Friday, August 16: After visiting Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, I venture down to Richmond’s waterfront to check out the Canal Walk. I used to live in Richmond some 26 years ago, and I frequented the area known as Shockoe Slip, but there was never any Canal Walk at that time. At that time it was all just a rather ramshackle industrial area.
I think it’s fun, as I settle back into life in America, for me to take periodic trips down memory lane: to revisit some of the places I’ve been before and note how they’ve changed. I also know that for years, before living and working abroad in Korea and Oman, I’d taken what America had to offer for granted. Now I plan to rediscover the little historical and natural gems with a fresh view.
From a brochure prepared by venture richmond, I find that in the mid-19th century, Richmond’s waterfront bustled with business and trade, workers and travelers, hotels, saloons and tobacco warehouses. Along the canals, barges were towed by teams of horses and mules. Batteaux for carrying freight plied the river and the canal around the rapids, and passenger boats, called “packets,” left for Lynchburg every other day.
Richmond has now restored its historic canals and has created a pedestrian path along them. Along the riverfront are the sites of Indian trade routes and of early Colonial settlements. Tredegar Iron Works buildings have been restored, and the remains of bridges burned when the Confederates evacuated the city still stand. Tobacco warehouses, electric trolleys, and an early African-American church have all left their mark. Their stories, and many others, are now told along the Canal Walk.
After centuries of periodic flooding by the James River, development was greatly stimulated by the building of Richmond’s James River Flood Wall in 1995. Ironically, the next flooding disaster came not from the river, but from Hurricane Gaston which brought extensive local tributary flooding along the basin of Shockoe Creek and did extensive damage to the area in 2004, with businesses being shut down and many buildings condemned.
The wall shows the heights the river has reached during various storms. Here are the flood marks, from the bottom up: Hurricane Camille 1969, Juan 1985, Agnes 1972, and Historical (Unknown) at the top: 1771.
When I lived in Richmond, I worked at SunTrust Bank, which was at that time called Crestar Bank. You can almost see my old office in this picture, as I was on one of the top floors.
Shockoe Slip earned its unusual name from the creek that once flowed through it. Shacquohocan was the Indian word for the large, flat stones at the mouth of the creek, and “slip” refers to the area’s position on the canal basin where boats loaded their cargo.
Founded as a small trading post by William Byrd in the early 1600’s, Shockoe Slip was the commercial center of Richmond and most of the western part of the state. A young George Washington surveyed The Kanawha Canal that ran west and became the super waterway for goods until the Civil War.
Shockoe Slip literally rose out of the ashes after retreating Confederate troops burned most of the downtown. Railroads and highways replaced the canals and waterways as major commercial transportation routes over the next century.
Once an old tobacco warehouse, the Tobacco Company Restaurant has been a mainstay of Shockoe Slip for 30 years. I used to eat here quite frequently when I worked in Richmond.
Shockoe Slip has been slowly restored since the early 1970s, and it has a distinctly European flavor with its Italianate brick and iron front buildings and a Renaissance-style fountain. Now the area is a fashionable shopping district with apparel stores, galleries, restaurants and hotels (Historic Shockoe Slip).
The Urban Farmhouse Market & Café was founded in 2010 with a mission in mind: Bring the farm to the city and suburbs and provide area residents with local, wholesome food in a warm, rustic environment (The Farmhouse Story). This seems to be all the rage in America now, with organic markets springing up everywhere I look.
It’s nice to see that Richmond is going through an urban renewal, like pockets in many cities throughout the U.S. Richmond is one of my favorite towns in Virginia and I hope to see it prosper. 🙂