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History

RVA Legends — Virginia State Agricultural Society Fairgrounds

A look into the history of Richmond places and people that have disappeared from our landscape.

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2500 West Broad Street
Built, after 1859
Demolished, circa 1916

The State Fairgrounds has always been a gypsy, moving from place to place. The Virginia State Agricultural Society was originally established in 1854, and held the first state fair at Monroe Park in the Fan.

(LOC) — Beers Illustrated Atlas of the Cities of Richmond & Manchester, 1877 — Map Index

It relocated to West Broad Street in 1859, a site so remote that it was not even within the city limits. It appears on the Beers insurance maps only on the map index, not on any of the detailed plates. There it remained for several decades, until the westward expansion of the city forced it to relocate again. (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

The Fan district, on the opposite site of Broad Street, was in full-bore development, and the Richmond, Fredricksburg, and Potomac Railroad had envious eyes on the fairground property, hoping to convert it to a similarly fashionable neighborhood. (National Park Service)

(Rocket Werks RVA Postcards) — Parker Field

The RF&P’s plans forced the fairgrounds to relocate to Boulevard in 1906, on ground later occupied by Parker Field, and today, The Diamond. It would relocate again in 1946 to Strawberry Hill off Laburnum Avenue. (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

May 2018 — former fairgrounds location today

The plans for residential development never panned out, and the RF&P’s bickering with the city eventually led to Plan B. An international competition was held in 1913 to design a grand new station to support the growing West End, which was won by John Russell Pope, an architect already well-known to Richmond. (Science Museum of Virginia)

It’s hard to argue with either the need, or the beautiful structure that replaced the old fairground complex, but sad that that it is not better remembered. It stood on Broad Street for almost 50 years, and it was where the first moving picture in Richmond was shown. [COC]

(Virginia State Agricultural Society Fairgrounds is part of the Atlas RVA Project)


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Downtown

New Valentine Museum exhibit “Breathing Places” tells the story of Richmond’s carefully crafted greenspaces

The Valentine’s newest exhibition Breathing Places: Park & Recreation in Richmond opens at the museum on May 5th and explores the design, use, and evolution of Richmond’s many parks, recreation areas, and natural spaces.

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The Valentine’s newest exhibition Breathing Places: Park & Recreation in Richmond opens at the museum on May 5th and explores the design, use, and evolution of Richmond’s many parks, recreation areas, and natural spaces. Over the last 170 years, the region has developed and maintained these greenspaces for some residents while limiting and denying access to others. The new exhibition will explore this complex story while providing a window into the ongoing effects on residents today.

“Breathing Places both celebrates and critically examines a central part of community life,” said Christina K. Vida, the Elise H. Wright Curator of General Collections. “As spring approaches and Richmonders with access take to their local parks, fields and yards, it’s the perfect time to explore the histories of those important spaces.”

The exhibition’s title comes from an 1851 recommendation by Richmond’s Committee on Public Squares, which advised “securing breathing places in the midst of the city or convenient to it.” This recommendation would have dramatic (and disproportionate) impacts on Richmonders.

The debut of Breathing Places comes on the heels of the Valentine welcoming visitors back to the museum with new outdoor programming, spring and summer events and more.

“As residents and visitors alike begin to return downtown to enjoy many of the greenspaces they’ve missed for over a year, now is the ideal time to open this exhibition,” said Valentine Director Bill Martin. “Breathing Places is not only an opportunity to fully explore the history of parks and recreation, but to inspire visitors to experience these spaces for themselves while considering how we can improve community access going forward.”

Breathing Places will also include a slideshow of rotating images featuring community-submitted photos. Richmonders (both individuals and organizations) can submit images of themselves, their families or their friends enjoying greenspaces across the region.

Breathing Places: Parks & Recreation in Richmond will be on display on the Lower Level of the Valentine from May 5, 2021 through January 30, 2022.

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Education

Great Depression brought to life through interactive photo collection now available through UR’s Digital Scholarship Lab

Photogrammar is an open-access, web-based tool that allows users to easily navigate and engage with 170,000 photographs taken between 1935-1943.

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The University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab and Distant Viewing Lab has released a new project that gives its users the ability to explore what life was like in America during the Great Depression and World War II.

Photogrammar is an open-access, web-based tool that allows users to easily navigate and engage with 170,000 photographs taken between 1935-1943.

Photos can be browsed by categories that were assigned in the 1940s, from expansive themes like “Work” to far more targeted slices of life, society, and the economy during the Depression era like “Dancing,” “Strikes,” and “Abandoned Mines.” Users can also zero in on photos of their own communities from 80 years ago through an interactive map.

“This project allows anyone to experience some of the most iconic images of the era by photographers like Dorothea Langea and Walker Evans as well as others rarely seen before,” said Lauren Tilton, assistant professor of digital humanities and project director.

“What began as an initiative to support and justify government programs put into place to foster the country’s recovery from the Great Depression, these photographers quickly expanded their vision and set out to document America,” she added.

The image collection was originally digitized in the 1990s by the Library of Congress, and in 2010, Tilton and University of Richmond statistics professor Taylor Arnold began the Photogrammar project with a team at Yale University. Tilton and Arnold joined UR in 2016, and the project has continued to evolve with their guidance, being supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and American Council for Learned Societies.

Photogrammar is the latest installation in UR’s Digital Scholarship Lab’s award-winning American Panaroma: An Atlas of United States History. From immigration and federal urban policy to slavery and electoral politics, American Panorama features data-rich, interactive mapping projects that are a go-to resource for journalists, policymakers, educators, and citizens alike.

“From the moment it launched a decade ago, Photogrammar has been a groundbreaking project,” said Rob Nelson, director of UR’s Digital Scholarship Lab. “The photographic archive behind it offers an incredible window into all aspects of life in Depression-era America. We are very excited to have this new version as part of American Panorama. ”

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History

Union Presbyterian Seminary demolishes one of Northside’s oldest houses, dating to 1790s

The 230-year-old McGuire Cottage, one of Northside’s oldest homes, is no longer standing due to what its owner, Union Presbyterian Seminary, claims is “repentance” for the benefit the seminary received from the labor of enslaved persons.

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The 230-year-old McGuire Cottage, one of Northside’s oldest homes, is no longer standing due to what its owner, Union Presbyterian Seminary, claims is “repentance” for the benefit the seminary received from the labor of enslaved persons. The house was once home to a Confederate surgeon – also cited as a reason for demolition – though the seminary says it has no plans for the tract of land on which the house stood.

Critics say the home had a great historic significance and calls to preserve the home by moving it were met with complaints that using staff resources to research grants for such a move would be “prohibitive.” Several publications say the demolition will also pave the way for additional development on the property.

While recognition of the wrongs of our nation is warranted, one wonders if half of Richmond wouldn’t be flattened by the seminary’s logic of demolishing structures tied to those who were on the wrong side of history.

From Richmond BizSense:

One of the oldest homes in Northside is no more.

The 1800s-era Westwood house, also known as McGuire Cottage, was demolished this week at the behest of Union Presbyterian Seminary.

It owns the so-called Westwood Tract where the structure had stood for two centuries — dwarfed in recent years by the newly built Canopy at Ginter Park apartments.

Seminary spokesman Mike Frontiero said its board of trustees voted last year to demolish the structure, originally the home of Confederate surgeon Hunter Holmes McGuire, “as recognition of and in repentance for the resourcing provided to the seminary through the labor of enslaved persons.”

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