The Roots of Richmond

Just past the entry way of the historic Valentine Museum, a large map of Richmond lies across the floor. Stretching from wall-to-wall, the map is surrounded by artifacts, treasures and cherished memories of what Richmond was so long ago.  

Richmond was definitely a gem. And it still is. New restaurants, retail spaces and apartment buildings pop-up virtually each day. Church Hill, Fulton Hill and Rocketts Landing seem to be the current hot beds of growth. But walking through the museum, I couldn’t help but wonder what Richmond was like in those areas before the late-night hotspots and luxury condos came to exist. 

Why did people settle in Richmond in the first place?

Per the information available at The Valentine, Native Americans “came to the James River fall line for two reasons, transport and food. Later, Europeans stopped at the fall lines when their larger watercraft could sail no further up river. Nature provided a logical place for trade within these groups. Colonial entrepreneurs also recognized the economic potential of harnessing the fall lines power.”

Colonell William Byrd II was one of the entrepreneurs excited about the land’s trade potential. And because of his family’s trade relationship with the Native Americans, Byrd became the area’s largest landowner and tobacco trader. In 1733, with a mind for business and entrepreneurship, he projected a plan to establish the town of Richmond, a name which is thought to have been chosen because of the land’s similarity to Richmond-Upon-Thames, England. Just four years later, Byrd’s plan became a reality when, in April of 1737 atop of Church Hill, Major William Mayo surveyed the area, laying out “32 squares for Richmond, with streets 65 feet wide.” Those “32 squares for Richmond” included land that is now Fulton Hill, Rocketts Landing and Church Hill, the city’s first and oldest neighborhood. 

Church Hill, steeped in American history and pride, is the site of Virginia’s second revolutionary convention and home to St. John’s Church, where Patrick Henry gave his “Give me liberty or give me death” speech in 1775. 

As rich in history as Church Hill may be, it’s also pleasantly prepared for the future. Businesses and restaurants abound. Salons like Luminary Hair Co. offer great moments of relaxation for men and women alike, while casual dining spots, including Liberty Public House, offer happy hours throughout the week and brunches on the weekends. And in August of this year, the neighborhood will enjoy the opening of Patrick Henry Square, named after the beloved attorney who stood for liberty all those years ago. The new construction will sit along the 300 block of 24th Street and include 17 apartments and 6,500 square feet of commercial space. 

The real estate market is also booming. In the April 2018 issue of the Church Hill Community newsletter, Amy Tesauro shared the stats. So far this year, the average home sale price is $242,438. However, the property at 2607 E. Grace St. sold for a whopping $815,000 and stayed on the market for only 3 days! A sale like that would definitely make a business man like Byrd proud. 

Fulton Hill is expecting some major changes as well. Named after James Alexander Fulton  — husband of Eliza Mayo, who was a descendant of Major William Mayo — the neighborhood is now looking forward to a social upturn. In recent history, the area was known as a messy, slum of sorts. Ridden with crime, the neighborhood was neglected by even its own residents. But today, hope springs eternal. Artisan Hill, the area’s newest living space, will bring luxury apartments to Fulton Hill. Located adjacent to the Fulton Hill Studios, Artisan Hill will bring granite countertops, stainless steel appliances and more to an area that many often forget. 

As for Rocketts Landing, the area is alive with Conch Republic Rocketts and The Boathouse — the city’s only waterfront restaurants. Located directly along the banks of the James River, Rocketts Landing was once the meeting place for spectators to come and view the beautiful Eagle and Powhatan steamboats. Such boats were sights to see in the early 1800s, as they could sail upstream at the rate of two miles per hour and also move in reverse. 

It’s unlikely that a steamboat will make its way to Rocketts Landing anytime soon. However, the marina is still filled with pleasure boats, canoes and other water crafts owned by area residents. Fresh new townhomes and condos align the newly laid streets. And the area’s first apartment building, East 51, is expected to open later this spring. 

Richmond stands tall in the bedrock of history, and its current residents are just as excited about its development as the early colonists that settled here all those years ago. And though we are generations apart, one thing’s for certain, we’ve all looked forward to Richmond’s future. 

A Sampling of Dining & Shopping in Church Hill

Alamo BBQ (2202 Jefferson Ave.; 804-344-3374) | Texas-style BBQ and tacos with a takeout window and patio seating.
The Boathouse Restaurant (4708 E. Old Main St.; 804-622-BOAT) | Distinct and unique dining experience with southern roots and cultural influences, complete with a waterfront view.
Conch Republic Rocketts Landing (11 Orleans St.; 804-226-6242) | A Key West-inspired waterfront restaurant with island- and Cajun-influenced dishes. 
Dutch & Co. (400 North 27th St.; 804-643-8824) | Cozy and quaint restaurant utilizing seasonal ingredients and traditional cooking techniques, inspired by the cuisines of the world.
Liberty Public House (418A North 25th St.; 804-225-8275) | A family-friendly dining experience in the historic Churchill district. 
Metzger Bar and Butchery (801 N. 23rd St.; 804-325-3147) | German-inspired plates, plus wines by the glass.
Nile (306 N. 29th St.; 804-648-0791) | A family-operated restaurant offering authentic Ethiopian cuisine and  natural foods since 2006.
Proper Pie Co. (2505 E. Broad St.; 804-343-7437) | A Small bakery serving a rotating menu of New Zealand–style pies with sweet and savory fillings.
The Roosevelt (623 N. 25th St.; 804-658-1935) | One of Church Hill’s most popular eateries featuring  New Southern fare and craft cocktails.
Retail & Services 

Ben’s Barber Shop (2607 East Marshall St.;  804-644-1212) | Quaint, neighborhood Barber shop. 
BOHO Cycle & BOHO Core (2401 East Marshall St.;  804-728-1824) | Fitness center offering indoor cycling, strength training, hip-hop classes, and more.
Roaring Pines (2025 Venable St.; 804-269-5395) | Retail shop offering household goods, utilities, and more, as well as a coffee bar and a soda fountain. The place to go for high-quality handmade brooms.
Sub Rosa Bakery (620 N. 25th St.; 804-788-7672) | Local grains are house ground and baked in wood ovens to create artisan breads and pastries.
Union Market (2306 Jefferson Ave.; 804-716-7233) | A neighborhood grocery and café featuring  a variety of locally produced goods as well as a good selection of craft beers.
WPA Bakery (2707 E. Marshall St.; 804-716-9797) | Hip bakeshop offering pastries, cakes and coffee. Lots of gluten-free and vegan options.

Ashley Jefferson
Author: Ashley Jefferson

Ashley Jefferson is the EIC of River City Mag. She currently lives in Richmond, VA with her fiance.

Ashley Jefferson
Ashley Jefferson is the EIC of River City Mag. She currently lives in Richmond, VA with her fiance.