Posts Tagged ‘Kanawha canal’

“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.


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.

Fountain at Kanawha Plaza is double-edged sword

Cascading fountain at Kanawha Plaza in downtown RichmondKanawha Plaza is at  Byrd and 9th streets, just north of the Federal Reserve Building. The park is surrounded by downtown Richmond’s most influential and important employers: The Fed, Dominion Virginia, banks, law offices, stock brokers — you name it.

The park sits above the Downtown Expressway and covers an entire city block. It has a concert stage and grassy lawn that is primarily used for Fridays at Sunset jazz and R&B concerts and occasional festivals.

The stage also provides shelter for many homeless that need a break from the sun during the day. Many homeless sleep on benches in Kanawha Plaza as well.

Image of fountain at Kanawha Plaza in downtown RichmondThe best feature of the park is the cascading fountain, which at the right time of day can look quite impressive among the tall buildings and busy streets.

Unfortunately, I’ve also witnessed the waters of the fountain double as a laundromat for the park’s homeless, and I can only assume that the next step would be bathtime. Not an attractive thought.

Don’t get me wrong. Homeless people getting “cleaned up” is an improvement. I’m sure it’s common in most big cities. Probably encouraged in Europe. I’ve seen plenty of examples along the James of what I assume are homeless bathing in the river.

I’m just not sure I want to happen by the park with out-of-towners enamored with a lovely fountain, only to witness laundry day.

The area is near the Canal Walk and near the former location of the Great Basin (from park signage):

Finished in 1800, the Great Basin was the eastern terminus of the Canal. It was a block wide and three blocks long and was located between Cary and Canal, and 8th and 12th Streets. The Basin was up to 50 feet deep and was probably made by damming a stream valley at its east end (12th Street). Warehouses and trading firms surrounded the Basin and the docks along its stone walls were active. In addition to allowing the long, narrow canalboats to turn around for the trip back up the Canal, the Basin supplied water to various mills around its edge. Railroad yards covered half the Basin in the 1880’s. By the 1920s the Basin had been completely covered over. Construction excavation on the site for the James center in 1983-86 yielded the hulls of batteaux, canalboats, and other artifacts of the canal era, some of which have been saved.

Kanawha Plaza is at  Byrd and 9th streets, just north of the Federal Reserve Building.

NOTE: I chose not to publish my photos of the homeless. I’m not trying to get anyone arrested or start trouble. Just a little disappointed in humanity.

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

Open the canal to paddlers in downtown Richmond

Let's paddle the canal from the Cross monument to Brown's Island!I want to paddle the canal in downtown Richmond. I love that area and want more!

I’ve written about my desire to form a circuit for paddlers between the James River and the Lower Canal from Tredegar to Pumphouse Park. That one might be a tough sell to CSX and would require a lot more work for the paddlers.

But a more realistic circuit would be an easy one to create that would require relatively little money and maintenance and would provide a benefit to the city. Let’s open up the Kanawha Canal from Captain Christopher Newport’s ‘Cross’ monument at 12th and Byrd Streets to Brown’s Island. 

Paddlers could get out of the canal at Brown's Island.The circuit would allow paddlers access to the river from the Tredegar Beach and the Manchester Dam through Pipeline — which has class III-IV rapids. The paddle up the canal would only be about a half-mile long and would allow more people to be a visible part of the downtown scene.

Why have all these expensive and cool toys like the Canal Walk and the canal if we can’t use them? More time in the water is greater than more time carrying your equipment and paddlers would get behind this kind of opportunity.

Some dedicated paddlers already carry their kayaks back up the catwalk over Pipeline, up the sandy trail to Brown’s Island and over to Tredegar Beach to make the run again. At the end, getting out below the Pipeline overlook and making a short walk up the hill to the canal before paddling to west end of Brown’s Island would be a huge draw to the area.

Hey, if we could get a contraption similar to a ski lift to run under the famed CSX railroad viaduct, that might be a distant second-place option. Sound like fun?

I’ve seen many white-water kayakers carry their equipment from the takeout at the south end of the 14th Street (Mayo) Bridge and carry it the half-mile along the Floodwall Walk to the Manchester Bridge where they could drop in and run the Southside rapids over and over. If they are that dedicated to making the run, what would they do if you let them paddle up the canal instead?

