Archive for the ‘history’ Category

Matthew Fontaine Maury on Monument Avenue

Statue of Matthew Fontaine Maury on Monument Avenue in Richmond, VirginiaWHAT: Statue of Matthew Fontaine Maury on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia.

WHERE: Monument and Belmont avenues in the intersection.

ARTIST: William F. Sievers

DEDICATION: November 11, 1929

A seated bronze figure of Matthew Fontaine Maury which is 8 foot high on a 5 foot high granite pedestalDESCRIPTION: A seated bronze figure of Maury which is 8 foot high on a 5 foot high granite pedestal. This grouping sits in front of a 18 foot high base which supports a 9 foot diameter bronze globe. At the base of the globe a storm is raging with figures being tossed by a swirling wave. This carefully conceived allegorical theme is a tribute to Maury’s study of the ocean, winds and currents.

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Confederate naval officer and explorer Matthew Fontaine Maury was known as the “Pathfinder of the Seas.” Although he never fought a battle and was prone to seasickness, Maury became one of the U.S. Navy’s most accomplished officers.

The carefully conceived allegorical theme is a tribute to Maury’s study of the ocean, winds and currentsThe enigmatic nature of his statue reflects his unusual place in the pantheon of Confederate and Virginia heroes. The carefully conceived allegorical theme is a tribute to Maury’s study of the ocean, winds and currents. It was dedicated November 11, 1929, and rests in the intersection with Belmont Avenue. Maury’s grave can be found in President’s Circle at Hollywood Cemetery.


“George Washington’s Vision” at Canal Walk

"George Washington's Vision" at the Canal Walk Turning Basin in downtown Richmond, Virginia.WHAT: “George Washington’s Vision” at the Canal Walk Turning Basin in downtown Richmond, Virginia.

LOCATION: West of the intersection of 14th and Dock streets.

Richmond was the eastern terminus of the Kanawha CanalARTIST: Applebaum Associates Inc.


DESCRIPTION: The granite and bronze display is arranged in a circle and centered with a surveyor’s compass. The text and map within the display highlight the key points of the Kanawha Canal and Washington’s vision of connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River.

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"George Washington's Vision" at the Canal Walk Turning BasinFrom the display:

George Washington promoted the concept of a great central waterway long before he became this nation’s first President. A surveyor of western lands as a young man, and later a landowner of vast tracts beyond the Alleghenies, Washington had close knowledge of the western territories, which he feared would be controlled by France and Spain if trade routes to eastern markets were not established.

Washington’s vision was to connect the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River with navigable rivers, canals, and a land portage through what is now West Virginia. After the Revolution, the James River Company was created, primarily as a result of his sponsorship and lobbying efforts. Before Washington’s death in 1799, a large portion of his dream had been realized.

Two canals bypassed the falls of the James River at Richmond, and 220 miles of river improvements extended westward. In the early 19th century, other farsighted Virginians took over Washington’s leadership role. The final elements of his plan were completed in the 1820s, when the Kanawha Turnpike joined the headwaters of the James River to the Kanawha River. In 1835, the James River and Kanawha Company was formed, and within 15 years a canal system stretched to Buchanan, Virginia, a distance of 197 miles.

Monument to Maggie L. Walker would be fitting tribute to her & Richmond

Potential site for Maggie Walker monument, the intersection of Broad Street, Adams Street and Brook RoadA resolution to support a monument to famed Richmonder Maggie Lena Walker has passed through Richmond City Council.

She was an educator and is best known for being the first woman to charter and serve as president of a bank in the United States. Her home in the 100 block of E. Leigh Street in Jackson Ward is a federally protected National Historic Site. She was born in Richmond in 1867 and died here in 1934. She is buried in Evergreen Cemetery.

NBC12’s Laura Geller wrote:

In a city of monuments, leaders want this monument to be a big deal. They do not want something that will blend into the background, but a statue that will make people think about the accomplishments of the first African-American woman to run a bank…Under the ordinance, the city will study if the intersection of Broad Street, Adams Street and Brook Road will make for a good location. Originally, [Councilman Charles] Samuels wanted the statue to go on Monument Avenue but he’s been convinced Jackson Ward is the perfect place. The project will be funded through private donations.

