Sunday, May 11, 2014

Richmond Day 2014

Well here's an event that's right down our alley. Picnicking? Civil War history? Dressing as your favorite Richmonder, past or present? As I said elsewhere, it'd be hard to choose between some of my favorite female RVA figures, like Elisabeth Scott Bocock, Sallie Mae Dooley, Dirtwoman, etc.



Via CHPN, of course.

scenes from Westover.

I've been reading an absorbing book about the Byrds lately: The Byrds of Virginia: An American Dynasty, 1670 to the Present. So my head has been sort of roaming about Westover, and I was delighted to see that the amazing Virginia Flair on Instagram posted some beautiful shots of the house's interior.


I had the chance to see the inside of the house on my birthday a few years ago due to the kindness of a friend, and I've always wanted to go back and see it again. It remains my favorite plantation.


In other coincidences, I was just watching the (good, so far) Turn colonial miniseries on AMC and spotted Shirley Plantation in a few of the shots, and Virginia Flair also posted some great photos of Shirley.


Obviously if you're not following Virginia Flair and you're into Virginia scenery and history, you should be.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Richmond's Post-Industrial East End

Another gem brought to my attention by CHPN:


UVA's Community History Project published this incredible look at some of the East End's history, focusing on the Church Hill area and surrounding neighborhoods. The entire thing is worth a read, and honestly, even if you only have the intention of skimming a few articles, you can very easily end up spending hours poring over it. This publication has blown my mind with some of the little-known tidbits it has unearthed. I've listed some of the most interesting parts here:

  • Some of the former slave dwellings along the backs of homes in the neighborhood are pointed out, and I didn't realize that there were so many left standing today (pages 14-21).
  • Apparently "disagreeable odors" used to waft up from Fulton Gas Works, making Chimborazo Park unpopular (page 36).
  • More info about the Church Hill Train Tunnel: I don't think I knew that there were two additional collapses of the tunnel, in 1962 and 1988 (page 41).

  • The site of Chimborazo Hospital afterwards briefly became a refuge camp for former slaves (page 42).
  • "During its early phases of development, the neighborhood around Chimborazo Park was advertised as a Suburban Resort, a green landscape offering residents open spaces in which to enjoy fresh air, exercise, participate in various social activities, and admire majestic views of the James River (page 50)."
  • I've often wondered where the cobblestone roads at the bottom of Chimborazo Park were supposed to go, and the answer is to Fulton and to Libby Hill Park (page 57).


  • Around the entrance of the house at 3406 E. Broad there are a wreath and some urns, which allude to it being the residence of Mr. Billups of Billups Funeral Home (page 65).
  • A toxic byproduct known as "Blue Billy" exists on the ground at Fulton Gas Works (page 97).

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

wake up and smell the history.

My inactivity in the history realm due to baby-slinging notwithstanding, I feel like this is a really exciting time for Richmond history buffs. Some stuff that's come through my feeds recently:
  • A citizen is trying to get the eastern end of our much-loved Church Hill Train Tunnel turned into a memorial park with benches, informational plaques, etc. This would be amazing for the neighborhood and just for satisfying general curiosity about the tunnel. I've actually gone through and appropriately tagged a bunch of the posts on this blog referencing the tunnel, which you can find here.
  • The Virginia Historical Society is putting together a documentary based on video submissions from regular ol' Virginians in all walks of life, dubbed Virginia Voices. This is right down the Midnight Society alley -- after all, stories are what got us into this in the first place. Right now I'm wishing for video skills to magically appear in my repertoire so I can participate in this.


  • I know I've harped on this before, but basically my prayers were answered and someone started a Richmond-specific history podcast. If you haven't checked out History Replays Today yet, what better time than the beginning of day trip season? This podcast is not very polished or really edited at all, but it's a labor of love and as painful as some of the sound quality is, I've finished every episode having learned several new facts. Coming from someone who's been on every historical tour in a 30 mile radius (and some repeatedly), that's saying something. Kudos to this guy for getting out there and interviewing all the people who know this stuff.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Staycation 2013: Bacon's Castle and Smithfield.

As our tour guide on Saturday pointed out, it's kind of ridiculous that this house is known as Bacon's Castle. Because Nathaniel Bacon never saw the place, though some of the rebel's men occupied it during their uprising against the colonial government in 1676. And probably if you built an expensive brick plantation house, you wouldn't want it to be known for the group of people who forcibly occupied and looted it one time. Why didn't people just continue calling it "Allen's Brick House?" Mysteries.


Whatever you call it, this house is a marvel. It's the oldest brick home in Virginia. Built in 1665 in the Jacobean style, it's like nothing I've ever seen in my life. I love the Flemish gables. I love the frosted argyle windows. And I love that the "new" part of the house was built in the 1840s. This place makes my late 17- early 1800s neighborhood look downright tacky.

Speaking of tacky, I have to apologize again for the horrible pictures because once again I didn't have my real camera. A couple of miles outside of Richmond I remembered it was sitting on my desk, and kicked myself for forgetting it the entire day. Womp womp.


Inside the house it's pretty spartan, though it's been decked out with plenty of period furniture made both in England and locally. The rough-hewn beams and mantelpieces everywhere give it a rustic look, while fancier touches like green wood paneling added in the 1740s and prints of maps and ladies in high fashion on the walls offer some contrast. It has a zillion stairs and a full cellar and creepy attic rooms and is reputedly as haunted as all get-out. When do we move in?

Though many of the outbuildings have burned over the years, there is still one of the slave quarters in tact and in pretty good condition.



I wished we could have stayed longer since apparently they were getting ready to have a big Guy Fawkes' Day bonfire where the gentleman himself would be burned in effigy, as is only proper at the home of some serious English loyalists. And I do hate to miss a good effigy-burning. It was a beautiful day though, and nice to take a look at a piece of architecture that departs so thoroughly from what I'm used to looking at.


After this we checked out the nearby town of Smithfield and ate lunch at the Smithfield Inn. They have killer she-crap soup there, and pretty much anything fried is good. Dan adored the onion rings with wasabi mayo, and I was really excited about the ham biscuits with poppy seed mustard (a childhood treat that I haven't had in years).

Smithfield is fun to walk around. Here I am spending some quality time with my friend Benjamin Franklin.


We popped into a few antique stores, but in this ritzy little town, most of what we saw was overpriced. Laura and Lucy's had a good selection of things like vintage hats, doilies, and china. And Wharf Hill is one of the most beautifully arrayed stores I have ever been in. The entire enormous place is one huge window display, and I mean that in a wondrous, delightful way, not in an exhausting, Ikea way.

The gingerbread victorian houses just go on and on throughout Smithfield, and we drove around gawking at them for a little while on our way out of town. They come in every hue and every level of ridiculous trim. And most of them are very well-kept. I'd love to go back WITH MY CAMERA (sigh) and get some good pictures of these houses on foot.



Incidentally, this hulking green thing is for sale if you have a spare few hundred thousand just lying around. It clearly needs to have some huge parties thrown in it.


We rolled home down route 10, through endless fall foliage that I never got a good picture of. This beautiful green field doesn't know it's fall yet, and I'll follow its lead and not acknowledge the fact that this amazing staycation is coming to an end.