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RVA Legends — Harvie’s Pond

A look into the history of Richmond places and people that have gone away.



AKA, Penitentiary Pond
In the area bounded by Second Street, Gamble’s Hill, & Tredegar Iron Works
Built, before 1800
Filled, after 1880

Witness the transformation of a landscape.

August 2016 — facing east toward Oregon Hill

August 2016 — facing east toward Oregon Hill

Harvie’s Pond — born of George Washington’s vision of a waterway to the west — was a small turning basin with a wharf, nestled in the wedge-shaped valley between Oregon and Gamble’s hills.


(LOC) — Beers Illustrated Atlas of the City of Richmond, 1877

As is widely known, the canal was the brainchild of George Washington, and through his influence the canal was chartered in 1785. The initial survey of the canal established the idea of the Richmond Level extending from the foot of 9th Street to a point 3 miles upriver where the river could be navigated by bateau. The Lower Arch (above the present Pump House at Byrd Park) provided access to the canal proper from the river. The Lower Level was completed around the Falls in 1795 with depth of 3 feet and surface width of twenty five feet. The eastern limit of the Lower Level, the Great Turning Basin between 7th and 12th Street, opened in 1800. Construction of the canal also created Harvie’s Pond east of the present location of the Brown’s Island Way. (JRKC)


[JRKC] — circa 1865-1870, facing south east, showing Harvie’s Pond at right

The pond was an important geographic feature, appearing on several maps of the city between 1809 and 1868. Sometimes it was named, many times it was not, and when named, the only commonality was difference. Witness the descriptions given:

  • Pond – Young Map of Richmond (1809)
  • Harvie’s Pond – Bates Map of the City of Richmond (1835)
  • Basin – Ellyson Map of the City of Richmond (1858)
  • Penitentiary Pond – Pleasants Map of the Lower level of the Lower Section of the James River and Kanawha Canal (1868)
  • Basin – Beers. Illustrated Atlas of the City of Richmond (1877)

The basin was carved from land originally owned by Lewis E. Harvie, so better to go with the name of the owner, rather than than let the (then) state prison claim eminent domain over naming rights.

August 2016

August 2016

In the years following, Harvie’s Pond was modified as the canal received improvements. An 1823-1825 reconstruction changed the existing width of the canal and towpath. The 1838 reconstruction introduced changes in depth and width, and added an eight-foot granite retaining wall.


(VCU) — Baist Map of Richmond, 1889

Skip forward a few years. Virginia joins the Confederacy, the South loses the war, and a large portion of Richmond burns to the ground. As the city rebuilds, it finds the future in railways, rather than waterways.

The Baist Atlas shows the dramatic transformation of the James River and Kanawha Canal during this period. Harvie’s Pond has been filled in to form a rail yard. A line extends down the north bank of the canal to feed the new rail yard and beyond to the Great Basin rail yard. The Richmond and Alleghany Station is situated in the Tredegar Green Area. On the south bank the wider towpath is the route for Richmond and Alleghany trains to enter the Tredegar Works. [JRKC]

June 2016 — former Harvie’s Pond area, facing north east

June 2016 — former Harvie’s Pond area, facing north east

But even the railroads were not insulated from change.

In 1936 the construction of the first Lee Bridge and the Second Street viaduct resulted in the demolition of a large portion of the Oregon Hill neighborhood on the north bank of the canal. The construction of the Virginia War Memorial further removed the residential neighborhood on the north bank of the canal. The Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad removed its operations from the area and the City of Richmond and Newmarket Corporation acquired sections of the canal in the Tredegar Green Area. Following acquisition, nearly all of the railroad infrastructure was removed from the area. The demolition of the Second Street Viaduct in 1992 resulted in the present structure of Second Street and considerable filling and regrading on the north bank of the canal. [JRKC]

As usual, it’s hard to find RVA ground unplowed by the redoubtable Harry Kollatz of Richmond Magazine. Tyler Potterfield also wrote a fascinating short history on the canal in support of changes to the Tredegar Green area for the proposed new amphitheatre in 2013.


  • [JRKC] James River and Kanawha Canal: Timeline and Visual Documentation. Potterfield, T. Tyler. August 2013.
  • (LOC) — Beers Illustrated Atlas of the City of Richmond, 1877.
  • [TMB] The Mystery Basin, Richmond Magazine. Harry Kollatz. September 29, 2011.
  • (VCU) — Baist Map of Richmond, 1889.


RVA Legends is a regular series appearing on rocket werks – check it out!

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