Last Sunday, Melanie and I tried something new. We decided that with all of the planning we've been doing for our road trip in January, we were neglecting a great resource - the city of Richmond. With that idea in mind, we began to brainstorm places we could visit that would relate to the America 2020 Project. We knew that this could work as a solid prototype for our trip, and it would give us hands-on experience working together in this format. The experience taught us plenty of new things about ourselves, our trip and Richmond.
Our first stop was the fields and vineyards of Shirley Plantation, Virginia's first plantation established in 1613. Our reasons for stopping here first were twofold: we wanted to show the landscape and layout of such a historic site, but more importantly, we wanted to put that in context of the oppression and subjugation of the people forced into slavery on that site. It is vital to us during this project to acknowledge the complete picture of America's past - the atrocities as well as the triumphs.
Entrance to Shirley Plantation
Next, we traveled to Rockett's Landing, a fascinating neighborhood centered around the James River. From our vantage point we could see most of Richmond's modern skyline alongside many of the old water towers and smokestacks from eras long gone. We were impressed by the diversity of the crowd we encountered, making this "rich neighborhood" feel like a pleasant stop where anyone is welcome.
We found Libby Hill Park to be a fascinating space with an excellent view of the surrounding areas, including the famous Lucky Strike factory. The park has been called "the most Instagramable place in Richmond", and a simple glance confirms that statement. Exploring the park further, we found a towering Confederate monument serving as the centerpiece. It reminded us that the progress and the pain of Richmond are forever intertwined - one cannot be discussed without the other. The neighboring Great Shiplock Park felt similar- history and modernity combined, with its train tracks, ancient-looking trestle, and long walkway running beside the elevated train platform. It's a charming space by any standard.
Along the trail at Great Shiplock Park
Barely any distance from Shiplock Park stands the Virginia Holocaust Museum, a somber building with a freight car used by the Third Reich serving as an outside exhibit . To reach the Holocaust Museum, we entered through a gateway that was once part of a Confederate prison for Union prisoners of war. Needless to say, this area immediately put both of us in a mood of respectful contemplation.
Roughly a block away, we reached the Edgar Allan Poe Museum. Although Poe himself never inhabited the building, it serves as a repository of artifacts from the significant part of Poe's life spent in Richmond. The building is known as "The Old Stone House" (which sounds like it could be the title of one of Poe's stories) and is recognized as the oldest original building in Richmond. Vincent Price, whose film career featured many performances based on Poe's works, visited the museum in 1975 and had pictures taken with the museum's famous stuffed raven.
After a tour of Monument Drive (where the Confederate statues are interrupted by a memorial to the legendary Arthur Ashe) we arrived at our final stop, the fascinating neighborhood of Carytown. Carytown reminded me of Rodeo Drive as designed and built by hipsters. It was fun to explore the quirky shops and restaurants, particularly the Byrd Theatre. The Byrd is a great old-style movie house featuring all manner of festivals and special screenings. This past Sunday they were spotlighting The Big Lebowski, a film that Melanie and I love intensely.
So on last Sunday's journey, we learned a few things. One, that Richmond is a strange mixture of Confederate remembrance alongside a desire for inclusivity, diversity, and a true recognition of its past. Two, that we work well together by dividing up our responsibilities, which bodes well for our project. And three, we learned that we only scratched the surface of this fascinating city in which we find ourselves. Thank you for following along with us, and we can't wait to show you what's next.