RICHMOND, Va., May 31, 2013 — History: check. Great food: check. Art: check. Comfortable hotel with really good coffee: Check, check. World class art: CHECK!
Instead of a drive by city, Richmond, Virginia provides a close drive-to weekend vacation destination to those in the DC Metro area. Richmond, too often passed on the way to the Virginia Beach and Outer Banks shores, is more than worth a stop.
It may be that before the express lane additions, what should have been an easy trip was often a nightmare. Travel with three in the car and the trip takes a reasonable two and a half hours.
And what abundance of amazement Richmond provides.
The Berkeley Hotel is located in the Shocktoe Slip area. The boutique property has all the hallmarks of a four-star property, including a marvelous restaurant where brunch is ample, graciously served, and the coffee phenomenal. Tasting-fresh-from-the-farm eggs come with an authentic southern flair, plated with salty, Virginia-cured hams.
Being in Shocktoe Slip means having easy access to a variety of Richmond’s wares. A perfect Saturday starts with a visit to the spacious grounds of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Parking a couple of blocks away (there is museum parking next to the building) allows for a leisurely walk through the flowering spring trees, including the pink and white of the red buds, cherry trees, crab apples and dogwoods in front of antebellum era homes.
Through July 28, the VMFA is featuring a brilliant exhibition in Pop Art and Beyond: Tom Wesselmann (b. 1931 d. 2004). Wesselmann is one of the most important artists to expand pop art as a reflection of societal cultures. Unfortunately, he is often bypassed by names like Roy Lichenstein and Andy Warhol, whom Wesselman often worked closely with.
The exhibit mirrors Wesselmann’s progress as an artist, starting in 1959, where as a graduate from the New York Cooper Union School of Art he created a series of collages. These were inspired by the Kurt Schwitter’s Dada collages and William de Koonings Abstract Expressionist paintings. Wesselmann created an artistic theme that would form a template for his future works.
Wesselmann first garnered attention with his 1961 series, American Nude. This was a series of patriotic-themed large-format paintings, mixed media, and collage works. The nude woman is a consistant theme in Wesselmann’s work, which often focused on the naked form with emphasis on details such as hands, feet and breasts.
Particularly fun are Wesselmann’s large-format pieces featuring landscapes, seascapes and drop-outs ― a series of three-dimensional still lifes.
On the VMFA property is the old Confederate Memorial Chapel, the last vestige of what was a camp for Confederate veterans, known as Robert E. Lee Camp No. 1, or the “Old Soldiers’ Home.”
Dating back to 1884, the camp served needy, wounded and infirm Confederate veterans after the war. Situated on approximately 36 acres, which are now occupied in part by the VMFA, the camp housed hundreds of veterans until 1941, when the last resident passed away. The land was then deeded to the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Today on the property sit the VMFA and the Virginia Historical Society. Surviving from the camp are Robinson House, which was the camp headquarters, and the Confederate War Memorial Chapel, also known as the Pelham Chapel.
There was a small group assembled outside the chapel carrying large Confederate flags, protesting the city law that bans the display of the Confederate flag on city property. Hence the South’s emblem cannot be flown outside the building.
Erected in 1887, the Pelham Chapel commemorates more than 260,000 Confederate war dead. An excellent example of Gothic Revival architecture, the Chapel is listed as a National Historic Landmark and an Official War Memorial, quite possibly being the only “Official War Memorial” dedicated to all of the Confederate soldiers who were casualties in the War Between the States.
The Confederate Memorial Chapel is one of the last visible signs of Virginia’s Confederate past left in the city, a bit of American history retold in the recent Steven Spielberg movie, Lincoln (Daniel Day Lewis).
Meeting up with the Real Richmond Food Tours along the James River, our walk back into history begins where Lincoln’s iconic visit to the city began, on the banks of the James River.
Our Tour Guide, Susan Winiecki, Editor-in-Chief/Associate Publisher of Richmond Magazine, explains that following the war, the James River was impassible, filled with broken wagons, dead live stock and horses, and other detritus of the war.
