Zero Milestone marker is an easy point to miss

Zero Milestone marker at Capitol Square in downtown RichmondWHAT: Zero Milestone marker

LOCATION: Just east of the intersection of Grace and 9th streets at the northwestern corner of Virginia State Capitol Square, downtown Richmond, Va.

ARTIST: Unknown.


DESCRIPTION: The three-foot tall stone and bronze marker is the is the official Virginia highway point of measurement of distances from Richmond for Virginia. The indiscrete marker is an easy point to miss among the many sculptures and monuments on the grounds of Capitol Square. An inscription says “Zero Milestone, Virginia Highways.” It is located at N 37° 32.380 W 077° 26.046 18S E 284947 N 4157525.


How Dick & Willie can teach Richmond a lesson

My family members walked the Dick & Willie Passage in NovemberI was quoted in lede of a recent Martinsville Bulletin article on the new Dick & Willie Passage in Martinsville. It is a rails-to-trail project and a wonderful example of what could happen for Richmond.

Phil Riggan of Richmond described the Martinsville area’s newest walking and biking trail in one word.

“Perfect,” he said while he and family members walked the Dick & Willie Passage. They were here recently visiting his aunt.

Riggan said efforts are under way to create similar trails in the Richmond area. Now that he has seen what he considers a perfect trail, he said he is “going to go back to Richmond and tell them how to do it.”

It was a complete coincidence that we ran into the writer, Mickey Powell, because right before that moment I had been pondering the 2.5-mile stretch of a former CSX railroad bed that runs between Belt Boulevard and Hopkins Road in South Richmond. I wrote a story in April on a clean up that took place in the area next to Southside Plaza at Hull Street. That project would be the beginning of a greenway path toward the James River that could connect through proposed trails in Crooked Branch Park to Forest Hill Park. 

I meant what I said, that I needed to go back to Richmond and tell them how to do it. After that walk on the Dick & Willie, I spoke four days later at a JROC meeting with the City of Richmond trails manager, Nathan Burrell, and one of the key trail-builders that works with him, Mike Burton.  They were happy to hear that I had a great time in Martinsville, but didn’t seem encouraged that the Richmond project was moving along very quickly.

In April, I wrote that the plans for that 2.5 mile ”ecological corridor” are for a future public bike and pedestrian trail that will serve as a scenic recreational greenway area, providing neighborhoods a safe alternative way to connect without automobiles and away from busy streets.

My son running on the Dick & Willie Passage in NovemberThat’s what Martinsville has because that trail helps people avoid the “busy” streets of Martinsville in areas that don’t have sidewalks or safe places to travel without a vehicle. It also provides another safe place for kids to play and ride in safety. According to an editorial that ran October 17, around the time the trail opened: 

The $1.4 million trail was developed entirely with grants from the federal government, the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Virginia Tobacco Commission. The Henry County and Martinsville governments and county Public Service Authority contributed in-kind services.

The “Dick and Willie” railroad was created in the late 1800s by residents who wanted a modern way to connect the towns of Martinsville, Danville and Stuart. Today, the railroad is long gone, but the Dick & Willie Trail has been created in its place.

That is what rails-to-trails is all about, taking old unused railroad beds and making a new use for them. Greenways! On, the entry for the Dick & Willie Passage is robust. There is a page for Virginia trails, and among the listings, there is only one in the Richmond area: the 1-mile Chester Linear Park. Either that proves that Richmond is still a vibrant town that is using all of its railroads, or we need to get off our rear ends and help transform our unused railroad beds.

My family is from Martinsville and I travel there several times a year.  The area has the worst unemployment rate in the Commonwealth. They needed a shot in the arm like the Dick & Willie Passage, and it is nice. I saw two things that I took away in thinking about Richmond’s greenway:

  1. There were a handful of commuter bikers that Saturday afternoon — men wearing work overalls or uniforms. Very promising, especially considering that the project in Richmond is targeted for a blue-collar area that has few sidewalks, little park space and poor planning for non-vehicular traffic.
  2. The trails were clean and the sight-lines were open and inviting. When I was covering the cleanup in April 2010, there was so much trash and overgrowth that the volunteers barely got more than 30 feet into the trail.

Mayor Dwight Jones has stated that “Richmond loves pedestrians” and we even have a slogan “Live Here, Bike Here.” I’m ready to help rethink our streets, and I’m ready for Richmond’s Bike, Pedestrian and Trails commission to move forward and create our greenways and bike paths.

Very Richmond #11: Morgan Fountain in Shockoe Slip

The ornate fountain in the center of the plaza dates from 1905 If you have ever walked the Very Richmond cobblestone streets of Shockoe Slip, it would be near impossible to miss the fountain that resides in front of the Martin Agency and the many restored warehouses and storefronts in the area.

Charles S. Morgan donated the marble fountainFrom the Shockoe Slip website:

The predominantly Italianate style brick and ironfront buildings, with the ornamental renaissance-style fountain create a European flavor. An ornate fountain in the center of the plaza dates from 1905 and originally supplied water for the teams of horses that once hauled goods through the area. The fountain has an urn-type design in the Italian Renaissance style, with an octagonal base in solid stone. Charles S. Morgan donated the fountain whose inscription on one side reads “In memory of one who loved animals.”

