Richmond, Virginia

Richmond, Virginia and its surrounding areas are steeped in so much history, it is often hard to experience all that it has to offer in one trip. "Richmond has a fabulous history and is filled with outstanding museums and historical attractions," said Richard Lewis, national public relations manager for the Virginia Tourism Corporation.

Still don't know much about history? Don't worry. History buffs and novices alike can always find something new to learn about this area.

The roots of Richmond

The Richmond region's history dates back to 1607 after the first permanent English settlement was established at nearby Jamestown. At Henricus Historical Park in nearby Chester, Va., you can experience what it was like for settlers like Sir Thomas Dale. Here, visitors can enjoy interactive displays that bring the story of Dale to life. Dale, who settled Henricus in 1611, established the second successful English city in the New World. Henricus was originally inhabited by the Appomattocks tribe, which is the one in which Pocahontas was raised. Co-existence between American Indians and the settlers proved successful when she converted to Christianity and was courted by John Rolfe. At the Henricus Historical Park, guests see how the first university was chartered and learn about the birth of the free enterprise system.

Visitors also discover how the first hospital in the New World was constructed as well as how the first privately owned piece of land was obtained. Interpreters throughout Henricus tell the story of life in the 1600s through their carpentry and craft demonstrations, gardening and cooking. A speech's seeds"Give me liberty or give me death!" exclaimed an impassioned Patrick Henry in 1775. The monumental speech in which Henry called his fellow countrymen to arms was delivered during the Second Virginia Convention at the St. John's Episcopal Church in Richmond. It was well documented that the convention voted by a slim margin to follow Henry's advice to resist King George III.

Today, you can visit Richmond's oldest church to see where it all took place. Tours include a walk through the church's interiors, a history of the buildings on St. John's grounds and information on the Second Virginia Convention Debate. Full public and private re-enactments of the debate also are offered through the church.

Museum history

History in Richmond would not be complete without showcasing it all in a comprehensive history center. Founded by Mann S. Valentine, the Valentine Richmond History Center has been collecting and preserving historic materials for more than 100 years. Some of the more interesting permanent exhibits include the "1812 Wickham House and Collections." Hourly tours of this National Historic Landmark give visitors a feel for life in the 19th century. The structure features artifacts, decorations and superior 19th-century Federal architecture. Only a few blocks from Virginia's Governor's Mansion, the Wickham House is an impressive dwelling to visit through the History Center. The house has been profiled by many notable media personalities, including home improvement guru Bob Vila."

"Settlement to Streetcar Suburbs: Richmond and its People," is another amazing display at the center that describes the story of how Richmond grew up from its trading post days to an industrialized Southern community. From the time Native Americans clashed with the incoming Europeans, Richmond, like much of the country, underwent serious growing pains. The exhibit shows how Richmond capitalized on its resources to become the success that it is today.

Another important exhibit that is part of the Richmond History Center is the "Edward Virginius Valentine Sculpture Studio." Works by Valentine are forever preserved in this studio, which is only one of four surviving 19th-century studios in the United States that is open to the public. This studio allows visitors to experience how Valentine developed his artistry. Whether it was clay, paste, marble or bronze, Valentine created legendary works. Valentine is widely known for his Robert E. Lee memorial at Washington and Lee University in Lexington and the Thomas Jefferson sculpture in Richmond.

A woman's work

Maggie Lena Walker was the first woman in the United States to found a bank. The progressive black woman rose from humble beginnings with an enthusiasm to reach her dreams. Her life's story is alive and well at the Maggie Walker National Historic Site. The site includes Walker's restored house of 30 years and a visitor center that details her life in the Jackson Ward community in which she grew up. All of the contents of Walker's home are original family belongings. The Walkers bought the house in 1904 and added several rooms and an elevator over the years. It was a family-owned home until 1979, when the National Park Service took it over.

Aside from the Walker Historic Site, the Jackson Ward area is home to many other important sites, including the Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church and the Black History Museum and Cultural Center. The Jackson Ward area was once known as the "Harlem of the South" in the 1920s an '30s. Black culture, economics and politics were booming, and these sites encapsulate those times.

Footsteps of greatness

If you are in search of a city that is steeped in culture and history, then Richmond is the place for you. "When you walk the streets of Richmond you are walking in the footsteps of Thomas Jefferson, Robert E. Lee, Abraham Lincoln and Edgar Allen Poe," said the Virginia Tourism Corporation's Richard Lewis. Indeed, when you are visiting Richmond, you are not only walking in the footsteps of greatness, but you are visiting some of the most important sites in America.

Richmond History Center


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