Serving as the capital of both Virginia and the Confederate States from 1861 to 1865, Richmond was first settled as a trade and mill center in 1737. With the arrival of the railroad, and tobacco and wheat manufacturing, it was flourishing as a leading commercial center by the outbreak of the Civil War. Its key position along the James River also saw its exporting industry thrive.
Today, Richmond (population 203,000) has an economy centered on tobacco, papermaking, and chemical manufacturing. Its cityscape is a mixture of high-rise office blocks and drab warehouses, but there are several areas within town that reflect its antebellum era. The Church Hill Historic Area features a host of antebellum and Colonial buildings, including St John’s Episcopal Church (1794), where one-time Virginia governor, Patrick Henry, called for independence from Britain in his famous “Give me liberty or give me death!” rhetoric.
The oldest building in the city is the Old Stone House, featuring the Edgar Allan Poe Museum and a display of personal papers and artifacts. The Neoclassical Virginia State Capitol, designed in part by Thomas Jefferson, features a rotunda that frames the statue of George Washington and busts of seven Virginia presidents. It was in this building that Robert E. Lee took command of the Virginia army upon the outbreak of war.
The Museum and White House of the Confederacy has in-depth accounts of the contribution of African-Americans to the war and a brilliant exhibit of Confederate history. The oldest mercantile district, now fully restored, is Shockoe Slip. Much of this area was destroyed by Union artillery during the army’s occupation.
Another interesting area to explore is the Canal Walk, tracing the James River’s restored waterfront district and the 60-acre park at Belle Isle, which served as a Union prison camp during the war. The elegant tree-lined boulevard of Monument Avenue features the city’s grand estates plus statues of the South’s revered war heroes, including Robert E. Lee on horseback. In the Hollywood Cemetery are the graves of war hero J.E.B. Stuart, President James Monroe, and Jefferson Davis.
Richmond’s “Little Africa,” a national historic landmark, features the African-American History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia. The Maggie Lena Walker National Historic Site chronicles the life of the former slave and first woman to become president of the St Luke Penny Savings Bank. African-American people first began their public education at Leigh Street’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. The aim to capture and control Richmond saw several campaigns fought in and around the city in 1862 and 1864. The Richmond Battlefield Park preserves 11 sites scattered across three counties. The park’s visitor center provides detailed information on the various battle sites around the city. Richmond is served by Richmond International Airport and by rail. Buses run along I-95.