There’s so much to do along the beautiful Kanawha Canal. Stretching 197 miles between Richmond and Botetourt County and running parallel to the James River, the canal sets a beautiful backdrop for those who live, work and play in the surrounding communities.
Aligned with several monuments, memorials, trails and national parks, the energy of the canal is as vibrant as ever. Every weekday, groups of excited children trek along the historic Richmond Slave Trail, then gather at Box Brown Plaza to take turns trying to fit themselves into the memorial box, similar to the one Henry Brown used to ship himself to freedom in 1849. Virginia locals and tourists from all across the country line up at the Turning Basin, between 14th and Dock streets, to take a 45-minute trip on the Riverfront Canal Cruise tour. And area residents jog along the Virginia Capital Trail that aligns the canal from Jamestown to Richmond.
Historically, the canal offered much more than a picturesque backdrop to boat rides, field trips and exercise routines. It began as an idea presented by George Washington to the Virginia General Assembly in 1784. Washington asked the Assembly to build a canal that would bypass the Falls at the James River. They obliged. One year later, with Washington serving as honorary president, the state incorporated The James River Company and began working on what would become the first towpath canal system in North America.
After several years of construction and restructuring, the canal became a major thoroughfare between Richmond and the rest of Virginia. Between 1850 and 1860, nearly 200 boats traveled daily up and down the canal, transporting tobacco, wheat and other goods to and from the local market.
The busyness of the canal was short lived, however, as the construction of the railways began to take place. Marred by manmade and natural disasters, such as the Civil War and the flood of 1870, the canal quickly became a backdrop to an area that was forcibly changing.
But the change brought new life for the canal. One that people from Richmond, and those from a little further way, seem to enjoy.
All the way from Brooklyn, New York, John Green moved to downtown Richmond just over a month ago. Yet somehow, he has managed to make his way to the Canal Walk at least twice a week since he’s been in town.
“The Canal Walk is one of my favorite places to be.” says Green. “It’s very peaceful and very beautiful. I come here often to walk around and clear my mind.”
Green goes on to say that the freight trains and the nearby businesses help him feel like he isn’t that far from home.
“I’m from Brooklyn. But I’m here now and I like it here,” he said. “It’s relaxing. And I can always walk further up the canal to the stores and the restaurants. Having them there helps me experience less of a shock from my move.”
Green is not the only person to enjoy the area’s lively restaurant scene. Happy Hours abound along the canal, with places like Buffalo Wild Wings, Conch Republic and Sine Irish Pub welcoming hundreds of patrons each night. Casa del Barco has a Happy Hour every day. However, it’s their Sunday brunch that fills the neighborhood hot spot to capacity.
“Everything is around me,” explains Nick Carter, who lives along the canal. “It’s high living, really. The best restaurants are all around. Unique stores are here. My yoga studio is a block away. And from my window, I have the view of the water.”
Carter lives in the William Hill Apartments, located just across the street from Morton’s Steakhouse. Though he loves the location of his unit, he feels there may be something better for him a little further up the canal.
“I’m looking at the new East 51 apartments at Rocketts Landing,” says Carter. “Those apartments are going to be very nice. They’re a little far from the action. But it’s still along the water.”
The new East 51 at Rocketts Landing apartments are slated to open this month. But, Carter may want to wait for the 12-story, Locks development high-rise. The $58 million project will be constructed at East Byrd and South 10th streets, not far from where Carter was enjoying his meal. Currently known as The Locks Tower, the luxury apartments will feature state-of-the-art designs and amenities, but isn’t expected to be available until 2019.
As it seems, no matter where you are along the canal, there is something to love and enjoy. And if Carter does decide to move, a refreshing walk along the canal will bring him right back to where he started.