- History of Richmond, Virginia
thumb|300px|High-angle view looking west toward thecapitol from Church Hill, 1862.The
historyof Richmond, Virginiaas a modern city dates to the early seventeenth century, and is crucial to the development of the colony of Virginia, the United States Revolutionary War, and the Civil War. After Reconstruction, Richmond's location helped it develop a diversified economy and as a land transportation hub. Richmond attracted businesses relocating from other parts of the country as one of the northernmost cities of the right-to-workstates.
In 1606, James I granted a royal charter to the
Virginia Company of Londonto settle colonists in North America. After the first permanent English settlement was established later that James, located between the 14th Street Bridge in modern downtown Richmond and the Pony Pasture (a recreational area along the banks of the river south of the City of Richmond). The settlement was made at this location as it is the highest navigable site along the James River.
Sir Thomas Dale, the new Governorof the Jamestown Colony, organized an expedition and established a settlement below the falls called " Henricus." The first hospitalin North America was built here and was home to Pocahontas.
In 1622, during the
Powhatan Uprising, widespread Indian attacks wiped out every English settlement except Jamestown. Two years later, King James revoked the Virginia Company of London’s charter and declared Virginia a royal colony. By 1634, Henrico County (consisting of present-day Henrico, Charles City, Powhatan, Chesterfield and Goochland) was created. An Indian treaty signed in 1646 ceded all territory below the Falls of the James to the English. Nathaniel Baconled “Bacon’s Rebellion,” in 1676, which was a historical revolt against the Indians following Sir William Berkeley’s failure to defend the frontier against Indian attacks.
By the early eighteenth century, the population of the area was still below 200. In 1730, the
Virginia House of Burgessespassed the Warehouse Act, which required inspectors to grade tobacco at 40 different locations. This led to much development at the Falls of the James. Seven years later, in 1737, William Mayolaid out the original street plan for the town of Richmond, on land provided by Colonel William Byrd IIof nearby Westover Plantation. The name came from Richmond, England.
In 1741, St. John’s Church was built in the present day neighborhood of Church Hill, the oldest neighborhood in the city, overlooking downtown Richmond, Shockoe Bottom and Shockoe Slip. Richmond was chartered as a town in 1742.
Shockoe Bottom was a center for slave trading. It is believed that between 1800-1865, 300,000 slaves were sent from Shockoe Bottom to work in the deep south. Shockoe Bottom also serves as the burial ground for thousands of Africans.
William Byrd IIIhad squandered the family fortune and resorted to a public lottery to raise money for his debts. He auctioned off large lots of still-undeveloped Byrd family land in the Richmond region.
Patrick Henrydelivered his famous “ Give me Liberty or Give me Death” speech in St. John's Church, during the Second Virginia Convention. This speech is credited with convincing members of the House of Burgesses to pass a resolution delivering Virginia troops to the American Revolutionary War. One year later, in the throes of the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congressadopted the Declaration of Independence.
In 1780, Virginia’s state capital was moved from Williamsburg to Richmond. In 1781, under the command of
Benedict Arnold, Richmond was burned by British troops. Yet Richmond shortly recovered, and, in May 1782, was incorporated as a city.
In 1785, the James River Company was formed with
George Washingtonas its honorary president. Development of the James River and the Kanawha Canal, designed by Washington, ensued. The cornerstone of the Virginia State Capitol, designed by Thomas Jefferson, was also laid that year. These events led to further development of the economy of the city. The first bridgeacross the James River, named Mayo’s Bridge after the founder of the city, was built in 1787.
Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, written in 1779 by Thomas Jefferson, was passed in Richmond on January 16, 1786, and the first freemasonry in America was constructed on Franklin Street between 18th and 19th Streets in downtown Richmond. The Bill of Rights was instated in the Constitution one year later, in 1787.
Tredegar Iron Works, along thebanks of the James River, in Richmond, Virginia.]
Antebellum period 1800-1860
For much of the 1800s, the institution of
slaveryshaped several local issues. Following the Haitian Revolutionof the late 1700s, slaveowners were faced with the prospect of similar slave uprisings in the American British Colonies. A failed major uprising called Gabriel Prosser's Rebellion, occurred near Richmond in 1800. This uprising was rumored to have involved 1000-4000 Africansliving in the Richmond area. By the start of the nineteenth century, the city's population had reached 5,730. Congress also passed a law prohibiting the African Slave Tradein 1808.
