By Max Hartshorne,
War and More
This medium-sized city has a surprising abundance of surprises. A vast array of parks, a thriving financial center, distinctive neighborhoods in full bloom and emerging, and, of course, enough history to make a Civil War re-enactor feel at home.
Eight major Civil War battles were fought within the city and in the surrounding countryside. The Hollywood Cemetery, perched high above the banks of the James River, holds the remains of Jefferson Davis and eight Confederate generals.
Visiting Hollywood early one early chilly Sunday morning, we were greeted by 78-year-old Betty Allen, our guide. Betty knows this place intimately; she even pointed out where she will be buried some day. More than 1,800 Civil War combatants are buried in Hollywood.
Perhaps the most striking memorial to the Confederate dead is the massive pyramid of 6-foot stones, built without mortar, that rises 55 feet above the remains of the 16,000 Confederate soldiers buried at Oakwood Cemetery. The soldiers are buried separately from the officers. The carnage and the emotional ties that these many reminders evoke of the Civil War make Richmond a poignant place.
entrance is within Oregon Hill, one of the nation's few preserved working
class neighborhoods. The Hill has a mixed reputation among Richmonders:
it is an almost exclusively white enclave and, as such, has earned a somewhat
underserved reputation as a segregationist haven. It
The scattered VCU campus marks the perimeter of Oregon Hill and the approximate eastern end of The Fan, a largely prosperous section of the city named for the expansion of its streets and avenues from Cary to Broad Streets. Monument Street, with trees lining the middle, typifies the elegance of the Fan. This wide avenue is broken up every few blocks statuary of famous Richmonders: Gen. Robert E. Lee, on horseback, Gen. Stonewall Jackson, Gen. JEB Stuart, President Jefferson Davis and, at its far end, tennis great Arthur Ashe Jr. During the warm fall, this street is a real treat to drive or walk down.
The western permimeter of the Fan is marked by Carey Street, a crowded street of small shops and restaurants. A great destination among the coffee shops and chic stores is the Byrd Theatre, a grand movie house where first-run films are offered at $1.99.
But the best part of Richmond is the geography. The jewel is the sometimes placid and other times roiling James River. The river winds its way through the city's center with class 4 rapids and meandering currents. We saw kayakers dipping and paddling through the waves, even during a drought-plagued time of the year.
The city's recent revival has taken full advantage of this treasure, and some of the swankiest apartments on the market are the former tobacco warehouses that are now river view condos over the James. Canal boats offer short tours between the places where locks once elevated boats for river journeys, and a walkway on top of the city's flood wall gives glimpes of bald eagles, Great Blue heron and other species with Richmond's skyscrapers looming in the background.
Up from the James, near the Thomas Jefferson-designed state Capitol, The Museum and White House of the Confederacy, on East Clay Street, houses the world's largest collection of military, political and domestic artifacts and art about the Civil War.
The museum has a dazzling array of confederate flags, weapons and personal effects. The Capitol is a great attraction as well, ringed by monuments. The most imposing is at the gated entrance of the Capitol -- George Washington astrde a horse. The Capitol, built in 1788, is a testament to the Jefferson's genius (he brought many Classical Roman architecture to Virginia, including his home in Monticello) and has been the backdrop of many movies.
From the hills upon where the Capitol and many downtown highrises stand, Shockhoe Slip and Shockhoe Bottom can be seen. The canals that lace through part of the Shockoe slip area downtown lend a foreign charm to Richmond. Most of the bars and restaurants allow smoking, a big change from many parts of the US, yet nowhere I went seemed too smoky. Shockoe also has a restored canal there are almost no restaurants that are right next to the river.
Tourists can ride in flat-bottomed boats in the barge canals and hear the history narrated by a Patriot, decked out in 1700s clothing. On a smaller scale than Carey Street, shops and restaurants and offices line the cobbled streets of Shockhoe Slip. A few blocks away, Shockoe Bottom is a funky collection of clubs, bars and restaurants. Up from the Bottom is Church Hill, the city's first neighborhood. This tree-lined community is a Boston-like neighborhood with grand, historic homes and St. John's Church, where Patrick Henry uttered his famous "give me liberty or give me death" speech.
Take those rock-climbing areas-we asked him about the possibility of lawsuits against the city by ayward climbers. He replied: "We treat them like adults. We give them fair warning, and illustrate what may happen if they fall, but the rest is up to them."
Instead of putting up fences and patrolling with police to keep climbers out, they encourage safe climbing by making it accessible to all. Instead of barricades, the city puts in trash barrels and welcomes recreational climbers to try their skills. The combination of fly fishing, rock climbing, and mountain biking has proven to be a winning combination, drawing many twenty-somethings to work in nearby office buildings and the huge Federal Reserve Bank who love the lifestyle the river and parks afford. The angler's prize is the huge shad and occasional sturgeon, which migrate up river to spawn.
Below the Lee Bridge is a foot and bike path, suspended by wires underneath the larger highway bridge, joining Belle Isle with downtown. On Belle Isle, history and nature came together. More than 6,000 Union prisoners were held here in horrendous conditions during the Civil War, and 1,000 of them died from disease and other causes.
Now the area below the bridge is a field of wild grass, bisected by hikers and mountain bikers, who pause to read the story of the infamous prison on placards. The ruins of an old ironworks still sit rusting to the side of the former prison.
for Kids and Adults
The city's swankiest accommodations are at the Jefferson Hotel, a magnificent Five Star property with a grand entrance hall and a sumptuous rotunda and 264 rooms. Local millionaire, Lewis Ginter, intent on making it as grand as he could and naming it after his hero, built the hotel in 1892. The Jefferson, whose vaulted lobby has 70' ceilings, offers a great splurge: their groaning Sunday buffet spread out over the entire spacious lower lobby, offers just about everything you can imagine for about $39 per person. Worth a treat!
For those on a budget, the Quality Inn on Carey Street offers clean, simple rooms well under $100 a night. The Inn has a small exercise area, offers a modest breakfast buffet and is within walking distance of downtown and the Shockoe sections.
Comfort, 200 West Broad St. As the name implies, easy-going foods like pastas, oysters, and a delicious broiled chicken. Funky atmosphere and hearty portions.
Millie's Diner. 2603 East Main St. 643-5512. A converted diner near the Church Hill neighborhood, Millie's delivers tasty and eclectic gourmet selections and has a good wine list. There's usually a line out the door.
Bottoms Up Pizza. 1700 Dock St., 644-4400. For unusual pizzas, late night eats, and fine beer from the local Legend brewery, this is a good bet in Shocktoe Bottom.
Mamma Zu', in the Oregon Hill neighborhood, is an unlikely destination for gourmands. It is housed in a brick bunker with all the charm of, well, a brick bunker. But the food is authentic Italian with an emphasis on seafood. One recent visit, I had an arugula salad piled high with parmesean shavings and an oyster stew with three plump oysters as a centerpiece. The service is acerbic but the food is top-notch.
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