A mini-suburban metropolis sprawls just about fifteen miles outside of Richmond’s urban center. Today, Short Pump stands in sharp contrast to some of the more rural areas surrounding the city of Richmond - areas that it resembled only a few decades ago. In the not-so-distant memory of so many Richmonders, Short Pump was farm country. Now, it is now home to hundreds of shoppers and diners, who can be found perusing the area’s airy outdoor mall, the crowded movie theater, or the charming ice rink,
A Tavern & a SHORT PUMP
Looking at the amount of commercial activity today, it is hard to imagine that the busy Broad Street was once a single lane road named Three Notched Trail in the 18th century. Instead of cars, horses and buggies journeyed along this well-worn path to travel between Richmond and Charlottesville. Three Notched Trail was a long and difficult eighty mile stretch, so an enterprising Revolutionary War veteran, Robert Hyde Sander, opened a small tavern alongside the road in 1815 for travelers. While they rested inside the main building, their horses could wait outside and drink from a water pump - one with a curiously short handle.
©Henrico Historical Society
Over time, the tavern became increasingly well-known. The uniquely short pump made the place easily identifiable, turning it into a veritable local landmark. There is even historical speculation that famous early figures like Thomas Jefferson, who regularly used Three Notched Trail, stayed at the tavern. People would often make plans to meet “at the short pump,” and soon, the nearby land that Sander’s owned became known as “Short Pump Plantation.” Eventually, a 1853 Henrico County map officially labeled the area around a nearby crossroads as Short Pump.
A GENERAL STORE & A SCHOOL
Sander’s popular tavern was just the beginning for the area. In 1908, Dabney Henry built a Short Pump General Store close by and lived above it with his family. The store sold food and other essentials, but it also served as a local social center where members of the community could exchange news and gossip. Before long, a thriving neighborhood of family farms had bloomed in the area. By 1911, Short Pump School had opened. The one-room schoolhouse was a far cry from today’s Short Pump Elementary and Middle schools - kids were actually taken to school by a two-mule covered wagon.
©Henrico Historical Society
Only a few decades later, Short Pump was once again poised for a transformation that would dramatically change the landscape over the next century. By the 1930s, roads were populated by cars instead of carriages. The original tavern had fallen into disrepair and was subsequently torn down in 1932 to make room for further construction on Broad Street. The General Store was demolished in 1996. The area’s schools were rebuilt, and many of the farms deteriorated and were sold to developers. Times were changing.
FROM FARM TO... SHOPPING
However, as recently as the 1980s, Richmond residents remember Short Pump as mostly farmland. At the now-busy intersection of W. Broad and Pump Road, there was nothing but grassy fields, a small gas station, and a few small houses.
©Henrico Historical Society
The development of Short Pump Town Center in the early 2000s was a pivotal moment in the location’s history. Since then, the shopping center has become a major staple of the West End, making billions in revenue each year. According to the Virginia Department of Transportation more than 25,000 vehicles travel through Short Pump on West Broad Street every day, passing upscale retail options, national chains, pedestrians, and more.
Almost all traces of the past are gone. The stark differences between nineteenth century and twenty-first century Short Pump tell the story of local development over time. From a single tavern to a multiplex mall, Short Pump has grown into hub that bears very little resemblance to the Short Pump early Richmonders saw. Yet, despite the rapid change, it retains its namesake as a token tip-of-the-cap to its origin story.
As the sun rises over the steeple of St. John’s Episcopal Church, it illuminates a neighborhood just about any Richmonder can identify. With its long-standing association to St. John’s, Church Hill has earned the title of city’s earliest neighborhood (it is more than 250 years old!), boasting pre-Civil War Greek Revival houses right alongside up-and-coming eateries and family-friendly parks. The name of the neighborhood itself is a tribute to the enduring legacy of St. John’s Church, which continues to perch on its hilltop, looking out over the neighborhood below it. From its raised position above the city, Church Hill has withstood the test of time and witnessed some of the most important historical moments in American history.
A DEEPLY ROOTED PAST
Part of the magic of Church Hill lies in its deeply-rooted past. The neighborhood’s fame began in the early days of the American Revolution. In 1775, due to its size and vantage point, St. John’s Church was chosen to host the Second Virginia Convention, where some of the most influential American figures of the age, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, gathered to deliberate the sensitive situation with Great Britain. It was here that Patrick Henry delivered the notorious words “Give me liberty or give me death!,” thus igniting the revolutionary spirit to secede from Great Britain. St. John’s Church was the perfect location for such a revolutionary and sensitive meeting.
In those early colonial days, there were only about a few hundred people living in the area, but that was soon to change. The lure of jobs in local tobacco companies brought hordes of eager new residents, a trend that continued into the years of the Civil War in the 1860s. Richmond is known as the Confederacy’s capital, of course; yet, it is lesser-known as a place where medical operations took place that saved thousands of wounded soldiers. Those operations took place in Church Hill hospitals; in fact, the renovated apartments in the former Pohlig Box Factory and the lush green lawns of Chimborazo Park were once the site of busy Civil War hospitals. Chimborazo, a hospital open only during the Civil War, was one of most advanced hospitals in the entirety of the South during that time.
TRAGIC TUNNEL COLLAPSE
Miraculously, Church Hill managed to escape much of the war’s widespread destruction, and the area kept on growing in the following years. It witnessed the establishment of Richmond’s (and the nation’s) first electric trolley system, railroad expansion, as well as the infamous 1925 Church Hill Tunnel collapse, which tragically sealed several workers and a train car inside (if you into supernatural scares, you should know some local urban legends tell of the ghosts of that tunnel).
Lucky for us, the histories of significant places like Church Hill are still accessible for Richmonders today. Additionally, while the Historic Richmond Foundation may be a pretty familiar name for its preservation efforts all around the city, it actually all started in 1950s Church Hill. The organization originally started out with the goal of safeguarding St. John’s Church and the area around it, before expanding to other historic sites in the following decades. Thanks to work likes theirs, Church Hill can stay grounded in its past.
...AND MODERN APPEAL
The other part of Church Hill’s distinctive magnetism comes from its ability to still branch out to new, diverse horizons. Amazingly, visitors can stand on the ground where Patrick Henry once stood, before walking just down the street to enjoy some of the area’s newly-flourishing restaurant scene with Proper Pie’s New Zealand-style pies. Interested learners can get info about the neighborhood on online community sites Church Hill People’s News or go to the longstanding East End Branch Library. There are modern community centers, studios, and businesses only blocks from classically built homes. These combining factors of old and new build a fascinating community narrative of Richmond’s past and present.
From the well-worn cobblestone of Monument Avenue to the soaring glass of the Gateway Plaza, Richmond is a place that stands out from the rest. A quick glance at the any of its vibrant streets can reveal college students, life-long residents, and tourists, bustling past each other to various destinations. Home to hundreds of thousands of individuals living, working, and playing, this southern city exudes urban charm, old-world allure, and natural beauty - all against the timeless background of the James. Most of all, Richmond is a city of stories, with histories big and small ingrained in everything from the pastel row houses to trendy bistros to crumbling graffitied walls. Regardless of your level of familiarity with the place, Richmond’s complex narrative truly has something for everyone to explore.
Over the next several months, we plan to write a series of blogs on the neighborhoods of Richmond. Got a favorite you want to see written up? Let us know! Otherwise, sit back, relax, and enjoy the walk through Richmond.
~Melissa, RVA to Go