Several other important events took place in Richmond early in the century, including the designation of Jefferson, Madison and Monroe as Richmond’s first political districts in 1803; the charter of the Bank of Virginia, the city’s first bank, was signed in 1804; and the first public library was established by the Library Society of Richmond in 1806.
stagecoachlines to Richmond were established during the War of 1812, and the first regular steamboatservice began on the James River in 1815. In 1816, the first City Hallwas built.
In the 1830s, the
Industrial Revolutionarrived in Richmond. In 1831, the Chesterfield Railroad Company opened its horse-drawn rail line between Manchester and the Chesterfield coalmines, just south of the city. The first steam locomotiveservice to the city began with the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroadin 1836.
In 1833, Rhys Davies, an engineer from Tredegar, South Wales, was hired by Richmond businessmen and industrialists to construct furnaces and rolling mills used in the
ironand foundry business. By 1837 the rolling mills were merged with the Virginia Foundry, creating Tredegar Iron Works, the largest foundry in the South and the third-largest in the United States.
In 1838, the
Medical College of Virginiawas founded in the city.
Richmond and Danville Railroadwas chartered in 1847, and completed the circuit to Danville, Virginiaby 1854.
1861-1865: The Civil War
The aversion to the slave trade was growing by the mid-nineteenth century, and in 1848,
Henry "Box" Brownmade history by having himself nailed into a small box and shipped from Richmond to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, escaping slavery to the land of freedom.
At the outbreak of the
American Civil Warin 1861, the strategic location of the Tredegar Iron Works was one of the primary factors in the decision to make Richmond the Capital of the Confederacy in May 1861. From this arsenal came much of the Confederates' heavy ordnance machinery. In February 1861, Jefferson Daviswas inaugurated as Presidentof the Confederate States of Americain Montgomery, Alabama. One month later Davis placed Richmond under martial law. Two months after Davis' inauguration, the Confederate army fired on Fort Sumterin Charleston, South Carolina, and the Civil War had begun.
Tredegar Iron Works made the 723 tons of armor plating that covered the CSS "Virginia", the world’s first
ironcladused in the 2-day Battle of Hampton Roadsin March, 1862, first successfully against wooden Union ships, then to a draw against the USS "Monitor, another innovative ironclad.
In 1862, the
Peninsula Campaignled by General George B. McClellanwas a Union attempt to take Richmond, beginning from Union held Fort Monroeat the eastern tip of the Virginia Peninsulaat Old Point Comfort. Efforts to take Richmond by the James River were successfully blocked by Confederate defenses at Drewry's Bluff, about convert|8|mi|km|0 downstream from Richmond. The Union march up the Peninsula by land culminated in the Seven Days Battles. Ruses to make the defending forces seem larger by General John B. Magruder, Richmond's defensive line of batteries and fortifications set up under General Robert E. Lee, a daring ride around the Union Army by Confederate cavalry under General J.E.B. Stuart, and an unexpected appearance of General Stonewall Jackson's famous " foot cavalry" combined to unnerve the ever-cautious McClellan, and he initiated a Union retreat before Richmond. Even as other portions of the South were falling, the failure of the Peninsula Campaign to take Richmond led to almost three more years of bitter and bloody warfare between the states.
As the fall of Petersburg became imminent, on "Evacuation Sunday", President Davis, his cabinet, and the Confederate defenders abandoned Richmond, and fled south on the last open railroad line, the Richmond and Danville. The retreating soldiers were under orders to set
fireto bridges, the armory, and warehouses with supplies as they left. The fire in the largely abandoned city spread out of control, and large parts of the city were destroyed, reaching to the very edge of Capitol Square mostly unchecked. The conflagration was not completely extinguished until the mayor and other civilians went to the Union lines east of Richmond on New Market Road (now State Route 5) and surrendered the city the next day.
Abraham Lincoln, who had been staying nearby at City Point, toured the fallen city by foot with his young son Tad, and visited the former White House of the Confederacyand the Virginia State Capitol. In the meantime, the state capital was moved to Lynchburg. Also, about one week later after the evacuation of Richmond, Robert E. Leesurrendered to Grant ending the Battle of Appomattox Courthouse. Unfortunately for the South, within the same week, Lincoln was assassinated in Washington D.C.. Northern leadership would deal much more harshly with the fallen states than Lincoln had planned.
