provided free of charge for the occasion.
Mr. Potter, in a quite long and detailed address, said that as immigration into the United States continued and that as agricultural improvements made the demand for manpower in rural areas less great, it was inevitable that cities should grow. Fredericksburg, however, would not do so unless it (1) annexed a portion of Stafford County and developed the city on both sides of the river; (2) provided adequate sewage disposal and public water supply; (3) provided better streets, well drained and paved; (4) provided adequate shopping facilities; (5) provided adequate parks (he recommended 250 acres, some of it along the river front) for the necessary recreational facilities as well as for modifying the temperature and atmospheric purity; and (6) provided adequate industrial or manufacturing concerns, using the available water power as a cheap source of energy, to provide for employment. He suggested the schools be planned in or near the parks to make the best use of the facilities for both endeavors.
It was with much regret that the Free Lance reported in its December 2, 1899 issue that Col. Joseph S. Potter was moving to Washington, D. C. and that he had sold Hazel Hill with its grounds and all contents of the house, except the works of art, to J. W. Hill of Boston, a cultured gentleman associated with the Naval and Marine Service.
References: Free Lance April 25, 1890, September 1, 1891, March 7, 1893, March 20, 1894, April 13, 1894, July 13, 1894, December 2, 1899.
*Editor's Note: the Woolworth's store is now the site of Antique Court of Shops at 1001 Caroline Street.