Richmond’s Capital Square
On Thursday, after a great night’s sleep at our friend Terri’s home, we headed out for our next big adventure. We had scheduled a tour at the Virginia Executive Mansion, but that wasn’t until 3:30pm. So we had a little time to waste. So being on vacation, we slept in and took our time heading out.
Our first stop was at an antique store that I had visited before with Terri. Gates Antique Store is located in Midlothian, an area of Richmond. They were the store that graciously donated the Blue Ink Well, Meat Mallet, Jello Mold and the Limoges Gravy Boat. I wanted Brett to have a chance to see some of the wonderful treasure they have there!
From there we headed to downtown Richmond. After several minutes trying to find a parking space, we located a public parking lot just under the Historic St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Grace Street and 8th Street.
When we came out from the garage, we decided to look for some lunch. It was almost 2pm and we both were getting a little hungry. As we headed down 8th Street, Brett caught sight of a Subway Sandwich Shop just on the corner of 8th Street and East Franklin Street, but as we walked towards it, I saw on the opposite side of the corner another deli shop called “The Wall Street Deli”. Now you know how we like to take the road less traveled, we had to try the other deli. And what a surprise we had!
When you walk in, you can almost imagine yourself in a deli on some corner in New York City. The furnishings weren’t top of the line. The chairs metal folding chairs. It didn’t have that interior designed look you would expect with the name “Wall Street”. But what it lacked in interior views, it more than made up in service.
As we walked in, we were greeted by Deborah, who quickly found us a table towards the back. As we looked over the menu, she took our drink order of two iced teas and return not only with the teas, but brought us a dish of homemade sliced dill pickles to munch on. We could see the kitchen staff as they worked to prepare other guests’ dishes. And behind the counter was a kind looking man who assisted take-out orders.
Brett and I both ordered hot dogs, his was Kosher and mine was with cheddar cheese and bacon. (Hey, I’m on vacation!) While we waited, I watched guests coming and going with their orders. But one guest caught my attention. She came to just use the restroom. (Now I know I’m not in New York City) As she was walking back out, the kind man behind the counter stepped out and stopped her. My first thought was that he was going to ask her to not come in unless she was purchasing something. But to my surprise, he walked her back to the drink counter where he poured her a drink cup to go. She smiled and thanked him and went on her way. Throughout our meal, I watch random acts of kindness from each of the four staff members. Each of them, as they walked by our table, stopped and asked how we were doing. It was such a wonderful experience. You know I have to say I can’t remember if the food was great or not. But what I remember is the way these kind people treated others. It really made the meal worth the stop.
As we finished up our meal, we had a chance to chat with Ray, the kind man behind the counter. He told us how he came up with his recipe for his “Greek Spaghetti”. When I asked if he was Greek, he told me no, that he was from Lebanon. We told him about our plantation and about our blog. We were even able to get some photos of the staff! So if you find yourself in Richmond at lunch time and don’t want the standard every day food, I would recommend a stop at the “Wall Street Deli” on the corner of 8th Street and East Franklin!
Once we finished our lunch we headed a block over to the Capital Square. Here is where you will find the Virginia Capital building. It houses the oldest legislative body in the Western Hemisphere, the Virginia General Assembly, first established as the House of Burgesses in 1619. The current building is the eighth building to serve as the Virginia State House.
The building was conceived by Thomas Jefferson and Charles-Louis Cherisseau in France. The center section was completed in 1788. The two wings were added in the early 20th Century and it was placed on the list of National Historic Landmarks in 1960.
The first capital was in Jamestown where the House of Burgesses met in 1619. Jamestown would go through four buildings in the time that the capital was there due to fires. In 1699, the capital was moved to Williamsburg and completed in 1705. It burned in 1747 and was replaced in 1753.
One little note of history here. On June 29, 1776, Virginia declared its independence from Great Britain and wrote the state’s first constitution, thereby creating an independent government four days before Congress voted for the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia in July 1776.
It was Thomas Jefferson who urged that the capital be moved to Richmond. The building was last used in December, 1779 when the Virginia General Assembly adjourned to reconvene in 1780 in Richmond. The old capital in Williamsburg was eventually destroyed. The capital you now see in Williamsburg is a reconstruction of that old one.
The design of the current capital was taken from the Maison Carree at Nimes in southern France, an ancient Roman temple. The corner stone was laid in 1785 with Governor Patrick Henry in attendance. It is only one of eleven state capitals without an external dome.
This building would go on to serve as the capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War. It was the second capital for the Confederacy. The first was in the Alabama State Capital in Montgomery, Alabama.