1865-1880:Reconstruction and City growth
During 1865, the
Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitutionabolished slavery. Richmond (and the South's) Reconstruction began. Richmond's Theological School for Freedmen, later becoming Virginia Union University, was established that year. (Today, the historic campus is located on Lombardy Street just north of the downtown area).
In 1866, the first organized
Memorial Daywas celebrated in Richmond at Oakwood Cemetery near Church Hillon the Nine Mile Road. Many fallen Confederate troops were buried there and at Hollywood Cemetery, just west of the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond.
In 1869, the segregated public school system was started in the city. Black voters registered in the city's first municipal election since the end of the Civil War. One year later, Virginia was readmitted to the Union with a new Constitution and Federal troops were removed from the city.
1870 has been called the Year of Disasters. The worst flood in 100 years occurred. An overcrowding during a court hearing over Richmond's elections collapsed the third floor of the Virginia State Capitol, causing it to fall into the Hall of the
House of Delegates, killing 60 and injuring 250. Robert E. Lee's death in Lexington where he headed what is now Washington and Lee Universitycompounded grief, followed by the Spotswood Hotel fire, killing eight people.
Over the next decade, the city's first high school, Richmond High School, opened in 1873.
Cigarettemanufacturing was introduced in Richmond by P.H. Mayo & Bros. Tobacco Co. in 1874, further expanding the city's economic importance to the tobaccoindustry. The last Federal troops were removed from the South in 1877, and Reconstruction ended.
Virginia politics underwent many power struggles in the 1870s and 1880s. Conservatives split over repayment of the state's pre-war debt. "Funders" wanted the full amount to be paid, much of which was held by northern interests. "Readjusters" wanted a portion to be paid by the new State of West Virginia, and formed the
Readjuster Party, a coalition of Republicans, conservative Democrats, and free blacks led by railroad executive William Mahone. Mahone was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served from 1881 to 1887, and the Readjuster's candidate, William E. Cameron, was elected as Virginia's governor, serving from 1882 to 1886. However, by 1883, Democrats were assuming power in state politics, which they held about 80 years, until the fall of the Byrd Organizationin the late 1960s, following the death of former Governor and U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrdin 1966.
1880 - 1900: Monument Avenue, Streetcars
Richmond’s population had reached 60,600 by 1880, and the
James River and Kanawha Canalclosed with tracks of the Richmond and Allegheny Railroadof Major James H. Dooleylaid on its towpath. In 1885, the Robert E. Lee Camp Soldiers Home for Confederate Veterans opened. Monument Avenuewas laid out in 1907, with a series of monuments at various intersections honoring the city's Confederate heroes. Included (east to west) were J.E.B. Stuart, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, and Matthew F. Maury.
successfully demonstrated his new system on the hills in 1888. The intersection shown is at 8th & Broad Streets.] Richmond had the first successful electrically powered trolley system in the United States. Designed by electric power pioneer,
Frank J. Sprague, the trolley system opened its first line in January, 1888. Richmond's hills, long a transportation obstacle, were considered an ideal proving ground. The new technology soon replaced horsecars.
As part of a national trend, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the electrically powered
street railwaysystems accelerated Richmond's expansion. To generate traffic and fuel sales of property, amusement parks were created at the end of the lines at Lakeside Park, Westhampton Park (now University of Richmond), and Forest Hill Park. Rails of interurban streetcarservices formed a suburban network from Richmond extending north to Ashland and south to Chester, Colonial Heights, Petersburg and Hopewell. Another interurban route ran east along the Nine Mile Roadand terminated at the National Cemetery at Seven Pinesat the end of the Nine Mile Road, where many Union Civil War dead were interred. Electrically powered trolleybuses, also using the Sprague technology, later operated in local service in nearby Petersburg for several years.
In 1894, a new City Hall was built in Victorian Gothic style. The building, now called the "Old City Hall", is located just north of Capitol Square near the statue of Dr. Hunter Holmes McGuire. It is across the Broad Street from current Richmond City Hall, built in 1971.
In 1896, the
United States Supreme Courtruled in " Plessy v. Ferguson" that, " separate but equal" laws did not deprive blacks of civil rightsguaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Confederate Museumopened and the National Confederate Reunion (the first of five) was held in Richmond. One year later the Richmond Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacywas established.