Richmond is a city of monuments and Jackson Ward is the perfect place for this one. With all the economic growth and physical improvements to the neighborhood once known as the “Harlem of the South” and the “Black Wall Street of America” because of its reputation as a center for both black commerce and entertainment.

According to CBS6’s Mark Holmberg:

Currently, only a large tree sits in that triangle made by the three intersecting roads downtown, just a few blocks from where Walker’s Consolidated Bank & Trust now sits. But there’s much more standing in the way. Specifically, funding, as the last portion of the resolution points out. The city council vote was largely symbolic, noting the city will have to make sure it owns that triangle before it can even consider using it for this monument.

Knowing who owns the quirky triangle is important [locator map]. It would be a shame for that tree to go, but that much-improved section of the Broad Street corridor could use another attraction to continue its resurgance.

Marcus S. Jones Jr., 1971 graduate of Maggie Walker High School and president of the Maggie L. Walker Statue Foundation. He said to CBS6’s Holmberg: “I’m going to try to get a grant, written for $500,000 to a million dollars.”

Arthur Ashe statue on Monument Avenue in Richmond, VirginiaAs I did when I wrote about my proposed statue to Lewis Ginter, let’s use Richmond’s statue honoring tennis champion and Richmond native Arthur Ashe as a comparison.   

Ashe is honored with a 12 foot tall bronze statue at Monument Avenue and Roseneath Road that stands on a 87,000 pound granite block and rises 28 feet above the street. It was created by artist Paul Di Pasquale and was dedicated in July 1996 with a cost of nearly $450,000 (according to figures from the Richmond Times-Dispatch).   

Bojangles Park in Jackson Ward in Richmond, VirginiaIf the property transfer brings no larger cost to the city than the tree removal and some cosmetic work, a monument to Maggie L. Walker in that spot could cost between $500,000 and $750,000, depending on the artist and scale of the monument. The size of the triangle should keep the sculpture to a scale similar to that of Bill Bojangles Robinson, which conveniently resides four blocks away north on Adams Street, forming a nice bookend of sorts for Jackson Ward.

Columbus statue in Byrd Park established many “firsts”

Richmond's Columbus Monument, at the south end of the Boulevard in Byrd ParkColumbus Monument in Byrd Park, Richmond, Virginia. A gift to the city from Richmond’s Italian community, statue of Christopher Columbus dedicated in 1927.

Christopher Columbus in Byrd Park at the south end of The Boulevard, north of the reservoir.WHAT: “Christopher Columbus” in Byrd Park at the south end of The Boulevard, north of the reservoir.

ARTIST: Ferruccio Legnaioli.

DEDICATION: December 9, 1927.

DESCRIPTION: A standing bronze figure 6 1/2 foot high on a granite pedestal 8 1/2 foot high. This was the first Columbus statue in the south and was the first monument in Richmond to have night illumination. The idea of Frank Realmuto, this statue was sculpted, erected and financed entirely by Virginians of Italian birth.

In the United States, Columbus Day is always celebrated on the second Monday in October. Virginia celebrates two legal holidays on the day, Columbus Day and Yorktown Victory Day, which honors the final victory at the Siege of Yorktown in the Revolutionary War.

Valentine shows off best of Northside’s Bellevue

Bill Martin, the director of the Valentine Richmond History CenterI’ve considered myself a Northsider for the past decade and have always been fascinated with the homes, architecture, retail, parks and especially the excellent urban forestry in the distinguished Richmond neighborhood. 

Seminary Avenue's tree-lined streetsBill Martin, the director of the Valentine Richmond History Center, conducted a two-hour tour of the quaint, mostly middle class Bellevue neighborhood in Richmond’s Northside. At any given time, there were at least 60 people along for the walk, as neighbors joined or left the procession that followed at path from MacArthur Avenue to Bellevue Avenue to Seminary Avenue and back on Claremont Avenue.

Martin said Richmond is still living with the legacy from the 1890s when the city’s suburbs began to develop along the privately owned trolley lines that stretched into the Northside with neighborhoods like Ginter Park, Barton Heights and Highland Park.  Development of the Fan District and Monument Avenue and areas south of the James with Woodland Heights and neighborhoods surrounding Forest Hill Park happened in this same period.

