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

Monday, December 26, 2011

200th Anniversary of Historic Richmond Theatre Fire

Today, December 26, is the 200th anniversary of the fire that destroyed the Richmond Theatre and killed at least 72 people inside.  Nearly 600 people packed the Richmond Theatre on the day after Christmas in 1811.  As the curtain rose for the final performance of the night, a candle on a chandelier brushed against the backing of some scenery, and it was not long before the extremely flammable theatre was engulfed in flames.  The theatre was built five years earlier where the 1200 block of East Broad Street is today.  It replaced another theatre that burned in 1800.  With inadequate and narrow stairs and only three exits with doors that opened inward, the crush of people rushing to escape was just as lethal as the fire itself.  Those killed included Virginia Governor George W. Smith and United States Senator Abraham B. Venable, who had become president of the Bank of Virginia.  Of the 72 people confirmed killed, 54 were women.  The remains of the victims are buried in a crypt underneath Monumental Church on Broad Street.  The church was erected as a memorial to the victims and opened for worship in 1814.  A marble monument on the church's portico bears the names of those who died.  The Episcopal church congregation worshipping at that site grew during the following years and eventually led to the founding of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in downtown Richmond in the 1840's.  As Richmond, a city of nearly 10,000 people at the time, reeled in the aftermath of the disaster, evangelical clergy seized the moment to preach against the theater and other public amusements.  There was a call to end such "frivolity" and move to a more "God-fearing" existence for the city.  Plans for a new theatre took shape in 1816, but it took three years for the new theatre, dubbed "The Theatre," to be completed at the corner of Seventh Street and East Broad Street.  Forty-three years later, it burned as well.  Maury Place at Monument is just a short drive to Monumental Church in downtown Richmond.

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

Friday, December 23, 2011

Elvis at 21

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is opening a very special exhibit just in time for the holidays!  "Elvis at 21" will feature fifty-six dramatic black and white photographs taken by Alfred Wertheimer in 1956.  The photographs feature Elvis Presley in his prime--and on the brink of international superstardom.  Eleven of the images were taken here in Richmond, including the famous photo "The Kiss, backstage," when Elvis was in Richmond to perform at The Mosque--now Richmond's Landmark Theatre.  The Richmond photos were taken at that theatre, the Jefferson Hotel, the Richmond train station, and other locations.

On January 8, Presley's 77th birthday, the VMFA will host a birthday bash for Elvis from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m.  The event will be free and open to the public.  The guest of honor will be Barbara Gray, of Charleston, South Carolina, who was recently identified as the young woman kissing Presley backstage at The Mosque in several of the photographs.

"Elvis at 21" will be showing December 24, 2011 - March 18, 2012. The exhibit is on the last leg of an eight-city tour.  Admission is $8, with $2 discounts for students, seniors, and children 7 to 17.  The exhibit is free to Museum members. Maury Place at  Monument is just a short walk from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

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

Monday, December 19, 2011

Dramatic Lincoln Painting on Exhibit

The City of Richmond is abuzz with news of the filming of the movie Lincoln in our midst.  The movie is directed by Steven Spielberg and stars Daniel Day Lewis as Abraham Lincoln and Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln.  Tommy Lee Jones will also play a crucial role.  The Lincoln cast and crew will be filming in the Richmond area through the end of the  year, and our own State Capitol building will be standing in for the Lincoln White House.  The movie will be released in late 2012.

With topics Lincoln in the air, it is appropriate that the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar is exhibiting Lincoln's Drive Through Richmond, one of the first paintings to depict the president's drive through the city in April 1865, just one day after fires swept through Richmond.  Artist Dennis Malone Carter completed the work in 1866.  According to curator Randy Klemm, the large-scale, oil on canvas work is significant because most people are not aware that Lincoln visited the city after its fall.  "He didn't have to come to Richmond, but it was important to him that he be here, " Klemm said.  "The painting is dramatic," he added.  "Lincoln's carriage is at a crossroads.  I believe that's symbolic.  What's also interesting to me is how very small Lincoln is even though the canvas is massive.  Of course, we know as the artist knew that Lincoln had only a few short days to live after his visit to Richmond, so the figures in the foreground and background are the people who will continue the story of the country."

The painting is on display through mid-April at 500 Tredegar St.  For details and admission prices, visit or call 804-780-1865.   Tredegar is just a short drive from Maury Place at Monument.