1900 - 1930
By the beginning of the twentieth century, the city's population had reached 85,050.
The theater mogul, Jake Wells, built a number of vaudeville theaters and opera houses in Richmond during the early 1900s. Other theaters and opera houses open on what became "Theater Row", to include
The Bijou, the Colonial Theater, The Lyric Opera House.
In 1903, African-American businesswoman and financier
Maggie L. Walkerchartered St. Luke Penny Savings Bank, and served as its first president, as well asthe first "female"(of any race) bank president in the United States. Today, the bank is called the Consolidated Bank and Trust Company, and it is the oldest surviving African-American bank in the U.S.
As roads improved in the early 20th century, streetcars were unable to compete with automobiles and the efficiencies of
buses. The Richmond-Petersburg area's interurban services were gone by 1939. The last streetcars ran in 1949 on the Highland Park line when they were replaced by buses.
In 1914, Richmond became the headquarters of the Fifth District of the
Federal Reserve Bank. In 1919, at the end of World War I, Philip Morriswas established in the city. The Fan district also began to develop during the 1920s.
Also during the 1920s, Richmond's entertainment venues began to develop. The city's first
radiostation, WRVA, began broadcasting in 1925. The Mosque also opened in 1925 (today it is called the Landmark Theater). The Byrd Theater and Loew's Theater opened in 1928 (the latter is now called Carpenter Center).
In 1926, the Carillon in
Byrd Parkwas constructed as a memorial to the World War I dead. The Carillon still towers above Byrd Park in the city.
In 1927, the dedication of
Byrd Airfield(now Richmond International Airport) included a visit by Charles Lindbergh. The airport was named after Richard E. Byrd, the famous American polar explorer. The John Marshall Hotel opened its doors in October 1929.
For over 250 years, the James River divided Richmond on the north bank from its sister,
independent cityof Manchester, located on the south bank.
A major issue for Manchester and Richmond residents in the 19th and early 20th century were the toll bridges over the James River. In 1910, Manchester agreed to a political consolidation with the much larger independent city of Richmond. Richmond's better-known name was used for both areas as it contained the location of Virginia's state capital. Key features of the consolidation agreement were requirements that a "free bridge" across the James River and a separate courthouse in Manchester be maintained indefinitely. Instead of a barrier between neighboring cities, under the consolidation the James River became the centerpiece of the expanded Richmond.
Although Manchester is now defunct as an independent city, vestiges can be found in the Manchester Bridge, Manchester Slave Trail, and the Manchester Courthouse.
1930 - 1945: Great Depression and World War II
The Tobacco industry helped Richmond recover from the
Great Depression. Within five years, Richmond’s economy bounced back.
The population of the city had grown to 255,426 by 1936, and the value of new construction to the region was 250% over that of 1935. By 1938,
Reynolds Metalsmoved its executive office from New York Cityto Richmond.
By the end of
World War IIin 1945, more than 350,000,000 pounds of war supplies were being shipped through the Defense General Supply Center, located nine miles (14 km) south of the city. 1946 marked a crucial turning point for Richmond’s economy. During that year, the highest level of business activity was recorded in the history of the city. Within one year, Richmond was the fastest growing industrial center in the United States.
Oliver Hillbecame the first black elected to the city councilsince the Reconstruction era.
1945-1960: Postwar Richmond and Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike
National Auto Trails system grew into a national network of highways, the area was served by the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highwaythe busy north-south corridor in central Virginia shared by U.S. 1 and U.S. Route 301through the cities of Richmond, Colonial Heights, and Petersburg. It crossed the James River on the Robert E. Lee Memorial Bridge. After World War II, with only four traffic lanes and long stretches of undivided roadway, the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway became a major area of traffic congestion, as well as the site of occasional spectacular and deadly head-on collisions.
In 1955, prior to the creation of the U.S.
Interstate Highway System, the Virginia General Assemblycreated the Richmond-Petersburg TurnpikeAuthority as a state agency to administer the new Turnpike of the same name. The new toll roadwas planned with only 15 exits, and most of these were well away from the highly developed commercial areas along parallel U.S. 301.
The Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike opened in 1958, and soon was granted the
Interstate 95 designation in the Richmond area, splitting into Interstates 85 and 95 at Petersburg.