Many remnants of that period still exist, such as the concrete polls along Hermitage Road that were used 100 years ago to support the lighting and electric lines that powered the street cars.

Home on Seminary and Bellevue in NorthsideThere are more than 1,000 dwellings in Bellevue, most of them single-family homes. Many were built in the 1920s and 30s, Martin said.  He pointed out that these neighborhoods didn’t suffer economically with the rest of the nation during that time, saying “the Great Depression didn’t happen in Bellevue.”

“It was a period of massive growth for Richmond as an industrial giant,” he said, noting that many of the homes in Bellevue were “smaller Craftsman-style homes” that fit the needs of the workers in Richmond’s factories and downtown industry.

Tobacco magnate and famed Richmond philanthropist Lewis Ginter is usually the first person most people associate with the creation of the Northside, but he died October 1, 1897, and wasn’t alive for most of the actual development and construction of the neighborhoods.

“Ginter was just like everyone else, speculating on real estate,” Martin said of Ginter’s interests in helping develop the Northside off the trolley line that ran from Richmond to Ashland on Brook Turnpike (now Brook Road). He added that Ginter was late to the party and missed on the big wave of development in that period of Richmond’s history.

Home on Seminary Avenue in Bellevue“People wanted to get out of downtown,” Martin said, suggesting that white flight and the desire to escape the hustle and bustle of urban living was the trend.

There was a large movement to erect parks and monuments to Confederate and civic heroes in Richmond in the 1890s and early 1900s, and the impetus for this was for them to be a draw to the suburbs.

Some of the key monuments erected in this time were General Robert E. Lee  (1890) and Major General J.E.B. Stuart and Jefferson Davis  (both 1907) on Monument Avenue.  The Fan District saw monuments to General Williams Carter Wickham (1891) and the Richmond Howitzers monument (1892) and Church Hill gained the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors monument (1894).

Besides the monument to General A.P. Hill (1892) in the intersection of Laburnum Avenue and Hermitage Road, the Northside didn’t have many draws. Ginter’s created the Lakeside Wheel Club (near where Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden now sits), which brought in many people who could ride the trolley cars and spend the day biking and playing in Lakeside.  He also provided land for the move of Union Theological Seminary to Richmond from Hampden-Sydney.

Shops on Bellevue AvenueThe Northside escaped the destructive path of interstates 95 and 64 that cut off or bisected many other neighborhoods north of downtown — like Jackson Ward, Barton Heights and Highland Park. Jackson Ward, a historically influential and stable black neighborhood, lost 10 percent of its homes during that highway construction in the 1950s.

“Transportation planning has long-term effects on our neighborhoods…Northside escaped relatively unharmed,” Martin said, adding that at one point the Interstate 95 was planned further east, through the heart of the area, but residents were able to fend it off. 

Bellevue remains largely intact and has had little destruction or redevelopment in comparison to most Richmond neighborhoods.

Martin encouraged tour participants to chime in with their knowledge of the neighborhood and there were several funny comments along the trip. He got in a good jab, describing the treeless landscape of the Northside at the beginning of its huge period of growth around 1900.

“When you think of this neighborhood, there were no trees, no features…it was like being in Short Pump,” Martin said in his comparison, poking fun at current state of the unapologetic sprawl in that area of western Henrico County.

Zorba's Pizza and Samis Grotto on MacArthur Avenue in BellevueHe told another story about how MacArthur Avenue got its name. The city had to rename many streets to avoid duplication, and after going through many changes through the years, the avenue finally was renamed for World War II hero General Douglas MacArthur. That provided the opportunity for many people to “complain that Richmond wasted a good name” on such a small, relatively insignificant street.

Of course today, the street is still doing well, with a good variety of neighborhood shops and restaurants, including the well-know Dot’s Back Inn and Bellevue staples Stir Crazy Café, Once Upon a Vine and Zorba’s Pizza. There are several shops and restaurants around the corner on Bellevue Avenue as well.

“Part of the reason the neighborhood did well [as a developing suburb] was the access to modern retail,” Martin said, speaking about the former Azalea Mall and the dozens of neighborhood grocery stores (notably A&P) and small businesses that were dotted throughout the Northside.

