Here Lies the Treasure
Guide to hidden places, gnomes and things
1. The Triple Rail Meet
This is a must-see for people who enjoy 20-minute YouTube videos of trains moving slowly. It’s the only place in the nation where three different rail lines intersect, and has been drawing train fan boy pilgrims for decades (it dates from about 1901). Every 10 to 20 years, the railroads would stage a publicity photo showing three trains over one another, according to Calvin Boles of the National Railway Historical Society’s Old Dominion Chapter (you can see several versions at the Richmond Railroad Museum). Its unique status may be in question, according to Boles: There may be another triple crossing in the Midwest.
2. Shockoe Creek
The now enclosed creek runs below street level. It got its American-Indian-inspired name from a large stone where the creek entered the James River and once marked the western boundary of the original village.
3. Spring Park
In 1800, Gabriel, a charismatic slave from Henrico County, laid plans for an uprising near this spring off Lakeside Avenue. The effort failed when a massive storm occurred on the August night set for the revolt and several slaves revealed the plan, too. Gabriel was executed for his plot. The park is just south of Buckingham and Bryan Park avenues and contains a granite springhouse and interpretive exhibits. You’ll notice groundwater seepage there, as if the earth still weeps for Gabriel and the other slaves seeking their freedom.
4. The Forest Showroom of Best Products
This repurposed commercial building that has been home since 2000 to West End Presbyterian Church looks like a traditional storefront. But walk on up, and you’ll find a work of art. The building on Quioccasin Road was once the site of the Forest Showroom of Best Products, the national catalog retailer that was headquartered in Richmond until it folded in 1997. Its owners, Sydney and Frances Lewis, were major patrons of the arts, and they hired architect James Wines in the 1970s to augment some of their storefronts, including this one, which has a façade pushed off from the main building and separated from the main structure with a grove of trees and bushes to make it look as if it has been reclaimed by nature. Church workers say arts students still make occasional pilgrimages to see this work of art.
5. The Tombstone House
The "Tombstone House" in Petersburg actually was made of stones from the Poplar Grove National Cemetery, but not from discarded or stolen markers. (Photo by Betsy Dinger)
The story goes that there’s a house on Youngs Road in Petersburg that was built with stolen or discarded tombstones that marked fallen Union soldier’s graves. Like many urban legends, there’s a kernel of truth: The house actually was made of stones from the Poplar Grove National Cemetery, but not from discarded or stolen markers. The gravestones were cut down in 1933, and inscribed tops were laid flat on the graves. About 2,200 of the bottom portions of the marble stones were sold for $45 and were used to build the house. History is about to repeat itself, sort of: Poplar Grove plans to replace the stones that were cut off and laid flat with new, upright markers. The old stones won’t be sold this time around; they will be ground and disposed of (and the cemetery will be closed to visitors for 18 months during the process).
6. Detention Center Dog
This whimsical sculpture of a playful dog with a ball in its mouth is in a courtyard at the Richmond Juvenile Detention Center on Oliver Hill Way. Lester Van Winkle, arts professor emeritus at Virginia Commonwealth University, made the piece, in 1998. You have to take our word for it: Visitation is limited to family members and for official business, only. You can see it in Phil Riggan’s Discovering Richmond Monument book.
7. The Philadelphia Quarry Club
Now home to a private swim club in the Rothesay neighborhood off Douglasdale Road, the quarry was operated by the Richmond Quarry Co. It assumed its current moniker after its granite was used in the construction of Philadelphia’s city hall in the 1800s. Don’t just show up, here: It’s private property, accessed by invitation only.
8. The Wee World of Church Hill
Church Hill's infamous Fairy Village. (Photo by Steve Hedberg)
There’s always been magic in this eclectic neighborhood, but look closely, and you’ll also find fantasy. There are at least seven fairy gardens here — fanciful, miniature landscapes, with the granddaddy garden at 28th and Grace streets, courtesy of Jean McDaniel (read our Sunday Story on the Fairy Village here). She constructed it five years ago as a way to convey positive thoughts to friend and neighbor Mary Anne Buffington, who was hospitalized with cancer. Buffington passed away in a hospital and never saw the garden, but it became a neighborhood fixture, beloved by most, abhorred by some (it was vandalized this summer), and a community project that’s constantly being added to and changing. “That’s how it should be,” McDaniel says. “It was supposed to be temporary, but it took on a life of its own.” Check for updates on the fairy gardens at the Church Hill People’s News website.
9. The Devil’s Triangle
This quiet community between the Boulevard and North Belmont, Monument and Kensington avenues earned its less than savory nickname in the 1970s and 1980s as a result of rampant violence and drug trafficking. Gentrification and revitalization have since driven out the prince of darkness.
10. The Grand Kugel, Science Museum of Virginia
The Grand Kugel, a 29-ton granite globe, represents Earth and floats in a fountain in front of the museum with a jet of water with less pressure than an average household faucet that rotates the kugel and completes a revolution every 56 seconds. (Photo by Phong Nguyen)
It sounds like a massive casserole, but it’s actually the world’s largest sculptural science experiment. Its 29-ton granite globe represents Earth and floats in a fountain in front of the museum with a jet of water with less pressure than an average household faucet that rotates the kugel and completes a revolution every 56 seconds. There is also a moon kugel made of granite. The original Grand Kugel that was installed in 2003 cracked and is now on display in Garner Pavilion on the west side of the museum. An earth on the scale of the Grand Kugel would have an “atmosphere 1/4-inch thick, space shuttles would fly 2 1/2 inches above the surface and Mount Everest would feel like a 1/16-inch rough spot, says Chrissy Caldwell, of the Science Museum of Virginia.