Ninth & Franklin Streets
In the southwestern corner of Capitol Square, at the intersection of Ninth and Franklin Streets, the red brick Bell Tower has stood since 1824. It was once used for a guard house and the bell warned of fires. During the Civil War, the bell sounded when Federal troops approached the city.
More recently, it was an office for Lt. Gov. Charles S. Robb (1978-82), and the Capitol Square Preservation Council. It now serves as a Visitor Center for Virginia Tourism. [Virginia State Capitol History Project]
Despite the pall of stagnation that lay on the city for fifteen years after the depression of 1819, a number of interesting buildings were added to the Court End during that time. Most curious among them was the brick Bell Tower in the Capitol Square, which replaced a wooden belltower and guard-house.
The bell was constantly in use: not only were the hours rung, by hand prior to 1870 and after that by electricity, but it served as an alarm for the fires that at certain periods seem to have been almost a daily occurrence and that the papers with monotonous regularity blamed on some never-caught incendiary.
On Sunday, April 21, 1861, the bell rang frantically to report the Federal gunboat “Pawnee” approaching the city, and again on February 7, 1864, it sounded the alarm for the very real threat of Dahlgren’s Raid. In 1933, the old Bell Tower was restored and again supplied with a bell, the early one having long since cracked and disappeared. [ORN]
This iconic tower was also the subject of a woodcut by Norma E. Dietz, part of a series created to adorn the 1933 reprint of Little’s History of Richmond. It’s only a little creepy and imposing.
(The Bell Tower is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)
- [ORN] Old Richmond Neighborhoods. Mary Wingfield Scott. Whittet & Shepperson. 1950.
- [HRVA] History of Richmond. John P. Little. The Dietz Printing Company. 1933
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