Blessing of the Animals takes place around the historic Morgan Fountain in Shockoe Slip in downtown RichmondBlessing of the Animals is on Friday, December 10, around the historic Morgan Fountain in Shockoe Slip in downtown Richmond. From the Shockoe Slip website:

This event is scheduled annually for noon on the second Friday in December. It has taken place every year since 1992 and is intentionally brief (about 30 minutes) so people can participate during their lunch hour and local businesses are encouraged to make it a “pet-friendly” day at the office.

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.

Deepwater Sponger at Rocketts Landing asks for more fresh water

“Deepwater Sponger” at Rocketts Landing There is a new sculpture in Richmond at Rocketts Landing. “Deepwater Sponger” was lowered into place Thursday. 

“Deepwater Sponger” was lowered into place Thursday, Nov. 19The cast iron figure is a short and stout sort, toting two weights and rests on a bed of concrete that is in the shape of machinery cogs. Definitely worth checking out on your way to diner or drinks at the restaurant next door, The Boathouse at Rocketts Landing.

The statue is part of a series calling attention to the global threat to the world’s fresh water. It is scheduled to be in Richmond for at least two years.

The “Deepwater Sponger” statue next to The Boathouse at Rocketts Landing WHAT:  “Deepwater Sponger” at Rocketts Landing on at 5000 Old Osborne Turnpike. 

ARTIST: Charlie Ponticello.

DEDICATION:  November 18, 2010.

DESCRIPTION: A six-foot, 2,000-pound cast iron sculpture that was previously located at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and on the campus of Johns Hopkins University. The sculpture is one in a series of five “spongers” designed to call attention to the global threat to the world’s fresh water. It sits on a bluff overlooking the James River between the Sky Line condominium building and The Boathouse at Rocketts Landing. 

Graffiti vandalism is not art, but the work of a coward

Worker removes graffiti from the wall of Vistas on the JamesI despise graffiti. It is not art, it is vandalism. It is not a youthful prank, it is a crime. It is not harmless, it is costly to remove. Richmond is under attack by graffiti vandals and I’m in favor of the severest of punishments.

Style Weekly’s Melissa Scott Sinclair wrote a piece about the city losing another graffiti battle atop the Martin Luther King Bridge as it crosses over Shockoe Valley. That is a prominent spot in the city for people driving through on Interstate 95 and the type of blight that Richmond does not need.

Richmond’s taggers don’t waste any time. They do, however, waste city money. One week and one day after a city crew painted over the enormous tags on the [MLK bridge] over Interstate 95 — an operation that cost around $1,500 — it was tagged again. The new tags, spelling SIGH in orange and gold letters about 6 feet high, are painted right above two of the bridge’s massive supports, one facing north and one facing south.

What really got me was the quote from Environmental Officer Chelsea Ferguson, who handles graffiti investigations in the Fourth Precinct:

“It’s certainly a heaven spot as far as graffiti vandals are concerned,” says Ferguson. A “heaven spot,” she explains, is what taggers call a place that’s both a coveted canvas and a dangerous venture, where “there’s a really good chance they could fall off and die.” Taggers have to clamber onto a precarious catwalk to reach the bridge’s supports.

Fun public art on the side of a building in Manchester at Hull and Cowardin StreetsGraffiti without permission is vandalism. It does not take courage or guts to “tag” properties, it takes a coward. I think it must be a mental problem that makes a graffiti vandal want everyone to see their “artwork.” Real artists put their given names on their work own it, not run under the cover of darkness and hide their graffiti tag.

I’ve never found illegal graffiti to be art or in any way attractive. And yes, that even counts the well-known and popular Grateful Dead rock at Belle Isle.

I’m all for commissioned unique public art. For example, there is a colorful mural on the side of a building at Hull and Cowardin streets in South Richmond. Manchester is growing into an art district, and works of this type can help mold a proud and unique streetscape.

Ed Trask's artwork at Kuba Kuba in the Fan DistrictI love looking for murals around Richmond by talented local artists, especially Ed Trask. He is nothing like a graffiti artist — he is a creative genius and his artwork makes Richmond a better place. He is a professional artist that is paid for his fantastic work. See his murals on the sides of at least 30 buildings, including Ellwood Thompson’s, Sidewalk Cafe, Kuba Kuba.

I suggest that graffiti vandals need get a good job and earn enough money to tag their own property.  That, or hone their talents legally to develop skills that would put them at Trask’s professional level. Society should not have to incur the costs associated with removing their criminal activity.

There were many pro and con comments posted to the Style Weekly article, but one from “anonymous” really stuck out:
It is simple incompetence on the part of the City of Richmond to paint over the vandalism and then neglect to set up sufficient surveillance to identify any suspects who commit future crimes at the same spot. When a crime is predictable, it is preventable. Mayor Jones, issue some orders to some of your highly paid subordinates. Earn your pay.

Graffiti vandals strike wherever they fancy, and no amount of surveillance (which isn’t free, by the way) would able to prevent it. The city shouldn’t be criticized, rather we should all get behind their efforts to keep this kind of blight under control. This is the ultimate community effort, and unlike the crimes we see where people are shot in a neighborhood and no one talks for fear of retribution, Richmonders should immediately contact authorities to catch a vandal in the act. Teamwork!

Want to report graffiti? Go to If you find graffiti on your personal property and think you may know who made it, please report it to the Richmond Police Department at 646-5100.

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.