Homes on Claremont Avenue in BellevueAnother good tidbit came from a Bellevue resident who said she loved her “house with personality that new homes just don’t have.” She described her neighborhood as tight-knit and that everybody has always been so kind, friendly, helpful and generous.

She told a story about a woman who moved on to her street and was quickly overwhelmed with the neighborly attitudes, bringing the woman to declare her feelings about Bellevue: “I thought I moved to Mayberry, but instead it is Nirvana.”

The Bellevue tour was the first I’ve taken with the Valentine Richmond History Center outside of the immediate downtown Richmond area and it was very worthwhile and informative. If you have interest in taking any of their wonderful tours, see

As for Bellevue, see this description from the City of Richmond website: 

The Bellevue neighborhood extends north from Ginter Park to the city limits along Westbrook Avenue. Originally part of Henrico County, the area was annexed into the city in 1940. The houses in the community vary in size from small dwellings to spacious homes. Cottages and bungalows abound with many featuring large windows, wide porches and verandas. The architecture ranges from Italianate to Spanish with tile roofs to American Four Square. Roads lined with shade trees curve and meander through the neighborhood.

Quoit Club discovers treasure at Pump House

James River Park System's Pump House in Richmond, Va.It is rare when “architecture” and “James River” can be used in the same sentence. That is the unique appeal of the Pump House.

I tagged along with the Historic Richmond Foundation‘s Quoit Club on a tour of the Victorian Gothic treasure, which is located in the Byrd Park District, west of the Boulevard Bridge on the Kanawha Canal. It was designed and constructed in the 1880s under the leadership of the great Richmond city engineer Col. Wilfred Emory Cutshaw.

A description of its original functions from the National Park Service:

A municipal industrial building whose purpose was to house the Richmond city waterworks. The building, which served as the city’s waterworks from 1883 until 1924, is conveniently situated to draw water from the James River and Kanawha Canal as well as its own smaller canal. The facility pumped water uphill from the canals to the Byrd Park Reservoir, the city’s main water supply. Far from being entirely utilitarian, however, the pump house was also a popular gathering place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Ralph White at the Pump House in Richmond, Va.Park manager Ralph White was the official sponsor of the tour, teaming with Chris Hull of the James River Outdoor Coalition and Tricia Pearsall of the Friends of the James River Park to guide and educate the crowd of nearly 50 people on an hour-long tour of the park and the ancient civic landmark.

The Pump House has been under renovation for the past decade, mostly by volunteers. Hull explained that the Pump House had been in disrepair for years. Vandals had been breaking in and stealing, burning and smashing whatever they could get their hands on. Eventually, a hole in the roof threatened to destroy the building.

Volunteers donated their time and more than $40,000 to repair the roof, block the windows with plexiglass and to purchase lumber used to build walkways and staircases to improve visitor access.

“The work has been done by people like you that care,” White said to the Quiot Club crowd. “It is one of the most lovely buildings left in the city…the last thing of beauty owned by the city, after they sold City Hall…It captures the essence of what it is to be in Richmond.”

Balcony and dance floor at Pump House in Richmond, Va.A dramatic feature of  the Pump House is the old open-air dance floor — an open space with a balcony above the pump room on the top floor of the building. Many of the Quiot Club members took in the view and wondered about the storied high society events that took place there in the late 1880s and early 1900s before the automobile replaced batteau boats and the need for the Pump House diminished.

The plan is that it will one day make its grand return as the new home for the park system visitor’s center or a James River museum. It could also be a learning center, host weddings, parties, meetings, events and the batteau rides on the Kanawha Canal could again be a feature.

Walkway inside pump room at the Pump House in Richmond, Va.Though the Pump House is “still considered a stabilized ruin,” according to White, the inside of the building has passed safety inspections and has had some lighting added, though more is needed. An elevator and running water to the building are next, which could cost an estimated $75,000, according to White.

The Pump House has already played host to a few events. White said the best story was an “unwedding” — a jilted bride-to-be had a party with all her girlfriends toasting good riddance to her fiance who supposedly cheated on her. There was also a ghost hunting event in March, though White said he didn’t plan to encourage more events like that one in the future.

