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Did You Know … ?
- President Thomas Jefferson designed the Virginia State Capitol building.
- One-quarter of the battles but 60% of Civil War casualties occurred within 75 miles of Richmond.
- Richmond was the first test market for canned beer (1935).
- Several Richmond sites were film locations for the 2012 movie, “Lincoln.”
- The traitor, Benedict Arnold, led British troops when they burned Richmond (1781).
Civil War central
Richmond, Virginia’s capital, sits in the eastern part of the state on the James River. The city, built on several hills, sits astride the river at a point where, over a seven-mile stretch, the flowing water drops 100 feet in altitude — which is why visitors can shoot the rapids right in town. Islands in the river, as well as shoreside parks, offer additional options for recreation while enhancing the overall natural attractiveness of the city.
Richmond also boasts North America’s first canal system, which was designed by President George Washington. After the system fell into disrepair, the city undertook a major restoration in the 1990s, producing the Riverfront Canal Walk, a pedestrian path of more than a mile beside the canal.
The canal stroll takes visitors past period buildings and helpful historical markers. The walk also passes through two of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, Shockoe Slip and Shockoe Bottom, now gentrified with boutiques, clubs and restaurants. Another remarkable Richmond section, the Fan District, is said to be America’s largest intact Victorian neighborhood.
However, Richmond’s greatest distinction is its unique connection to American history.
When the South seceded from the Union, Richmond became capital of the Confederacy. Fights to control the capital brought a disproportionate share of Civil War misery to the region, and the city was burned near the war’s end. History buffs with an abiding interest in the American Civil War can pack itineraries with their preferred mix of battlefields, monuments and antebellum plantations.
The Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar, an ammunition factory for the Confederacy, is a museum that takes a big-picture view of the war. The center also is the headquarters for the Richmond Battlefield Park. The park encompasses more than 2,200 acres of Civil War sites in 13 units including the Confederacy’s largest hospital and dozens of miles of original fortifications.
In addition, the city has the Richmond Slave Trail, a signed walking route that chronicles the history of Richmond’s slave trade.
Much of Richmond’s sightseeing involves the Civil War, but it includes colonial-era sites such as the Virginia State Capitol. Note: Richmond was burned during the American Revolution, too.
Things to do for Venturers
- Stay in town and do your whitewater rafting on the James River. Richmond boasts it is the only U.S. city to offer Class IV whitewater rafting in an urban setting.
- Do what the locals do. Go to Belle Isle from the James River’s south shore by rock hopping. This means just what it says, hopping from rock to rock — and it’s not a good idea if the river is high.
- Sample local microbrewed beers. Also, find your way to Shockoe Bottom for some of the city’s most popular clubs and eateries.
- Check out Jackson Ward, an African-American historic district, which encompasses the Black History Museum and the 1930s home of Maggie Walker, an African American who was America’s first female president of a chartered bank.
- Rock climbing is an option at the Manchester Climbing Wall, actually an old bridge pier, or at a granite wall on Belle Isle. Or make that recreational tree climbing at Riverside Meadow, a retreat accessible only by bike or on foot.
- Pursue a passion for the saga of the American Civil War. Plan a self-guided driving tour of some or all of the 13 Richmond-area Civil War sites, which include battlefields and monuments.
Things to do for Centrics
- Follow the Richmond Slave Trail, a walking route that chronicles the story of the slave trade in the city. It includes the docks where slaves arrived, the former slave markets and a slave jail.
- Tour the Virginia State Capitol building.
- Stroll the Riverfront Canal Walk for a window on creative repurposing of centuries-old warehouses and other rejuvenation efforts in downtown.
- Dig into local history at the Valentine Richmond History Center, the Museum of the Confederacy and/or the Civil War Visitor Center at Tredegar Iron Works.
- At gentler sections of the James River, float on an inner tube. Or push off in a kayak.
- Follow in the footsteps of President Lincoln who visited Richmond and nearby Petersburg just days before he was assassinated in April 1865. Lincoln tours by Segway are available.
Things to do for Authentics
- Stroll through historic and beautiful Hollywood Cemetery. Look for the graves of U.S. Presidents James Monroe and John Tyler and Confederate President Jefferson Davis as well as many of the leading figures in Richmond’s history.
- Witness a reenactment of the Second Virginia Convention at the still-active St. John’s Church, where Patrick Henry concluded his speech with, “Give me liberty or give me death.” Costumed actors reenact the occasion Sunday afternoons from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
- Take a short narrated cruise on the Kanawha Canal.
- Walk the streets of the Fan District, known for its beautiful Victorian houses and wide Monument Avenue — and for its numerous and reasonably priced neighborhood bars.
- See the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts by day; head to theater after dark.
- Make your way through one or more historic homes, such as the Gilded Age Maymont mansion; Tuckahoe Plantation, Jefferson’s boyhood home; the Wilson House Museum, a plantation home, and the White House of the Confederacy.
For more information, consult Richmond Region Tourism at www.visitrichmondva.com