Richmond, Virginia – History Underfoot

The Grand Staircase at the Jefferson Hotel
Richmond, Virginia is bathed in Revolutionary and Civil War history; it rose from its own ashes when 37 blocks were destroyed by retreating Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. Anywhere you go in Richmond you’ll run into something of historical importance. The architecture of ornate iron work graces beautiful brick buildings, and monuments and statues are scattered everywhere. The Jefferson Hotel, one of only two five-star hotels in the state, is an ideal base as you’re within walking distance or a short cab ride to most of Richmond’s coolest attractions. The hotel, built in 1895, is old-school, stately, plush and refined. Rather weirdly, the hotel used to be home to alligators that lived in the shallow indoor pools until 1948, and the grand staircase is said to have been the inspiration for the one in Gone with the Wind.
Monticello - from the back side
An hour’s drive from Richmond is Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s technologically advanced home where he studied, plotted graphs and charts on farming, wine, food production and entertained international guests. Plan on Michie Tavern for lunch though, before visiting Monticello. Operating since 1784 the tavern serves a daily buffet based on 18th Century fare. Be Southern and get the excellent fried chicken, biscuits and black eyed peas, and save room for their killer peach cobbler, all for about $20.
Arriving at Monticello, check out the visitor center first to see a short film abut Jefferson which is surprisingly moving. Take the shuttle to the entrance of Monticello, or, burn off that cobbler by taking the 20 minute walk through the lush woods, past the Jefferson gravesite and enter via the back side of the property. Tours are an hour and are worth it, as Jefferson was a man way ahead of his time. A three minute drive from Monticello is Jefferson Vineyards. Located on Jefferson’s property the vines, planted in 1981, not only bear Jefferson’s name but are pretty good wines. Jefferson sought to bring fine wine to America and made various studies about grape growing. These days Virginia has 150 wineries, showcasing Viognier, which is quickly become a signature white wine, to native American varieties like Norton and Vidal.

The Lovely Ladies at Michie Tavern

A Poe actor creates The Tell-Tale Heart
Returning to Richmond, swing by the Edgar Allen Poe Museum, it’s a mere $6 to get it. There’s an eclectic collection of all things Poe; from one of his vests, to his boyhood bed (odd), books of his works, a lock of hair (a little more odd), the staircase from his childhood home (really odd), and a peculiar, but intriguing, diorama a local woman made in 1926 showing how Richmond looked when Poe lived there in the 1800s. They occasionally offer murder mysteries where actors recreate some of Poe’s best works.

St. John's Church
 Richmond’s most visited structure though is St. John's Church, built in 1741. This is where an impassioned Patrick Henrydeclared, “…give me liberty or give me death,” on March 23rd, 1775 as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington listened (hopefully so--they couldn’t text but they might have been doodling, who knows?). Though the interior looks nothing like the original, you can sit in the same spot where our forefathers wrestled with the idea of democracy and understand how we are the result of those fateful decisions. 

The Library of Virginia houses a Special Collections section, old books mainly, which might seem tedious and academic but hold on to your binding. They have handwritten letters of George Washington, books owned by Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry from 1733, and the smallest book you’ve ever seen, (no, seriously) holding five of Abraham Lincoln’s speeches. Best of all is the jaw-dropping book, handled gingerly with gloves, the only book that survived the crossing of the Mayflower dating from 1617. Yes, they are available to see, no, you can’t touch them.
Seriously, this is the smallest book...ever!
Richmond is also Civil War Central. It was here where Jefferson Davis set up his Confederate white house. The American Civil War Center, situated on the banks of the James River, is a 6 block walk from downtown. The museum is inside the Tredegar Iron Works building which produced cannons and firearms for the Confederate Army. The exhibits examine the war from political and philosophical perspectives and though heavy on text, it gives a comprehensive overview of the war. $8 gets you in and you can download a podcast to your I-phone. Richmond is one of those seminal cities where we begin to understand much of who we are in our present context. That we can eat, drink and walk in the steps of our founding fathers is of no small importance.
The Museum's old outer walls


~The Jefferson Hotel, http://www.jeffersonhotel.com/

~Poe Museum, www.poemuseum.org
~American Civil War Center, http://www.tredegar.org/
~The Library of Virginia, http://www.lva.virginia.gov/
~Wineries of Virginia, http://www.virginiawine.org/

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