Explore the Past - More Arts District History

Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia:

Black History Museum
Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia, 2019 (Photo by Tre Rockenbach)


If you walk north on Adams Street and turn left onto Leigh Street, you will find the Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia, located in what was originally the Leigh Street Armory.  This structure, built by the city of Richmond in 1895 for the First Battalion Virginia Volunteers, was the oldest armory in the country constructed for an African-American militia.  After black militia units were disbanded by the Virginia governor in 1899, the armory was primarily used for educational purposes.  It then sat vacant until 2016, when it was renovated into a new home for the museum.  Artifacts, videos and interactive exhibits offer visitors unique insights into the history of Virginia’s African-American residents and culture.  On your way to the museum, note the cast-aluminum statue of Richmond native Bill “Bojangles” Robinson (1878-1949) at the corner of Adams and Leigh streets.  Robinson became a world-famous dancer, and this statue, unveiled in 1973 and the first in the city of Richmond to memorialize an African-American man, depicts him performing one of his signature moves, tap-dancing on a set of stairs.  (122 W. Leigh St., 0.4 miles.)


The Rev. John Jasper and Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church:

The Rev. John Jasper
The Rev. John Jasper, 1870s (The Valentine, Cook Collection)


Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church
Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church, 2014 (The Valentine, Maurice Duke Collection)


Approximately five blocks north of the Arts District GRTC Pulse stations is Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church.  In 1867, the formerly enslaved Rev. John Jasper (1812–1901) founded Sixth Mount Zion in an abandoned Confederate horse stable on Brown’s Island.  The congregation built a new church on West Duval Street in Jackson Ward in 1887, and expanded it in 1925. Jasper was so widely known for his dramatic speaking style that he was asked to preach to both black and white audiences throughout the eastern United States.  He presented his most famous sermon, “The Sun Do Move,” more than 250 times, including once to the Virginia General Assembly. In 1957, when engineers proposed constructing I-95 through a swath of Jackson Ward, including the land where Sixth Mount Zion stood, community opposition was so strong that planners curved the highway around the back of the church, sparing the building.  (14 W. Duval St., 0.5 miles.)

Site of Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart’s Death/ Richmond Police Department Headquarters:

Richmond Police Department Headquarters
Richmond Police Department Headquarters, 2019 (Photo by Tre Rockenbach)


Following his wounding at the Battle of Yellow Tavern about nine miles north of this GRTC Pulse station, Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart was brought to the home of his brother-in-law, Dr. Charles Brewer, where he died a day later on May 12, 1864.  Brewer’s house was near the corner of Grace and Jefferson streets, on the present location of the Richmond Police Department Headquarters. The site is marked by a historic marker on Grace Street and a 1911 bronze plaque, now embedded to the left of the building’s entrance, which includes a quote that a member of Stuart’s staff claimed was the last thing Stuart exclaimed before being mortally wounded: “I must save the women of Richmond!” The eastern wall of the Richmond Police Department Headquarters is home to “Thin Blue Line,” a 12-foot-tall woven-steel-band sculpture of a police officer’s head created by artist Michael Stutz in 2005.  (200 W. Grace St., 0.2 miles.)

The Jefferson Hotel:

The Jefferson Hotel
The Jefferson Hotel, post-1907 (The Valentine, Cook Collection)



Lobby before fire
Lobby of the Jefferson Hotel prior to the 1901 fire (The Valentine)


Two blocks south on Adams Street is one of philanthropist Lewis Ginter’s greatest gifts to Richmond, the 1895 Beaux-Arts-style Jefferson Hotel. Built to fulfill Ginter’s dream of a grand hotel in Richmond, the Jefferson’s interior was gutted by a fire in 1901 and required six years of restoration work before it could be fully reopened. From the start, the Jefferson Hotel featured such luxuries as a grand staircase, electric lights and elevators, toilets and hot and cold running water.  A life-size marble sculpture of namesake Thomas Jefferson, by Richmond artist Edward V. Valentine, was placed directly under a Tiffany stained-glass dome in the hotel’s Palm Court. Although the statue had its head detached while being rescued from the 1901 fire, it was later repaired and can still be seen today. Many famous celebrities and 13 U.S. presidents have stayed at the Jefferson Hotel, but its most interesting occupants were undoubtedly the series of free-ranging alligators who lived in the Palm Court’s shallow pools from the early 1900s until 1948, when the last alligator, Old Pompey, died. Considered the crown jewel of Richmond’s hospitality industry, the AAA five-diamond-rated Jefferson Hotel also includes two restaurants – the elegant Lemaire and the more casual TJ’s.  (101 W. Franklin St., 0.2 miles.)


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