Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Shockoe Bottom: Richmond's Oldest Neighborhood

If you go back far enough, you could say Richmond began on a large, flat rock at the mouth of the James River.  English settlers came up the river and traded with American Indians there on a rock the Indians called "Shockoe."  The name means "large flat stone."  In fact, the rock, which may have been located in what is today's Great Shiplock Park, gave its name to the creek (which ran between Church Hill and Shockoe Hill) and to the tobacco trading settlement that William Byrd established on the low-lying land near the creek in the 1600's.  The first buildings there were temporary wood structures, and the largest buildings were Byrd's tobacco warehouses.  The houses were one or two rooms, and were not built to last long.  The area underwent a growth spurt in 1737 when Byrd's son, William Byrd II, commissioned William Mayo to lay out a street grid for a new town to be called "Richmond." Mayo's grid encompassed a 32-square block area that is present day Shockoe Bottom.

Shockoe Bottom's original grid ran from today's 17th Street to 25th Street.  It is not only the oldest neighborhood in the city--it was once THE CITY!  By 1742, Richmond was a village of 250.  As far back as the 1800's, Shockoe Bottom was a mix of houses, stores, taverns and factories.  It was also once home to a large slave trading center.  Once the Capitol was being built in the 1780's, fashionable folks started moving up Shockoe Hill to be near it.  That was the beginning of Richmond's westward development.  Shockoe Bottom's oldest surviving house--aptly named The Old Stone House--was built in the 1700's.  It is the only colonial era house that survives in the City of Richmond.  The structure now houses the Edgar Allan Poe Museum and is located at 1914-16 East Main Street. Other houses in the Federal style from the 1700s and early 1800s still survive:  the Adam Craig House at 1812 E. Grace Street, for example.

The majority of the buildings that stand in Shockoe Bottom were built between 1870 and 1925.  The largest buildings were warehouses and factories.  As those buildings fell into disuse, the area declined, but it underwent a rebirth in the 1980s and 1990s as an entertainment destination and then as a trendy residential area.  Today, it is one of our City's fastest growing residential districts.  Shockoe Bottom today is an example of city living at its best.  The neighborhood's fine and casual dining options as well as its active nightlife attract many residents, as does its architecture and proximity to downtown Richmond.

Mac Pence and Jeff Wells
your Richmond Virginia Bed and Breakfast Innkeepers at Maury Place at Monument