Explore the Past - More VCU Medical Center History

Monumental Church:

Monumental Church, c. 1942
Monumental Church, c. 1942 (The Valentine)


Gilbert Hunt, 1850s
Gilbert Hunt, 1850s (The Valentine, Cook Collection)


In the next block east of the VCU Medical Center GRTC Pulse Eastbound Station, you’ll find Monumental Church, which was built in 1814 over the remains of a horrific theater disaster.  When stage scenery in the Richmond Theatre caught fire during a production on Dec. 26, 1811, the ensuing blaze resulted in the death of 72 people from across Richmond’s social spectrum – white and black, free and enslaved, wealthy and working-class, and even the sitting governor of Virginia.  Gilbert Hunt, an enslaved blacksmith who ran to the scene, was credited with saving the lives of about a dozen people who were jumping from the theater’s upper level.  Architect Robert Mills designed a Greek Revival church to memorialize the dead, who are entombed in a basement crypt below the building’s portico.  Monumental Church served Richmond’s Episcopal population as residents moved westward from the Church Hill/Shockoe Bottom area.  The building is now owned by Historic Richmond Foundation.  Its interior may be seen during special events, private tours, and as part of the Valentine’s “This Is Richmond” walking tour.  (1224 E. Broad St., 0.1 mile.)

Egyptian Building:

Egyptian Building, 2019
Egyptian Building, 2019 (Photo by Tre Rockenbach)


Directly behind Monumental Church, at the corner of Marshall and College streets, is the Egyptian Building – the oldest medical college building in the South, and one of the finest examples of Egyptian Revival architecture in the United States.  The Egyptian Building was constructed in 1845 for Hampden-Sydney College, which in 1854 became the Medical College of Virginia.  In 1968, MCV merged with the Richmond Professional Institute to create Virginia Commonwealth University.  The building’s unusual Egyptian Revival style was chosen to reflect the connection between ancient Egyptians and modern medicine.  While the original design applied Egyptian motifs only to the building’s exterior, a 1939 renovation added interior Egyptian design elements, some of which can be seen inside the front doors.  You might also notice the building’s cast-iron mummy-themed fence and the large, stylized pyramid and sun that appear on the side of the VCU Kontos Medical Sciences Building that faces the Egyptian Building.  (Go east on Broad Street, then walk between the VCU Kontos Medical Sciences Building and Monumental Church, 0.1 mile.)

White House of the Confederacy:

White House of the Confederacy, front view, late-19th century
White House of the Confederacy, front view, late-19th century (The Valentine, Cook Collection)


White House of the Confederacy, rear view, late-19th century
White House of the Confederacy, rear view, late-19th century (The Valentine, Cook Collection)


Two blocks away on Clay Street sits a focal point of Richmond’s Confederate past, the White House of the Confederacy.  Built in 1818 by John Brockenbrough, the house was purchased by the city of Richmond and leased to the Confederate government for use as an executive mansion.  Confederate president Jefferson Davis and his family lived in the house from August 1861 until the fall of Richmond in April 1865.  When the house was threatened with demolition in 1890, the newly formed Confederate Memorial Literary Society purchased it, re-branded it as “The White House of the Confederacy,” and turned it into a museum.  After the construction of the Museum of the Confederacy in 1976, the mansion was restored to its Civil War-era condition.  Although the Museum of the Confederacy collection has now been moved to the American Civil War Museum on Tredegar Street, the White House of the Confederacy remains open for tours, and features stories of the many people whose lives intersected in the house over the course of the Civil War, including the Davis family, the enslaved people and immigrants who worked in the house, political and military personnel, and various Richmond citizens.  (1201 E. Clay St., 0.3 miles.)

The Valentine:

Wickham House, c. 1900
Wickham House, c. 1900 (The Valentine, Cook Collection)


The Valentine, 2019
The Valentine, 2019 (courtesy of The Valentine)


The 1812 mansion at the corner of 11th and Clay streets was the home of attorney John Wickham, noted for successfully defending Aaron Burr against treason charges in 1807.  The Wickham House was purchased in 1882 by Mann S. Valentine II, who had amassed a fortune through the invention of Valentine’s Meat Juice, a “health tonic” that was popular worldwide.  Valentine collected decorative and historical objects, and when he died in 1892, he bequeathed the Wickham House and his entire collection to the people of Richmond for the creation of a public museum.  Today, the Valentine’s photographs, rare books, fine art, objects, costumes and textiles are resources for exhibitions, programs and tours that focus on the history and culture of the Richmond region.  Museum admission includes a guided tour of the Wickham House and the 19th-century sculpture studio of Mann Valentine’s brother, Edward Valentine, whose works include the marble statue of Thomas Jefferson in the Jefferson Hotel and the bronze statue of Jefferson Davis on Monument Avenue.  (1015 E. Clay St., 0.3 miles.)

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