Posts Tagged ‘history’

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.

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.

Boatman’s Tower in James Center plaza

'Boatman's Tower' structure in James Center plaza in downtown Richmond, VirginiaWHAT: “Boatman’s Tower” structure in James Center plaza in downtown Richmond, Virginia.

'Boatman's Tower' structure in James Center plaza in downtown Richmond, VirginiaLOCATION: 10th and Cary streets.

ARTIST: (Crafted by) Koninkiijke Eijsbouts, Asten, Netherlands.


DESCRIPTION: A 45-foot limestone tower housing a 25-bell carillon and cast figures of bargemen and mules that rotates on the half hour to the tune of changing melodies. Designed as a tribute to canal life in 1785-1879. Most of what is now the James Center was occupied by the great Turning Basin of the James River and Kanawha Canal.

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From the James Center website:

Becoming an instant landmark, the Clock Tower welcomes both the casual visitor as well as the regular office population. A public amenity that is unique in its celebration of hours, seasons, and events, the Clock Tower depicts life on the canal from 1785 – 1879. The 45-foot limestone tower houses a 25 brass bell carillon which chimes melodies on the hour and half-hour. As the bells chime, cast figures of canal bargemen rotate. The carillon was fabricated by a Dutch concern whose glockenspiels have been animating European squares for years.

'Boatman's Tower' structure in James Center plaza in downtown Richmond, Virginia

‘Cross’ honors Newport on Canal Walk

'Cross' monument to commemorate Christopher Newport's first visit to the place that became the City of Richmond, Virginia.WHAT: “Cross” monument to commemorate Captain Christopher Newport’s first visit to the place that became the City of Richmond, Virginia.

LOCATION: Canal Walk, near the corner of the 12th and Byrd Streets.

ARTIST: Unknown.

DEDICATION: June 10, 1907.

Christopher Newport's 'Cross' monument at Canal Walk.DESCRIPTION: The bronze cross, which is mounted on a pyramidal base of mortar and river stones and initially erected on Gamble’s Hill to commemorate the arrival of Captain Christopher Newport, John Smith and party May 24, 1607. The City moved the Cross in 1983 when its site was acquired by industry. The cross was erected by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities.

A bronze reproduction of the wooden cross raised by Newport when English explorers first sailed up the James River as far as “The Falls” is located just uphill from Pipeline Rapids. It’s believed Newport and his small band of men, which included Captain John Smith, planted the cross on May 24, 1607. Research by the Valentine Richmond History Center indicates the original site was near the 14th Street Bridge.

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The Cross is next to the Riverside on the James condominiums at the midpoint for the Canal Walk and will be a witness to the development of a key area of downtown Richmond’s progression. There are viable living spaces, restaurants and retail options on the Canal, but the crown jewel may be the development of the former Reynolds Metals building, right across the alleyway from Christopher Newport’s cross.

I’ll be rooting for it — I love the Canal Walk. It combines my favorite things about downtown: The river, history, sight-seeing, outdoors, walking, adventures…and one day I hope we will be able to paddle in the canal from this point. My family will often take walks along the Canal and picnic wherever the sun is peaking through the tall buildings.  There is so much to see, with the Canal, Brown’s Island, Pipeline Rapids, trains, white water paddlers, Great Blue Herons, etc.

Captaion Christopher Newport's 'Cross' monument at Canal Walk in downtown Richmond.