Lincoln, unable to traverse the river in his larger craft, boarded a rowboat and came, unceremoniously and quietly, into the city. He walked up the hill from the river on his way to the White House of the South, recently evacuated by Jefferson and Varna Davis, the President and First Lady of the South.
The tour takes us past the most infamous slave prison and largest slave-trading hub in America (outside of New Orleans), of which there were some 27 in Shocktoe alone. Here in the shadow of the overpass, where were we not in a group on a sunny afternoon we might find the knowledge chilling, we learn about Lumpkin’s Jail. Lumpkin was a notorious and brutal slaver, known as a “bully trader” with a vicious cruel streak. Yet he was also a family man who fathered five “half-negro” children with his common-law wife, Mary, and sent his two daughters to finishing school in Massachusetts, then to Pennsylvania to live with their mother to avoid any chance that they might be enslaved.
Lumpkin’s Shocktoe complex, which lies only three blocks from the state capitol building, vanished from all but memory until it was excavated in 2008-9. It was known as “the devil’s half acre,” and sat surrounded by African cemeteries and gallows. Within its walls hundreds of men and women were tortured before being sold.
As the South’s defeat in the Civil War became evident, Lumpkin tried to escape with fifty of his slaves, but could not find passage out of the city and died shortly after the end of the war, leaving all his real estate holdings to Mary, now a freedwoman. After Robert Lumpkin died, Mary Lumpkin created the Virginia Union Ministry, or the African American College. Many notable persons have graduated from the Ministry, including Former Virginia Governor Douglas Wilder.
Next to the site of Lumpkin’s Jail, sitting ignominiously on a trailer flat, is what may be the last known slave cottage in Richmond. In a state of decay and sitting without funding or a champion, this bit of Richmond slave history, which should not be allowed to vanish into lore, sits in danger of further vandalism and destruction by the elements.
From here Lincoln’s walk, and ours, continued up to 7th Street, the site of the Farmer’s Market. From here one can look up the street to grand buildings on the top of the hill.
The tour stops at Arcadia for brunch: wheat grain pancakes, eggs benedict, fresh orange juice. Proprietor John Van Peppen steps out to greet the assembled and shares that just after the movie opened, Daniel Day Lewis, as Lincoln, stopped by for lunch.
That picture of Lewis, snapped on another diner’s smart phone, quickly went viral and helping to insure the success of the new restaurant.
The tour continues past some of Richmond’s more interesting buildings, including the First Black Baptist Church on A Street, the Egyptian Building, part of the Virginia Medical Center complex, and on to the White House of the South.
After reading so many books about the house and its Civil War occupants, it is remarkable to stand before its doors and gaze on the neoclassical building, imagining the views of the river and the city as it fell to the Northern soldiers.
The tour continues on just two blocks to Governor’s mansion grounds, where much of the movie Lincoln was filmed.
Read more about Richmond and the fall of the Confederacy through the eyes of the slave of the real life Ms. Mary Van Lew, an abolitionist in Richmond.
Mary Bowser was a freed slave in the Van Lew household that Mistress Van Lew sent to be educated in Philadelphia.
Her story, The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen, is a rich semi-historical portrayal of Richmond at the time of its fall.
It is recommended reading before you take the tour.
While visiting Shocktoe Slip visit Carytown for great storefront shopping, local restaurants and local sweet treats such as Bev’s Homemade Ice Cream, Carytown Cupcakes and For the Love of Chocolate.
The Berkley Hotel provides a convenient boutique hotel located on a quaint cobblestone street at:
The Berkley Hotel
1200 E. Cary Street
Richmond, VA 23219
The hotel is located at 12th and Cary Streets NW, at the western edge of historic Shockoe Slip with its cobblestone streets and many dining and shopping opportunities.
The Berkeley is in easy walking distance to the James River Canal Walk, VCU’s Medical College, the State Capitol, and many other government buildings and tourist attractions.
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