Southern Road Trip, Day 1: Richmond

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One thing I love about SMS is that his interest is piqued by things that would never catch my attention.  This is almost always a good thing since I learn about something I otherwise wouldn’t have.  Richmond made our list because of the Civil War Museum on the grounds of the former Tredegar Iron Works. 

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We arrived a little after noon, paid for our tickets and took a tour of the Tredegar grounds.  This tour focused more on the Iron Works than on the Civil War, which was covered inside the museum, housed inside the former armory.  The grounds were beautiful.  It’s strange to me how crumbling industrial buildings and rusting machinery can be aesthetically pleasing but is really has its own allure. 

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The Iron Works was started by an early American entrepreneur.  He thought it was inefficient to mine iron ore in America, ship it to England and then buy the goods from England.  So in 1837, Francis Deane and a Welsh engineer Rhys Davies opened the factory.  Interestingly, the expertise had to be recruited from Great Britain since the training and apprentice system created the industry masters.

Richmond had the trains, waterways and coal to lay the foundation for becoming an industrial center.  The iron ore came from West Virginia along the James River and manmade Kanawha canal, which is now filled in.  The iron works increased in size and prosperity in the 1840s and was bought out by Joseph Anderson who had joined the company several years earlier.  Among other products, the factory made cannons and the first shot of the Civil War was fired from one of the cannons onto Ft. Sumter.  The company was part of the reason the Confederacy moved its capitol from Montgomery, AL to Richmond, VA.

During the Civil War, the factory made over 1000 cannons and the process was described by our tour guide.  It was very interesting.  For example, the method used by Tredegar was to make a solid cannon and then drill out the core.  That must have been very loud! 

After the Civil War, the factory reopened within a few years after oaths of allegiance were made to the USA and the Confederacy alliances were whitewashed away.  Apparently, Mr. Anderson was quite the pro-secessionist but in his post-war affidavit, another story was given and, apparently, accepted.

The factory slowly lost productivity over time as the industry shifted to steel and Tredegar stayed with iron.  It closed production in 1952 and there were a few dates given for its total closure, but now it’s a museum and National Park Visitor Center.

After the grounds tour, SMS and I toured the museum.  It tries to tell the story from the North, South and slavery perspective and I think it does a really good job.  It talks about the founding ideals of the USA and how that morphed over time between the South and North as to what States’ rights actually meant.  All of it though, rested on the issue of slavery and that the economic basis for the South depended on it and they didn’t want to get rid of it.  This was explicitly mentioned in Georgia’s and South Carolina’s Seccession declarations and other states alluded it it as well.  Although the North was not fighting for Emancipation initially, it became clear over time that this was the main cause and the Emancipation Proclamation was  released in 1863.  Even then, it wasn’t a perfect document as it excluded slaves in several Louisiana parishes that were under Federal control.

After the museum, we headed down to the James River for a swim.  The current was noticeable but manageable.  We swam around and even took a turn on the rope swing.  We walked over to Belle Isle, the site of the former munitions lab and explosion caused by the careless Mary Ryan (seriously, every Park Ranger seemed to mention this story, each with a slightly more dramatic twist).  After our walk, we decided to grab a snack before hitting the road.

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Well, we might have a slightly heavy definition of snack but we were so happy at Proper Pie Co in the Church Hill area.  It’s a New Zealand-style pie shop and we each had a savory pie (lamb and veggies for me, veg chili for SMS) followed by a few bites of a raspberry ricotta pie.  So, ok, ok, it turned into an early dinner but it was so delicious!  The crust recipe is on point and there are so many options, including veg/vegan.  The gluten-free options are limited but available- a savory soup seemed to be the main choice.  It was made with a New Zealand tuber so I would like to try it someday.

Then we were done and off for Norfolk.  Restaurants in Richmond included the Secret Sandwich Society for dinner (excellent shrub cocktail!) and an excellent brunch at Tarrant’s Cafe!

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