Richmond Pedicab Tour
These tour notes were compiled for Richmond Pedicab by Benjamin Powell. We welcome all Richmond pedicabs, pedicab drivers, and the general public to consult these notes while cruising RVA.
Sharing the name of an affluent town in southwest London, Richmond was founded by Col. William Byrd II in 1737 as a place for farmers to live and develop their tobacco crops. While it is still known for tobacco - the headquarters of Altria, previously known as Philip Morris Companies, Inc, is situated in nearby Henrico County - Richmond is perhaps most famous as the capital of the Confederacy until the end of the Civil War. Many of the most famous landmarks in the city can be found in or near Shockoe Bottom, such as the White House of the Confederacy, the Edgar Allan Poe Museum (inside the oldest house in Richmond), and the Canal Walk.
We like to focus our tours on an area just as historic but not as traveled by visitors to Richmond: The Fan, the Museum District, Carytown, and Byrd Park, all west of Shockoe Bottom.
So named because of the way the neighborhood’s streets fan outward from Belvidere Street, the Fan District first appeared shortly after the Civil War and the population accelerated rapidly around the turn of the next century. Mostly tobacco fields even in 1900, the area was almost fully developed by 1930. Much of the architecture present today was built in this time, largely influenced by the City Beautiful movement of the late 19th century.
Our tour begins on Monument Avenue, the only street in the nation designated a National Historic Landmark. This opulent avenue has been a favorite of Richmond’s wealthiest citizens for over a hundred years, but it’s best known for a series of statues, monuments from important figures in Richmond’s history.
Going from east to west, the first monument we see is that of Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart, A native Virginian, Stuart enjoyed an early reputation as a skilled battlefield tactician, twice circumnavigating the Union Army of the Potomac while in command of the Army of Northern Virginia. During the Battle of Gettysburg, however, he suffered a surprise attack and was separated from Lee’s army, contributing to the Confederate loss. Stuart was killed in battle the next year in nearby Hanover County in the Battle of Yellow Tavern.
Robert e. lee
The well-known Commander of the Confederate Army, Lee was born on a grand plantation in nearby Westmoreland County, VA to a former Major General of the Revolutionary War. Although accounts of his level of firmness as a master vary, Lee was a lifelong slaveholder through the Civil War. He was considered a crafty battlefield leader up to his defeat at Gettysburg, which loss owed heavily to the infamous Pickett’s Charge. After the war, he became a figurehead of the reunion of North and South; though he believed the now-free blacks shouldn’t be able to vote, he was generally a proponent of civil rights. For a short time after the war, he lived at the Norman-Steward house at 707 East Franklin St. in Richmond. This is both the oldest and most vandalized statue on Monument Ave.
Also at this intersection is the John K Branch house, the largest house in Richmond at around 30,000 square feet. Built in 1916 by famous architect John Russell Pope, the house now holds an architecture museum inside.
A politician and military figure from Mississippi, Davis was elected President of the Confederacy on February 18, 1861. His wife later wrote that "[Upon r]eading that telegram he looked so grieved that I feared some evil had befallen our family." He was criticized for his poor strategic decisions, including defending all Southern territory with equal force instead of placing greater emphasis on more important locations, and his rampant cronyism.
General Thomas Jackson earned his famous nickname from Brigadier General Barnard Bee who, upon receiving the former’s reinforcements at the First Battle of Bull Run, shouted to his men “There is Jackson, standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer.” Unfortunately, Bee’s intent could not be verified as he was killed almost immediately afterwards. Nonetheless, Jackson proved to be an almost universally-acclaimed military tactician whose strategies are studied to this day as examples of bold leadership and battlefield innovation. Jackson’s unit was mistaken for a Union force by another Confederate unit in the Battle of Chancellorsville and he sustained three gunshot wounds from friendly fire; two to the left arm and one to the right hand. He was taken to Richmond to recover but died a week later of pneumonia.
Matthew Fontaine Maury
This monument was intended for Washington D.C. but was rejected because of Maury’s position as chief of harbor defense within the Confederacy. Instead, it was placed at the intersection of Belmont St. in Richmond. The figure of Maury faces eastward, toward the Atlantic Ocean that the "Pathfinder of the Seas" charted. He holds in his left hand a pencil and compass and in his right hand a copy of his charts. Beside his left foot is his book, Physical Geography of the Sea, as well as a Bible, indicating the central role that faith played in Maury's life. A globe of the Earth is tilted slightly on its axis behind his head. It represents both land and sea, and the woman standing calmly is a representation of Mother Nature between the land and sea. Around the base of the globe are depictions of people clinging to a sinking boat in bad weather representing the dangers of the sea with a woman in the center, and on the right (north) side of the globe there is a farmer, boy and a dog representing Maury's work promoting land weather service, which dates back further than 1853.
Further down Monument you’ll find the Arthur Ashe statue, a monument to the famous African -American tennis player from Richmond. Controversial for being the only one not directly tied to the Confederacy, it is the newest monument, erected in 1996, and the smallest. The controversy over the statue may have also been driven by design and placement choices. The statue depicts an emaciated Arthur Ashe holding a book and a tennis racket, with children below him reaching up to him. Ashe's statue is much smaller than those of most of the Confederate leaders and is the farthest from downtown Richmond, situated just outside of the city's Fan district.
Virginia museum of fine arts
Opened in 1936, the VMFA was built on a property that was formerly a housing camp for Confederate veterans with the mandate of serving as the state’s flagship art museum and as the headquarters for an educational network that would bring the best of world art, past and present, to every corner of the commonwealth. What we’re traveling through is the E. Claiborne and Lora Robins Sculpture Garden. On your left you’ll see the patio seating of the Museum’s Best Cafe, where you can see a collection of jazz musicians every Thursday and enjoy half-priced drinks every Thursday and Friday. The Sculpture Garden was completed May 2010 and is always open to the public.
Carytown is Richmond’s densest shopping and entertainment district, boasting over 250 shops, restaurants, and other establishments. Every year Carytown hosts the largest Watermelon Festival in the US, though I’ve yet to meet anyone who can name another participant in that contest. To the right, you’ll see Cary Court, Richmond’s first strip mall, flanked by Babe’s and Can Can. On the left we’ll pass the Byrd Theater. The Byrd was built in 1928, named after the founder of Richmond, and was the first theater in Virginia to feature a sound system. The first film shown, a comedy called Waterfront, cost attendees $0.50 for the evening showing; today, the price is a lofty $2.00. The Byrd is said to be haunted by the its first manager, Robert Coulter, who was in charge from the opening in 1928 until his death in the theater in 1971. Every Saturday you can hear the four-room Wurlitzer Organ played by Bob Gulledge.
Byrd Park is a public park located just north of the James River and adjacent to Maymont Park. The 200-acre park includes a mile-long trail with exercise stops, monuments, an amphitheatre, and three small lakes: Shields, Swan, and Boat Lake. Boat Lake (also called Fountain Lake) has a lighted fountain at its center and visitors can rent pedal boats there in season. The park includes tennis courts, Little League baseball fields, a children's playground, and a dog bark called Barker’s Field. The historic roundhouse and Poplar Vale Cemetery are also located in the park. The tall structure towards the south is the World War I Memorial Carillon, built in 1926, as a memorial to those who died in that war; it contains 56 bells and is still played on special occasions.