Interior of the Pump House in Richmond, Va.The architectural plans have been drawn, but funding is the next big step, White said. The project could call for more than $8.5 million. The most costly items could be shoring up leak the canal walls above the Pump House to stop leaks; enclosing the building to add air conditioning and heat; and installing utilities, including water and power.

“If the city is going to compete with the surrounding counties, it’s the preservation of our abundant historic resources that makes living in the city worthwhile,” White said.

A renovated Pump House could ideally be “an extension of the museums on the Boulevard,” White said, noting that respected public landmarks like The Carillon, Dogwood Dell and Maymont are all in the neighborhood. The building could be a hub for information about the James River or even all city parks.

Newly installed wooden bridge at the Pump House in Richmond, Va.Renovations could eventually include the park being a key to the Richmond greenways effort, Pearsall suggested. With all of the surrounding bike & hiking trails, the James River and Kanawha Canal flowing through the park, it is the ideal spot for something remarkable to be developed.

Want to be involved? Contact the James River Outdoor Coalition (JROC), Friends of the James River Park or contact director J.R. Pope and his people in the Department of Parks, Recreation & Community Facilities.

This was the Quiot Club’s first visit to the Pump House and my first official chance to meet face-to-face with members — many of whom said they have been reading this blog. Here’s what they are all about:

Named for Richmond’s most popular 19th century social club, the Quoit Club is Richmond’s premiere organization for people who enjoy experiencing history and architecture with a social twist. Today, the Quoit Club supports Historic Richmond Foundation’s mission to preserve the area’s unique heritage by promoting social and educational gatherings at historic sites.

Dusk vs. dawn on the James

Dusk vs. dawn. Vibrant colors and distinct features on one hand and shadows and blinding sunlight on the other. 

I had the pleasure of two distinctly different points of view over the same James River water course — from Pony Pasture Rapids down to Reedy Creek. One late in the evening and the other just after dawn, with both trips offering challenges and appealing features.

The physical aspects and timing of the two were the same. The visuals, however, were extremely different and each trip had their own flavor.

James River Railway Bridge at duskFor the evening trip, my brother-in-law, Mark Pruett, and I left from Pony Pasture at around 7:30 p.m. The sun was already setting, and immediately we knew it would be a good run. I had never paddled the James that late in the day and was amazed by the colors brought out by the angle of the sun, which is behind you as you head east down river. The trees, rocks, bridges were so distinctive and colorful. It was beautiful.

I’ve provided a shot of the James River Railway Bridge (also known as the Atlantic Coast Line Railway Bridge or Belt Line Bridge) to show the coloring at that time of day — around 8:10 p.m. with sundown at around 8:40 p.m.

James River Railway Bridge at dawnFor the morning run, my friend George McCurrach and I put in at 6:30 a.m., before I had to go to work. The sun was rising in front of us and was at times blinding.  Obviously the colors were dimmed or lost in shadows. The temperature that morning was already near 80 degrees so there was no morning mist or fog to give the river any eerie appearances.

The James River Railway Bridge was again a feature, but very different colors were on display in the morning. This photo was taken at around 7:10 a.m. and the sun came up at around 6 a.m.

For better photographic opportunities and the fact that I wasn’t blinded, I’d choose an evening run. A morning run sets the day up nicely and gives me the rest of the day to work and live life (despite the sleep deprivation).  

It is still a toss-up, though in general I prefer paddling in the morning — watching nature wake up is generally more exciting than shutting down for the night.

In either case, the sun’s low position in the sky caused a lot of glare on the water, hiding many large boulders lurking just inches below the glassy surface.  We bumped plenty of unseen rocks on both trips.

Camping on the James River during fireworksOne great thing about our morning run was that it was the morning after Independence Day and we saw several camps on the islands east of the James River Railway Bridge — the ideal location to watch fireworks and experience the outdoors.

It wasn’t ideal in 2006, when at least a dozen people gathered on the rocks on the river near the Boulevard Bridge were attacked and robbed by a group of teenagers with rocks and bats during the July 4th fireworks at Dogwood Dell. That smirch or our city has made many people cautious about being on the river during fireworks. It was great to see these folks there and I’m sure they had the best seat for the Dogwood Dell show.