Riverside on the James is right on the Canal Walk, above the Kanawha Canal.There is a reason to expect this circuit is possible.  This is an excerpt from the Downtown Master Plan [See the full .PDF document]:

Over time, the James River’s role as the heart of Richmond’s industry and commerce has evolved. Today it is known instead for its unique recreational opportunities, such as rock-climbing and nationally recognized kayaking. Allow residents and visitors to fully enjoy this unique natural feature by creating a series of clear connections to the riverfront. Although the James River is the geographic center of Downtown, it is difficult for residents and visitors to directly reach the waterfront. One obstacle to accessibility is the layering of infrastructure that lines the riverfront, including the canals that George Washington surveyed, the railroad lines built on top of the canal tow-paths, and the recently constructed floodwall.

Not convinced? Try this:

Richmond’s reputation for world-class kayaking and rock-climbing should continue to be promoted, and improved facilities for these sports should be provided.

Construct a dock at the low-lying iron fence behind the Cross monument.As for the access to the canal, there is a low-lying iron fence (see photo at right) behind the Cross monument and a small dock could be constructed there. There is already a dock at the opposite end of the canal on Brown’s Island and paddlers would be free to make the short walk over to the boat access at Tredegar Beach from there.

I recently visited the beautiful new pavilion at Byrd Park and seeing all the happy paddle boaters opens up another possibility. Let’s make that same opportunity available on the Canal Walk from Brown’s Island down to the ‘Cross’ monument and use that same dock as a launch point.  During one of the many summer festivals at Tredegar, Brown’s Island and the Canal Walk just imagine the “cool factor” the city would get seeing people using the canal.

Paddlers already use the parking area for Belle Isle and the 14th Street takeout when coming off the river downtown, so this area gets plenty of use. But envision the extra draw here. With a circuit, these folks could be a part of the show during many events. To be able to enjoy a big event downtown while also getting to be on the river and having fun by making runs down Pipeline over and over…

Parking area for old Reynolds Metals property, behind the protection of the Floodwall.What about parking? Well, let’s play with the old Reynolds Metals property for a moment. That property will be open for development at some point soon. It has a large parking area that most certainly will not be available to the public if there is another Vistas on the James or Riverside on the James condominium is built.

The Pipeline Rapids Walkway already has a small parking lot with about 10 parking spots available, but that lot would fill quickly.

Paddling the canal would be a fun time.But if a forward thinker was to embrace the river and allow an outdoor shop like Riverside Outfitters or someone similar to run a business out of that area?

Come on Venture Richmond, let’s make it happen. Let’s paddle the canal and give the Canal Walk another draw it desperately needs.

‘Headman’ statue on Brown’s Island

Paul DiPasquale's ‘Headman’ on Brown’s IslandWHAT: ‘Headman’ on Brown’s Island in downtown Richmond, Virginia.

LOCATION: Brown’s Island near the foot of the bridge over the Haxall Canal at the of 7th Street.

ARTIST: Paul DiPasquale.

DEDICATION: Nov. 25, 1993 (bronze statue).

DESCRIPTION: The 9 1/2 foot tall bronze sculpture commemorates the contributions of the black boatman on the James River. His two arms are holding an oar and his head looks to his side over his shoulder. The boat is made of cypress and oak and his hands are attached to a wooden oar.

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Paul DiPasquale's ‘Headman’ sculpture on Brown’s IslandBrown’s Island is one of the most essential outdoor party places in downtown Richmond, and Headman is there to welcome visitors to at the bottom of the staircase as they cross the long footbridge to enter the island.

The vistas from Brown’s Island of the downtown skyline, the James River, CSX train viaduct and the many other man-made structures makes this a great place to unwind.

Big events like the Richmond Folk Festival & Friday Cheers. All the summer food & music festivals, adventure games, car shows — down to the daily lunchtime walkers — all of it. Since the first time I noticed the boatman, I always take a few moments to see how he’s doing.

