Richmond is for History Lovers

Sunday, March 25, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Richmond, VA
As the former capital of the Confederacy and the site of Patrick Henry's revolutionary "Give me liberty or give me death" speech, Richmond abounds in historical sites.  Our first stop this morning was the Virginia monument to the veterans who served in World War I.

Intended to be used for patriotic concerts on veteran-related holidays, the Carillon (pictured above) towers over its Bryan Park surroundings at 240 feet.  Since World War II, a Christmas pageant performed annually on the steps of the Carillon draws thousands, and the first floor often hosts wedding receptions.  After checking out this impressive monument, we found the commemorative letterbox in the park and headed over to Maymont.
Built in 1893 by Richmond-born financier James Dooley and his wife, Maymont is a 100-acre country estate sitting on a hill overlooking the James River.  The Dooleys built a 33-room Romanesque mansion and transformed the surrounding fields into sumptuous gardens.  With no children to inherit their treasured estate, the couple bequeathed it to the city of Richmond.
Operated by a non-profit foundation, Maymont is open to the public with no admission.  On this overcast Sunday morning, a sprinkling of tourists and locals roamed the estate, enjoying this generous gift to the city. 
L to R:  Cooper's hawk, great horned owl, red-tailed hawk, bald eagle

Today Maymont includes a nature center and wildlife exhibits funded by other philanthropists.  The estate's raptor center provides a sanctuary for birds of prey with permanent injuries that prevent them from surviving in the wild.
After a nice stroll on the grounds, we were ready for some sustenance and turned to our Yelp app for some guidance.  We landed at The Belvidere at Broad, which turned out to be a delicious choice.  Serving an eclectic variety of American dishes spiced up with world influences, the restaurant's flavorful food can easily satisfy both meat-lovers and vegetarians.  We both rated it one of the best meals we have enjoyed in our travels.
Richmond's stunning Capitol Square was next.  Though we were unable to go inside the Capitol building, this quiet Sunday afternoon was the perfect time to explore the beautiful grounds of this magnificent government center.
Occupying a prominent hilltop in the square is the Virginia State Capitol, designed by Thomas Jefferson and first occupied in 1788.  In addition to housing America's oldest ongoing legislature, Jefferson's "Temple on the Hill" has seen many history-making events.  The Bill of Rights was ratified here in 1791, Aaron Burr was tried for treason in 1807, and Robert E. Lee was made commander of Confederate forces in 1861.  East of the Capitol stands the state's executive mansion, home to Virginia governors since 1813. 
Capitol Square honors a host of famous Virginians with statues on its grounds.  Most prominent is the George Washington Monument, a 60-ft. equestrian statue of Virginia's most famous native son, surrounded by other homegrown heroes of the revolutionary period and allegorical figures representing independence, justice and the like.  (See photo on front cover.)
Our final stop of the day was the Museum of the Confederacy, which houses one of the largest collections of Confederate artifacts, paintings and documents.  Founded in 1890, the museum was built adjacent to the Confederate White House, which served as the official residence of Jefferson Davis and his family.  Today, both are surrounded by buildings housing the Medical College of Virginia Hospital. 
Though the museum certainly has an impressive collection and exhibits were attractively designed, we felt that it failed completely to capture the emotional aspect of this painful episode in American history.  Perhaps unfairly, we expected this institution in the former capitol of the Confederacy to be the definitive museum of the period.  Rather we found exhibit after exhibit of Confederate tunics and firearms, along with dispassionate descriptions of battles.
Lee's humble headquarters tent

An exception was the notable exhibit of Robert E. Lee's headquarters tent.  As a career military officer before the Civil War, the exhibit explained, Lee had plenty of experience enduring the elements.  And he loathed the idea of using local homes or other buildings because of the inconvenience to citizens.  He was also a firm believer that he should not live better than the troops under his command.  The general's desire to maintain a humble appearance is quite clear in this display.
Another item of interest was a rudimentary prosthetic arm of the period.  Since more than 75% of wounds suffered by Civil War soldiers affected their limbs and often involved amputation, prostheses were in great demand.  In Virginia alone, more than 6,000 Confederate veterans were fitted with artificial limbs.  The artificial arm on exhibit was made from boiled leather with brass fittings and belonged to a Virginia private.
By the time we left the museum, it was too late to visit Richmond's famed Hollywood Cemetery, final resting place to presidents and other noted Virginians.  So Hollywood rolled over to tomorrow's agenda.
  • Miles driven:  34
  • Weather:  55° to 59°, intermittent light rain
  • States today:  1 (VA)
  • Letterboxes found:  1
  • Hat-wearing ladies leaving church:  68
  • VCU lacrosse players practicing:  33
  • Confederate uniforms:  957
  • Statues:  28

Virginia State Capitol (rear)
Maymont mansion