RVA Legends — Richmond Iron Works

RVA Legends — Richmond Iron Works

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

[RVCJ93] — showing original location at Ninth & Canal
[RVCJ93] — showing original location at Ninth & Canal

Ninth & Canal Streets (1st location)
Fifteenth & Broad Streets (2nd location)
Built, 1892 (2nd location)
Demolished, circa 1909 (2nd location)

Tredegar was not the only game in town.

(VCU) — 1889 Baist Atlas Map of Richmond — Plate 1 — showing the ironworks diagonally southwest from the Turning Basin

The Richmond Iron Works, at Ninth and Canal streets, are owned and operated by Chamblin, Delaney & Scott, all three of them men of long experience and expert knowledge of their business. Mr. John Chamblin, senior member of the firm, has been identified with these works as proprietor since their establishment in 1869. He is a native of Loudoun county, this State, and is the manager of the firm’s finances.

(Ancestry) — Alexander Delaney
(Ancestry) — Alexander Delaney

Mr. Alexander Delaney was formerly one of the firm of Tanner & Delaney, who founded the Richmond Locomotive and Machine Works here, one of the largest concerns of the kind in America. Mr. James H. Scott, junior member of the firm, is a native of the city, and has had the very great advantage of education for the higher mechanical branches of the trade in one of the leading technical schools of the North. He has also had considerable practical experience of the business in California and New York.

May 2019 — looking towards Ninth & Canal Streets today
May 2019 — looking towards Ninth & Canal Streets today

These works represent, with their equipment, an investment of $50,000. They cover a space of 300 by 270 feet, or about an acre and a half. The buildings are of brick chiefly, and are fitted up with the latest and most complete devices and appliances for the business in all the departments. About 60 hands are steadily employed in the works, and when occasion requires, more even than that.

[RVCJ03] — showing the 2nd factory location in the Shockoe Valley
[RVCJ03] — showing the 2nd factory location in the Shockoe Valley

The specialty of these works is general architectural foundering and machine construction and repairs. Heretofore castings have been produced chiefly, but the firm has lately gone into machine construction more extensively than formerly. They utilize Virginia-made iron largely, and consume about 600 tons weight of it, in the various processes of manufacture, a year. [RVCJ93]

(Encyclopedia Virginia) — Lumpkin’s Jail
(Encyclopedia Virginia) — Lumpkin’s Jail

But when the factory relocated circa 1892, the story took a turn.

Mary Lumpkin sold the Wall Street lots to Andrew Jackson Ford and his wife Mary Lucy Ford in 1873. Based on an examination of the city land books for this period, as well as detailed maps of Richmond from the 1870s, it appears most likely that the jail building had been demolished by 1876. In 1892, Ford sold the lots to John Chamblin and James H. Scott. With Alexander Delaney, they established the Richmond Iron Works on the site, which manufactured architectural iron work, stationary engines, and supplies for electric railroads. [PAILJ]

(Library of Congress) — Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Richmond (1905) — Plate 19
(Library of Congress) — Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Richmond (1905) — Plate 19

That’s right, the new location of the Richmond Iron Works sat squarely on top of the former location of Lumpkin’s Jail, the notorious holding cell of slave trader, Robert Lumpkin.

In this building Lumpkin was accustomed to imprison the disobedient and punish the refractory. The stout iron bars were still to be seen across one or more of the windows during my repeated visits to this place. In the rough floor, and at about the center of it, was the stout iron staple and whipping ring. (Encyclopedia Virginia)

(Valentine Museum) — showing the construction of the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike in 1959, with the former jail & factory site at center
(Valentine Museum) — showing the construction of the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike in 1959, with the former jail & factory site at center

The Richmond Iron Works deeded the property on Lumpkin’s Alley to the Seaboard Air Line Railroad in the early twentieth century, and by 1909 the railroad had constructed a large freight depot on the site. In the mid-twentieth century, the two northern sections of the depot were removed, and the remains paved over. When the Richmond and Petersburg Turnpike was built in the late 1950s, the western portion of the former Lumpkin lots was buried beneath the elevated roadway, while the eastern section became a parking lot. [PAILJ]

May 2019 — looking towards the former jail & factory site today
May 2019 — looking towards the former jail & factory site today

How telling is the tread of time that speaks to a location’s usefulness? In the span of fewer than 100 years, this site was host to a slave pen, an ironworks, a railroad depot, and an interstate, largely forgotten for all but the latter. Given Richmond’s historical obsessions, it is sometimes remarkable the extent to which groundball history gets overlooked.

(Richmond Iron Works is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)


Print Sources

  • [PAILJ] Preliminary Archaeological Investigation of the Lumpkin’s Jail Site (44HE1053), Richmond, Virginia. Matthew R. Laird. 2006.
  • [RVCJ03] Richmond, Virginia: The City on the James: The Book of Its Chamber of Commerce and Principal Business Interests. G. W. Engelhardt. 1903.
  • [RVCJ93] Richmond, Virginia: The City on the James: The Book of Its Chamber of Commerce and Principal Business Interests. G. W. Engelhardt. 1893.

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