The Fall Line/Christopher Newport's Cross
Geography and history meet at Richmond's fall line — the place where the deep, navigable channel of the James River turns into comparatively shallow, rock-filled rapids. Richmond being Richmond, we decided to memorialize the fall line in the wrong place, however. A statue near today's old Reynolds aluminum foil plant at 12th and Byrd streets marks the place where, in 1607, Sir Christopher Newport and Capt. John Smith reached the western limits of where their ship could safely travel. Never mind that the location of the statue— a giant cross — is about a half-mile beyond its likely historical location.
Ashland, the "Center of the Universe"
If you're going to make a whopper of a claim, go all the way. Just ask larger-than-life Ashland Mayor Richard S. "Dick" Gillis Jr. Sometime in the 1980s, Gillis made the claim that his little train-stop town just north of Richmond was in fact the Center of the Universe. A similar claim by Gillis that Railroad Avenue is paved in pure gold was less catchy and hence failed to be immortalized on tourism brochures.
Perhaps it's fitting that a church founded as a testament to dissent met its end caught between opposing armies on a Civil War battlefield. Polegreen Church was founded in 1746, among a handful of
non-Anglican churches that formed as a result of the Great Awakening religious movement a decade earlier. Young pastor Samuel Davies was an early influence on Patrick Henry, who attended the Hanover County church as a child. Polegreen also holds cultural significance as Davies was an early advocate for the education of freed blacks and slaves. An explosive Confederate cannon round destroyed the church in 1864. Today, visitors are confronted with the architectural equivalent of a chalk outline.
In 1800, less than 20 years after the end of the American Revolution, a young, educated and charismatic slave from Henrico County known as Prosser's Gabriel, perhaps inspired by having stood in the shadow of his master's close friend, Patrick Henry, echoed the founding father's insistence that only liberty or death would do. Recruiting an army of fellow slaves, Gabriel planned to capture Richmond and force then-Gov. James Monroe to declare an end to Virginia slavery. The conspirators met frequently at Young's Spring, a site just south of the modern-day Lakeside area of Richmond, to plan their insurrection. History might have been very different had a massive storm not struck on the appointed night of Aug. 30, 1800. In the days after, Gabriel and his followers were rounded up.
Burial Ground for Negroes
Perhaps one of Richmond's oldest cemeteries, this burial site was immortalized on an 1807 map of Richmond and then forgotten. This site, at the foot of Shockoe Hill near the VCU Hospital campus, has been reclaimed today as a place to commemorate the perhaps thousands of slaves and freed blacks who may have been buried here during a time when the lives of these men and women were considered unworthy of commemorating. Notably, the city's gallows also had their place on this site and many of the co-conspirators in Gabriel's Insurrection of 1800 — perhaps even Gabriel himself — were hanged, buried and forgotten here.
Monroe's Tomb at Hollywood Cemetery
Known as "the Birdcage," Monroe's tomb is the final resting place of the fifth president of the United States, James Monroe. The black, cast-iron edifice is impressive in that it seems to capture an almost delicate lace-like effect, hence the nickname. While you're in the neighborhood, don't forget to pay propers to President John Tyler and Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Or check out Richmond's very own pyramid, a 90-foot specimen constructed to commemorate Confederate war dead. And stop by the W.W. Pool mausoleum, the reputed home of the Richmond Vampire.
Washington's Tomb, Virginia Capitol Grounds
Who's buried in Grant's tomb? If you answered Grant, you're pretty smart. But who's buried in Washington's tomb? First conceived in 1799, but unveiled in 1858 — a bit late to be of use to the man who would not be king — Washington's monument and tomb on the Virginia Capitol grounds remain unoccupied. America's first president, for the record, is buried, per his own last wishes, at his Mount Vernon home.
Richmond was still young in the mid-1780s when Chevalier Quesnay de Beaurepaire, a French officer in the American Revolutionary army, developed the idea for a classical academy of the arts on the city block between Broad and Marshall streets, and 14th and what was once 13th Street. The giant wood-framed theater was completed after Quesnay left town, serving in 1788 as the site of perhaps the biggest theatrical event in Virginia history: the Virginia Ratifying Convention, which saw the adoption of the U.S. Constitution as well as an outline for the later Bill of Rights. A few years later, the building went up in flames, eventually replaced with a brick but equally flammable structure. It, too, burned, killing 72, including then-Virginia Gov. George William Smith. The site today is a church designed by famed architect Robert Mills and overseen during construction by U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Marshall.
A.P. Hill Monument
He may well be the only Civil War officer who's still causing new casualties. Gen. A.P. Hill (aka "Little Powell" to his troops) couldn't have hoped for a more high-profile last stop: smack dab in the middle of the intersection of Laburnum Avenue and Hermitage Road. Indeed, Hill's is the only Confederate statue in Richmond actually marking his final resting place. The monument reflects his troops' admiration for their fallen leader, but it's also a monument to one of his staff officer's creative marketing efforts in later life. Maj. Lewis Ginter was a self-made millionaire philanthropist who developed Ginter Park in the late 1800s, a time of stiff competition in the world of real estate marketing. All the big early suburbs of the city (like Highland Park and Forest Hill) had their own carnivals. But this was the Age of Victoria — and of a budding fascination with the macabre — and what's more ghoulish than having a dead hero in front of a new neighborhood's model home?