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

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Plan to Visit the VMFA's "Mummy: Secrets of the Tomb"

Mac and I just went to see the latest blockbuster exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, "Mummy: Secrets of the Tomb," and it was great!

The exhibit starts with a fascinating 3-D Movie about the 3000-year old mummy and tomb of Nesperennub, a temple priest.  The documentary is narrated by Patrick Stewart, so Mac (who is a Star Trek fan!) was very excited about that!  The 3-D floating mummy at times did resemble the Enterprise!  The movie takes you into a 3-D tour of the interior of the mummy itself to discover how old Nesperennub was and perhaps how he died.  The movie also recreates an image of what he looked like when he was alive.

At the end of the film, the theatre doors automatically open to the exhibit itself.  Over 100 artifacts from the world-famous Egyptian collection of the British Museum are on display. We were awestruck by the detail of the large stone sculptures and tiny human figures.  It is also amazing how vivid the painted colors and imagery of the ancient coffins remain.  We also are always impressed at how the curators of the VMFA create such impressive galleries.  The dark brown walls and aqua blue display cases set off the ancient objects perfectly.  In addition, if you want to stay in "Egypt mode" you can explore the VMFA's own Ancient Egyptian Gallery, which is worth a trip in itself.  Of course, the shop at the end of the exhibit is quite good, and the VMFA's main shop never fails to disappoint.  To top the afternoon off, we had a delightful dinner at the museum's Amuse Cafe.

It is amazing that we can immerse ourselves in ancient Egypt within walking distance of Maury Place at Monument.  The exhibit runs through March 11, 2012.

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

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Holiday Glitter on Monument Avenue!

The Valentine Richmond History Center sponsors great walking tours throughout the year.  Many of our guests frequently take their tours of Hollywood Cemetery or historic Richmond neighborhoods.  Certainly one of their most popular tours of the year is the "Holiday Glitter" tour of Monument Avenue after dark.  

Monument Avenue is at its height of Christmas beauty right now.  Beautiful homes along the historic street are aglow after dark with glittering lights and Christmas trees.  The most popular tour of the year occurs on December 26 and 27 from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m.  Reservations are required.  Visit or call 804-649-0711, extension 301, for reservations and starting location.  

Of course, Maury Place at Monument, located at the intersection of West Franklin Street and Monument Avenue looks stunning after dark!  Happy Holidays, and may all your days have some "glitter"!

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

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Merry Christmas from Inn Dogs Chico and Lucy!

Happy Holidays!  Mac and I endeavored to take a photo of Chico and Lucy in their Christmas finery for our family Christmas card.  Enjoy this video of our photo session!

Here is the picture we will be using for our card below!

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

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Fan Holiday House Tour: December 10 and 11

It is that time of year again!  Christmas lights and holiday wreaths are appearing on beautiful historic homes across the Fan and the Museum District--two of Richmond's historic neighborhoods within walking distance of Maury Place at Monument.

The Fan District Association's Annual Holiday House Tour will occur on December 10 and 11 from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m.  Eight extraordinary homes will be featured on the tour, including one of our Monument Avenue neighbors, 2710 Monument Avenue.  Tickets are available at area Martin's stores and other area merchants $25 in advance and $30 on the day of the tour.  For further information, visit

Stay at Maury Place at Monument during the weekend of the tour and receive 10 percent off your first night with proof of tour admission.

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

Monday, December 5, 2011

Church Hill Holiday House Tour on December 11

The Church Hill neighborhood of Richmond, with more than 400 years of history, is a treasure trove of history, architecture, some folklore, and at its very center, St. John's Church, the city's oldest church.  The St. John's Church Historic District is the city's oldest historic district and stretches from 21st to 32nd Streets, and East Franklin to East Broad Streets.  In 1775 at St. John's, Patrick Henry uttered his famous words "Give Me Liberty or give me death," sparking Virginia to deliver troops to the Revolutionary War.  The neighborhood today includes three large parks, a bevy of top rated restaurants, coffee shops, community gardens, and the recent addition of a dog park!

This year, Church Hill's Annual Holiday Weekend will occur December 9 through 11.  The Holiday Weekend is an extensive holiday celebration with a holiday vespers service and candlelight caroling on Friday night, a neighborhood party on Saturday night, and the annual Holiday House Tour on Sunday afternoon.  During the Holiday House Tour, visitors get to see the creativity and uniqueness of Church Hill's historic homes.  The House Tour will be from noon to 5:00 p.m. on Sunday, December 11.  Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 on the day of the tour.  For ticket purchases online and further information, visit

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