The original fiberglass version of ‘Headman’ was stolen away in 1989 to Hanover County, shot full of holes and vandalized. The current bronze statue was dedicated in 1993 and has held down the fort at Brown’s Island ever since. I think the city does a great job of making wonderful little places like this for people to see the diverse history of this old town.

A look inside the old Pump House

Pump House Park in Richmond, VirginiaThe City of Richmond is trying to bring back the glory of the Pump House. At a recent event at the old gothic treasure, parks director J.R. Pope talked with me about the plans for the Pump House, which was designed by the great Richmond city engineer Col. Wilfred Emory Cutshaw and built in the 1880s.

In the Falls of the James Atlas, by Bill Trout:

The gray granite Byrd Park Pump House is a magnificent example of the Victorian Gothic Style. The upper floor, with cast-iron arches, was a pavilion used by park visitors….[it] is a treasure well worth saving through re-use as a public meeting hall, part of a canal museum, a small restaurant and the terminus of canal-boat rides from downtown Richmond. It needs our help.

Images of the inside of the Pump HousePope and the Friends of the James River Park hope to make it reality someday soon. The hope is that it one day will be the new home for the James River Park System visitor’s center, Pope said. In addition, it could be a museum, learning center, host weddings, parties, events and the canal could once again be in operation.

Of course, it would not be cheap, and fund-raising would be a big part of making that happen. 

I got my first look inside the Pump House, and it is a great space.  I could see spots where Pope suggested an amphitheater could be placed. The building has space for offices, a gift shop, catering facilities — dream big, it might happen.

Inside the Pump HouseThe current state of the building is a little damp. Pope said that the canal would have to be drained and dredged. While the canal is dry, its leaky walls could be shored up to prevent the leaking that is seeping into the Pump House. Some areas of the main pump room are full-fledged springs and the room is constantly wet.

Inside the Pump House, missing the machineryHe also lamented that the old iron pumps — the big machinery that filled the pump room when it was in operation — are long gone. They were sold for scrap to Japan in the 1930s. They would have been a great tool for learning about the old process and purpose of the building, as well as being something cool to see on a visit.

Inside the Pump House, upper dance floorThe old dance floor — an open space with a balcony above the pump room on the top floor of the building — is every bit as alluring as I suspected. Standing there — after having read so much about the multipurpose usage of the building — I could easily imagine the grand parties held there in the early 1900s. People riding up the canal from downtown to the Pump House….maybe we can do it again someday? If not, at least experience a small measure of the building’s grandeur.

Improvements to the access to the building have been made. A dock on the canal and a wooden ramp and staircase have been in place for a couple of years. The inside of the building has safe staircases and walkways and the structure is sound.

George Washington's Lower Arch at Pump HouseAnother giant step in the right direction is the recent work to clear the grounds west of the Pump House. Much of the weeds and unwanted trees have been removed. Plus, the Lower Arch — the grand entrance to the canal, famously visited by George Washington in 1791 — can finally be seen again.

The building is more presentable to visitors — a large key to future fund-raising efforts that is not lost on Pope and the Friends of the James River Park.

Finally getting to see the inside of the Pump House made reminded me of something once said by Nathan McCann, photo journalist for NBC12 [watch a video of the inside of the Pump House]:

The building is stunning, but touring something so few people get to see inside is the real treat. As a news photographer, I get to see things like the Pump House in a more raw, more unfiltered state…There’s something vibrant about seeing a space sculpted into its intended purpose. There’s something beautiful about letting a place like the Pump House speak for itself.

Gothic artistry of the Pump House at Byrd ParkThat would be the key to making the building work as a visitor’s center — not to alter too much of the character, which I trust Pope and park manager Ralph White would honor.

I’d love to be able to kayak from Huguenot Flatwater down to the James River Railway Bridge, left at Grant’s Dam and glide in under the Lower Arch before taking a break at the Pump House. We’d be able to paddle back out and ride down to Reedy Creek or beyond to finish our trip.  

While we’re dreaming, how about being able to paddle back up from the current end of the Lower Canal, at Oregon Hill? [See two previous posts:  Field research: Paddling up Lower Canal and Paddling up Kanawha Canal = Boon to Richmond?].3-Mile locks at the Pump House