RVA Legends — First Market & Cage

RVA Legends — First Market & Cage

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

(Library of Congress) — showing the 3rd Market building, circa 1909
  • AKA, Old Market, Seventeenth Street Market, 17th Street Farmers Market
  • 100 North Seventeenth Street
  • Built, 1794 (Cage & 1st building); 1854 (2nd building); 1912 (3rd building); mid-1980’s (4th building); 2019 (plaza)
  • Demolished, 1827 (Cage); 1854 (1st building); 2nd building (1912); 1961 (3rd building); 4th building, 2015

A location of many incarnations.

[ORN] — from an insurance plat showing the original Market building (A) and Cage (B) — note the now-hidden Shockoe Creek flowing to the west of the Cage

The Building A on this plat is used as a Market house. Walls built of brick 126 feet long by 33 feet wide, 2 stories high covered with wood. The 2nd part is an addition to the said Market, 32 by 33 feet of one story in height.

The Building B is used as a Cage for disorderly persons. Walls build of Stone & Brick 52 feet in circumference three stories high with a dais. (illegible) these two Buildings are contiguous within 30 to each other, and are not contiguous within 30 feet to any other Building whatever. [ORN]

(Historical Richmond, Fiona Carmody) — showing a whipping post placed inside the market

As early as the 1780’s a market was established on the site of the present one now called “First Market,” “the Old Market” or the “Seventeenth Street Market.” At first it was only a wooden shed supported on locust-posts. Between it and Shockoe Creek was a green bank where women washed the clothes.

[RAW] — 2nd Market building built in 1854 — occupied by the Chahoon forces during the Municipal War of 1870

In 1794 a brick building replaced the primitive shed. Above it was a hall, which after the destruction of Quesnay’s Academy was used as a theatre. Before the erection of Mills’ City Hall, the Council had its meeting-room there. West of the market, as shown in the insurance-drawing, stood the “Cage,” or lock-up, of which institution and its unwilling tenants Mordecai gives a picturesque account. [ORN]

(Richmond Times-Dispatch) — Dementi Studio photograph of the 3rd Market building, date unknown but prior to World War II

Here were encaged (when caught) the unfeathered night-hawks that prowl for prey, and screeching owls that make night hideous, and black birds, who had flown from their own nests, to nestle elsewhere, like cuckoos; and some birds, both black and white, who had no nests at all were brought to roost here until that official ornithologist, the police master, should examine into their characters. This was a somewhat convenient arrangement to the citizen, who, on rising in the morning, missed the attendant on his household comforts, and as he went to market had only to look into the cage for his flown bird. [RBGD]

Truly, a multi-purpose campus, where shoppers could browse the foodstuffs and witness righteous punishment meted out via flogging. A little red meat to go with the veg; a Colonial-era version of Sports Clips. Good times.

(Richmond Times-Dispatch) — showing 4th Market building, which lasted from the mid-1980s to 2015

In 1854 a more commodious market was built. This also had a hall on the second floor which was often used for political meetings. The present “Old” or First Market dates only from 1913, and the oldest of the stores surrounding it goes back only to the 1830’s, but the location and atmosphere of the market are among the few things that have remained relatively static in a city that has changed practically everything that could be changed. [ORN]

May 2019 — showing the revamped First Market plaza, which formally opened in March 2019

The Farmers’ Market continued to prosper and undergo renovations until the mid 1900’s. It was during this time that the Shockoe Bottom area began to decline. The era of “bigger is better” came, and supermarkets were the modern answer to our grocery needs and family farmers were seduced by the regular paychecks offered by factories. The First Market House was razed in 1961 and the Farmers’ Market was reduced to scattered vendor stalls, but the predicted total demise never happened. (City of Richmond)

May 2019 — showing the bronze bell from the 3rd Market building

Indeed, there is no keeping this location down, as popular as it seems to be. In 2015, the 4th version of the Market space was reclaimed by the City of Richmond in an attempt to convert it to a public space, while still maintaining a gesture to its roots.

The significantly revised public plaza still carries the memories of the buildings that have gone before it, including the old bronze bell from the 3rd Market building, and the bullheads from the 4th building, which were actually rescued from the Second Market, which used to live at Sixth and Marshall Streets.

May 2019 — showing one of the two terra-cotta bulls that were displayed at the 4th Market building

This new space will still continue to host a weekly farmers market, but will also play host to festivals, music, art, vendors, educational programming, and whatever else comes along. Given the transformation of Shockoe Bottom and Church Hill over the last 10 years and the vast foot traffic, this just might be a formula for success.

Despite the fact that the new plaza is there for us to see, there are so many buildings lost to us that this is an RVA Legend. So let it be written.

(First Market & Cage is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)


Print Sources

  • [ORN] Old Richmond Neighborhoods. Mary Wingfield Scott. 1950.
  • [RAW] Richmond After the War. Michael B. Chesson. 1981.
  • [RBGD] Richmond in By-Gone Days. Samuel Mordecai. 1946, from the 2nd edition, 1860.

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