Roberta and I took a long overdue day trip to Richmond yesterday. Founded in 1737 along the James River, the capital city traces its roots back to the powerful Powhatan peoples and the voyage of Captain Christopher Newport, who arrived on a scouting mission in 1607.
Streets were laid out in 1742, a seven year jump on Alexandria. Located more in the center of the state, Richmond replaced Williamsburg as the seat of government in 1782. Ravaged by the Civil War, the city slowly recovered and grew to a population high mark of 249,000 in 1970. Its current population of about 220,000 makes it the fourth largest behind Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Chesapeake. The greater region’s population is 1.2M.
Economically, it’s a suit and tie city with jobs in law, government and banking. Downtown falls silent on the weekend but we found life over in Shockoe Bottom.
Going back several years ago, Shockoe Bottom was in the news after the Richmond Squirrels baseball team (AA for the Giants) proposed building a new ballpark on part of its grounds. The starting pitcher was knocked out on that one and the bull pen got hammered too. Now the team is looking at the area near the current ballpark. Its less urban location will not be cozy confines, but for fans driving down from Washington and points northward, the experience will not mean adding on more driving time (although the ballpark would have been steps from the train station).
Shockoe Bottom is easy to find, lying east of I-95 and the train station. If you are a fan of adaptive re-use, Shockoe Bottom is a must see. Right now the neighborhood looks like an incubator for that cause, as old brick buildings are being saved. Brunch lovers are swarming to LuLu’s near the Farmer’s Market, while a sign on East Main advertises Bottom Burgers “Coming Soon.”
Historical markers dot the hood, including an impressive new one (2012) that includes the wording "the War Between the States" but not the Civil War (filed under The Lost Cause).
Historically, Shockoe Bottom delivers the goods. A recent article by the National Trust for Historic Preservation observes it “might just be the best place in the nation to understand the history of slavery and its ongoing legacy.”
Shockoe Bottom was part of the original layout of the city in 1737. Tons of tobacco made its way here, as well as enslaved humans. More blacks souls went to die in New Orleans, but Richmond was the next largest. At the end of the Civil War, departing rebel forces torched this part of the city, destroying its wooden structures.
But that has worked out to a positive, as all the late 19th-Century and early 20th Century buildings are good material for saving.
In addition to LuLu’s, the main player we saw open for eating was Southern Kitchen on E. Main street -- fresh tea in mason jars with an added handle, terrific service and the best cornbread ever.
Virginia State Capitol
The aura one might feel for the capitol is tempered by the knowledge this was the place where so much oppression was hammered into law and where great power tried to maintain a way of life that kept human flesh as chattel property. Before being defeated, the Byrd Administration tried to tamp down equal rights with "Massive Resistance."
All in all a good trip. At both ends, I-95 did not clog up like it will once the weather warms up. We bet Shockoe Bottom will too...