Explore the Past - More Shockoe Bottom History

Poe Museum / Virginia Holocaust Museum:

Old Stone House, 1897 (The Valentine)
Old Stone House, 1897 (The Valentine)


Virginia Holocaust Museum, 2016
Virginia Holocaust Museum, 2016 (Courtesy of the Virginia Holocaust Museum)


A few blocks west of this GRTC Pulse station is one of the oldest buildings in Richmond, the stone house of flour inspector Samuel Ege, which has been documented back to 1783.  In 1922, admirers of Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) turned the building into a museum dedicated to Poe’s life and works.  Although Poe never lived in the house, he grew up in Richmond and worked nearby as a writer and editor for the Southern Literary Messenger magazine before achieving fame as the author of poems and stories such as “The Raven” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.”  In addition to its regular exhibition, the museum often schedules Poe-themed events.  If you walk south on 24th street to Cary Street, you’ll find the Virginia Holocaust Museum at 20th and Cary streets in a former American Tobacco Company warehouse.  The museum was founded in 1997 by Mark Fetter, Al Rosenbaum and Holocaust survivor Jay Ipson with the mission of using “the history of the Holocaust and other genocides to educate and inspire future generations of Virginians to fight prejudice and indifference.”  (Poe Museum, 1914 E. Main St., 0.3 miles. Virginia Holocaust Museum, 2000 E. Cary St., 0.3 miles.)

Elizabeth Van Lew and Mary Bowser:

Van Lew Mansion, late-19th century
Van Lew Mansion, late-19th century (Library of Congress)


Bellevue Elementary School, up on the hill directly overlooking this GRTC Pulse station, is the former location of the Van Lew mansion.  During the Civil War, Elizabeth Van Lew ran a successful Union spy network with the help of her servant, Mary Bowser, who agreed to work in the Confederate Executive Mansion and gather intelligence.  After the war, Van Lew was shunned by her fellow Richmonders for her Unionist sentiments and actions, although President Ulysses S. Grant appointed her postmistress of Richmond.  Following Van Lew’s death in 1900, the city of Richmond demolished her house and erected Bellevue Elementary School in its place.  The house’s rear terraces may still be seen cut into the ground behind the school.  (2301 E. Grace St., 0.2 miles.)

St. John’s Church:

St. John’s Episcopal Church, 1880s
St. John’s Episcopal Church, 1880s (The Valentine, Cook Collection)


Up on the hill overlooking this GRTC Pulse station is St. John’s Church, the site where, during the Second Virginia Convention in 1775, Patrick Henry delivered his famous speech in which he declared, “Give me liberty, or give me death!”  The 1741 structure, which gave Church Hill its name, is the oldest church and oldest wooden-frame building in Richmond.  St. John’s Church still serves an active congregation, and also offers daily guided tours and occasional historical reenactments of the Second Virginia Convention and Patrick Henry’s speech.  Famous people buried in the church’s graveyard include George Wythe, who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Edgar Allan Poe’s mother, Elizabeth Arnold Poe.  (2401 E. Broad St., 0.3 miles.)

Libby Prison:

Libby Prison, 1865
Libby Prison, 1865 (National Archives)


A sign at the floodwall at 20th and Cary streets, a few blocks west of this GRTC Pulse station, marks the site of the infamous Libby Prison, a warehouse complex that in 1862 was confiscated by the Confederate government and converted into a prison for captured Union officers.  Overcrowding was so bad that the Richmond Enquirer reported that at night, the men were “as tightly packed as if the prison were a huge, improbable box of nocturnal sardines.”  In 1864, Union prisoners tunneled underneath Cary Street; 109 men escaped, with 59 eventually reaching Union lines.  In the 1880s, Libby Prison was dismantled, reassembled in Chicago, and exhibited as the Libby Prison War Museum from 1889 to 1899.  Eventually the building was demolished and its pieces were sold as souvenirs.  The front door of Libby Prison is in the collection of the American Civil War Museum on Tredegar Street.  (Next to the canal at the intersection of Cary and 20th streets, 0.3 miles.)

Great Shiplock Park:


James River and Kanawha Canal at Seventh Street, looking west, 1923
James River and Kanawha Canal at Seventh Street, looking west, 1923 (The Valentine, W. Palmer Gray Collection)



Image Credit: James River Steam Brewery

Workmen grease screws at Shiplock Park, November 7, 1989 (Photo by Wallace Huey Clark, The Valentine, Richmond Times-Dispatch Collection)


The nearby Great Shiplock Park was the location of a lock designed to allow ships to by-pass the seven-mile James River fall line.  In 1785, George Washington was named the honorary president of the newly founded James River Company, whose purpose was to construct a system of canals that would link the James River with the Kanawha River in western Virginia (now West Virginia).  Washington had proposed the canal system as a means of expanding transportation access for people and goods from the Atlantic Ocean to the western half of the continent via the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.  Due to various delays and financing issues, the project was only half-completed by 1851, when it reached the town of Buchanan in Botetourt County.  Construction was then halted because railroads had overtaken canals as a more efficient mode of transportation.  (2803 Dock St., 0.4 miles.)

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