Just behind this wonderful building you will find several points of interest. The first one we came to was a large statue just to the left of the Capital Building. This large equestrian statue of George Washington was conceived to honor Washington and to glorify Virginia’s contributions to independence. Virginia’s role in the Revolution is depicted by six of her sons surrounding General Washington, who is dressed in a military uniform. Just below each of the six pedestrian statues are inscribed with themes reflecting each patriot’s contribution: Andrew Lewis, Colonial Times; Patrick Henry, Revolution; George Mason, Bill of Rights; Thomas Jefferson, Independence; Thomas Nelson, Finance; and John Marshall, Justice.
As we passed by this wonderful statue, you can’t help but notice what looks like a gothic style building just behind Capital Square. At first we thought it might be a church due to the look, but when we asked a passing government worker, she pointed out that it was the Old City Hall building. The other worker with her told us that we must go inside. The way she described it was that it was like going inside a Fabergé egg. Looking at the time, we were down to just 30 minutes before our tour time, but we just had to see what it looked like.
The building is still a working office building and you are only allowed on the first floor. But really that is all you need to see! As you walk in you are greeted by this room filled with painted columns, walls, rails and stairs. It really was like a Faberge egg! Built in 1886, this building served as the City Hall from 1894 to the 1970s.
We headed back over to the Capital Square and started making our way to the Virginia Executive Mansion. It is really a nice view of it as you walk down the roadway that leads from the entry gate to the mansion. Along the way we came across the Civil Rights Memorial. This is a four sided memorial with wonderful statues depicting different unsung heroes of the Civil Rights Movement. The memorial which was installed in 2008 honors the student protest at the Robert Russa Moton High School in Farmville, Virginia. Their organized walkout in 1951, and subsequent lawsuit, became one of the cases joined with and argued before the Supreme Court as Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka. On April 23, 1951, a brave 16-year-old girl named Barbara Johns led a walkout and demonstration with her fellow students at Robert R. Moton High School in Farmville, Virginia, to protest the intolerable conditions at the school. Moton High had twice the number of students it was designed for and offered no cafeteria or gymnasium facilities. Teachers were poorly compensated compared to those in the all white high school.
We arrived at the front gate of the mansion about 30 minutes early. To our surprise, one of the Capital Police Officers on security detail stepped out of the security hut to ask us if we wanted to go ahead and take the tour early. We were so excited. As we walked towards the mansion, the front door opened and out stepped Ms. Jones, our tour guide. A kind lady with great Southern charm spoke to us about the mansion and about our plantation. I have to say I wish I had her wonderful warm Virginian accent. We walked into the front hall and waited to be joined by others on the tour.
The Virginia Governor’s Mansion which is better known as the Executive Mansion serves as the official residence of the Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia. It was designed by Alexander Parris and is the oldest occupied governor’s mansion in the United States. It has served as the home of Virginia governors and their families since 1813.
In 1779, when Richmond became the capital of Virginia, there had been no residence for the governor. Governor Thomas Jefferson had to rent one. The law that provided for the construction of the current building was signed in 1811 by James Monroe and the building was completed in 1813. James Monroe’s term had ended by this time and the new Governor George William Smith succeeded him. However, Governor Smith was not the first governor to live in the mansion. He had lost his life in a Richmond Theater fire while trying to save others in December 1811. His successor, James Barbour was to be the first to live in the mansion.
During the War of 1812, Governor James Barbour and his family arrived at the Executive Mansion. It was during this first year in residence that British troops were ravaging the Virginia coastline and advancing to Williamsburg. In 1813, Governor Barbour and his wife Lucy would institute a tradition of hospitality that would continue for decades. They would have food and a punch bowl constantly kept in the dining room for legislators so that during sessions any legislator could come and make himself at home.
General Lafayette would visit in 1824 and dine at the Executive Mansion. In 1852, the Executive Mansion was the sight of an angry mob that pushed through the iron gates and hit the house with stones, breaking windows. The mob was upset at then Governor Joseph Johnson’s decision to commute the death sentence of a teenage slave. The Governor held firm and the slave was spared.
In 1865, Governor William Smith fled Richmond just ahead of the Union Army, but his wife Elizabeth and daughter May Amelia stayed back a the Mansion to guard it and pack up personal and state property. A bucket brigade was stationed on the roof of the Mansion and saved it and the Capital Building from the fire that consumed much of Richmond.
This mansion has served as home for 54 Governors. Throughout the two hundred years of service, this mansion has had two major interior renovations and one exterior renovation. The wallpaper, drapes and carpets are all period for when the mansion was constructed. The current First Lady McDonnell has had the 1906 parquet floors refinished and is overseeing the total renovation of the front south garden.
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