1960- 2000: Modern city development
Natural gaswas introduced to Richmond in 1950 to meet the growing energy demand. By 1952, cigarette production reached an all-time high for Richmond at 110 billion per year.
Between 1963 and 1965, there was a huge, "downtown boom," that led to the construction of more than 700 buildings in the city. In 1968,
Virginia Commonwealth Universitywas created by the merger of the Medical College of Virginiawith the Richmond Professional Institute.
Richmond suffered some severe flooding in 1972, when
Hurricane Agnesdumped convert|16|in|mm of rain on central Virginia. This flooded the James River to convert|6.5|ft|m over the original 200-year old record.
In 1984, the city completed the Diamond ballpark, and the
Richmond Braves, a AAA baseball team for the Atlanta Braves, began playing. In 1985, Sixth Street Marketplace, a downtown shopping district, opened.
In 1990, Richmond native
L. Douglas Wilder, the grandson of slaves, was sworn in as Governorof Virginia, the first elected African-American governor of any state in United States history.
A multi-million dollar floodwall was completed in 1995, in order to protect the city and the Shockoe Bottom businesses from the rising waters of the James River. Also during 1995, a statue of Richmond native and tennis star
Arthur Ashewas added to the famed series of statues on Monument Avenue. Notwithstanding objections of purists in the country, Ashe was added to a group of statues that previously had consisted primarily of prominent Confederate military figures, as a sign of the changing nature of the city's population, which has grown to be predominantly African-American.
By the early twenty-first century, the population of the greater Richmond metropolitan area had reached approximately 1,100,000.
The floodwall downtown was expanded, and opened the doors for the development of the riverfront, stretching along the James River from the historic Tredegar Iron Works site, just west of 7th Street, to 17th Street downtown. Recent renovations included the rebuilt James River and Kanawha Canal and Haxall Canal, now designed as a Canal Walk. The riverfront project has brought this convert|1.25|mi|km|2|sing=on corridor back to life, with trendy loft apartments, restaurants, shops and hotels winding along the Canal Walk, along with canal boat cruises and walking tours. The National Park Service’s Richmond Civil War Visitor Center, in the Tredegar Iron Works, brought three floors of exhibits and artifacts, films, a bookstore, picnic areas and more. The Cordish Company also began construction of Riverside on the James, a power plant development project with shopping and entertainment venues.
Virginia Commonwealth University has also been aggressively developing its campuses downtown, with the new Stuart C. Siegel Center athletic complex, and RAMZ apartments.
In 2002, the new, expanded Greater Richmond Convention Center opened for business, containing more than convert|600000|sqft|m2|-4. The convention center, located in the heart of downtown Richmond, is the largest of its kind in the state.
Renovation continues in the historic neighborhood of Jackson Ward, to bring the neighborhood off the National Trust Historic Preservation’s list of one of America’s most endangered historic places. Encompassing forty blocks, Jackson Ward was once deemed the "Black Wall Street" in the 19th century. Restaurants such as Croaker’s Spot, and attractions like the Black History Museum and Cultural Center, keep Jackson Ward on the list as one of the Richmond area's most culturally significant stops for visitors to the area.
August 31, 2004, the Shockoe Bottom district was devastated by flooding brought on by torrential rains from the remnants of Tropical Storm Gaston. The storm lingered over the Richmond area, dumping nearly 12 inches (300 mm) of rain in the Shockoe Bottom watershed. A 20-block area, including most of Shockoe Bottom, was declared uninhabitable in the wake of the flood.
November 2, 2004, former Virginia governor L. Douglas Wilderwas elected as Richmond's first directly-elected mayor in over 60 years.
History of Virginia
Give me Liberty or Give me Death
Virginia Commonwealth University
University of Richmond
* [http://www.richmondva.org/ Historic Richmond Region - Official Visitors Site - Richmond, Virginia]
* [http://www.civilwartraveler.com/virginia/va-central/richmond.html CivilWarTraveler.com - Richmond]
* [http://www.historicrichmond.com/stjohns.html Historic Richmond: St. John's Church]
* [http://www.library.vcu.edu/jbc/speccoll/richmond.html VCU History Resources]
* [http://www.richmondguide.com/ The Richmond Guide]
* [http://www.digitalrichmond.com/ Annotated Pictorial Guide to Richmond]
* [http://srnels.people.wm.edu/antrichf95/index.html College of William and Mary, Antebellum Richmond Articles]
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