Richmond neighborhoods Shockoe Bottom and Shockoe Slip are home to a number of creative agencies and businesses, including Wireside Communications. From our offices in the Old Dominion we support endless possibilities in the new world of communications.
Being a recent transplant from the City by the Bay, I knew very little about Richmond beyond its role in the Civil War as the former capital of the Confederacy. I certainly didn’t know the part our neighborhood, Shockoe Bottom, played in the history of this nation. So, being a fan of history, I took a walking tour of the square blocks around the Superior Exchange Building where Wireside calls home to educate myself about the neighborhood.
Shockoe Bottom is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Richmond and grew due to its close proximity to the docks on the James River that were used to transport goods and people to the city. Within two blocks of Wireside’s offices sits one of the oldest structures in Richmond, the Adam Craig House, built in 1784 by Adam Craig, a prominent court clerk in Richmond. Legend holds that his daughter, Jane Stith Craig Stanard, is the inspiration behind Edgar Allen Poe’s tribute, “To Helen.” In 1935, faced with the possibility of destruction, it was bought by Preservation Virginia and used as an arts center. Recently it was for sale. For a million dollars you could own a piece of American history complete with an awesome outdoor shower to cool off in the hot Richmond summers!
Less than one block from Wireside’s offices sits the oldest Masonic Lodge in continuous operation in the United States. It was completed in 1787 and has been witness to many momentous occasions in U.S. history. It was here that the residents of Virginia met to instruct their delegates before going to the Constitutional Convention and the building served as a hospital during the War of 1812. During the Civil War, as much of Richmond was burning, a Union general (himself a mason) posted a guard at the door to protect the building from destruction. Through it all it has stood, but currently is in need of repairs. A recent article in Richmond Magazine noted that the building looks so derelict that a guide giving an historic tour noted that it was abandoned, even though members meet there up to four times per month. Let’s hope that the current occupants can restore the building so it can continue to bear witness to Richmond’s, and this nation’s, history.
Richmond, like many cities, has had its share of triumphs and defeats. Two blocks from Wireside’s headquarters stands a building that is both testament to its glory and its darker days. It is referred to as the Pace-King house and sits at 19th Street and Grace Streets. It was here that Charles B. Hill built his Italianate mansion. According to official records, Charles Hill was an “auctioneer and local politician.” However, a person identified as an auctioneer in the 1800s in Richmond meant something different than it does today and generally meant that the person traded in slaves in addition to the items we commonly associate with the profession today. In 1860, when the mansion was built, Richmond’s trade in slaves was second only to New Orleans’ and in 1856 just one auction house – that of Dickinson, Hill & Co. – raked in an astronomical sum of sales of $2.5 million, which translates to more than $50 million today! Charles Hill, however, was able to enjoy the house financed by his dubious trade for only two years before he passed away. The house was then sold to the namesakes of the house: James B. Pace in the 1860s and 1870s, owner of a tobacco factory, and Jane King in the 1880s and 1890s who is notable as one of the few women to run her own business – a large ice business in the age before refrigeration. The house then changed hands a number of times until the 1970′s when, like much of the neighborhood, it was in disrepair and employed as a tenement for Richmond’s poor.
Luckily for us at Wireside, and our neighbors that call Shockoe Bottom home, the neighborhood has seen a resurgence. Today, there are new owners of the Pace-King house who are renovating the property. The neighborhood is alive with new restaurants, coffee shops, creative agencies and more. In subsequent posts we’ll introduce you to some of the folks who work here and are leading the Shockoe renaissance.