Friday, January 27, 2017

In the darkness over Richmond

High up on a hill overlooking the city of Richmond stands a monument, lit up at night like a beacon to the heavens. We first noticed it after dinner at the Boathouse at Rocketts Landing, the illuminated obelisk demanding attention even as we had plotted our course back to the hotel for the evening.

The lighted pathway leads the eye right to the monument, upper right

We zigzagged up the hill just a few short blocks from Great Shiplock Park, the historic canal park our explorations had led us to earlier in the day. For a moment we thought we would be unable to reach it, as our route had taken us to Main Street where we would face a steep (dark) uphill hike even if we could find parking. But after turning on a maps app we discovered the roundabout way to reach Libby Terrace and found ourselves standing at the base of the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument.

The memorial is located on the southeastern spur of Church Hill, in Libby Hill Park. The impressive view over the city, the James River, and what used to be the Confederate Navy Yard guarantees its suitability for a rather impressive monument. Plans had originally called for a statue commemorating Robert E. Lee, but when one was erected on the other side of the city, the Confederate Soldiers' & Sailors' Monument Association was born. The memorial was modeled after Pompey's Pillar in Alexandria, Egypt, and depicts a Confederate private standing on top of the pillar. 13 granite blocks make up the enormous pillar symbolizing the 13 Confederate States. Completed in 1894, the total cost is estimated to have been over $30,000.

Once we had reached our beacon we discovered the real treasure of Libby Hill Park – the view. William Byrd II is thought to have said that this view resembles the view of Richmond upon Thames in England, and so the vista earned the reputation as the "View that Named Richmond." A plaque informed us that the curve of the James River and the steep slopes are similar to the features of the River Thames in England, and when William Byrd II was asked by the House of Burgesses to plan a town at the Falls of the James (the same falls than necessitated all the canals and locks) in the 1730s, he named the new town Richmond.

A little hard to see, but the tower to the old Lucky Strike factory (now lofts) is visible on the left

We couldn’t have asked for a more suitable final perspective on the historical city that we had been exploring for the past few days. Despite the pull to explore the park more fully (even in the dark it was beckoning us down its cozy pathways!), we loaded the sleepy children back into the car and descended into the lights that we had just been admiring. Tomorrow was a brand new day, and our plans were to head east, towards Chesapeake Bay and the Colonial National Historic Park

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