Richmond on the James: Stories of Landscape Transformation, in Review

by Rebecca Flemer, Affiliate ASLA

Virginia War Memorial / image: R. Flemer

Richmond on the James: Stories of Landscape Transformation
Alliance for Historic Landscape Preservation Annual Meeting
Richmond, Virginia  |  May 24-27, 2023

This year’s Alliance for Historic Landscape Preservation (AHLP) conference explored the rich history of a place which is home to one of the organization’s founders, Hugh Miller, Hon. ASLA. Along with Hugh, Tim Keller, Barbara Wyatt, FASLA, and Genevieve Keller, Hon. ASLA, organized the conference. From the homeland of the Powhattan and other tribes, to capital of the Confederacy during the U.S. Civil War, to its industrial past, themes for presentations and tours during the conference strove to gain a deeper knowledge of Richmond’s history as seen through its changing landscape.

The conference kicked off Wednesday evening with a welcome reception hosted by Preservation Virginia at their headquarters, the Cole Digges House. Thursday’s presentations started with an overview of the conference and a conversion with Hugh Miller. Two sessions followed with themes of Equity and Social Justice in Urban and Rural Landscapes and Racialized and Culturally Distinct Contexts of the Historic Landscape. These discussions featured professional and academic projects including scholarship papers supported by the Alliance.

On Friday, Bill Martin, director of the Valentine Museum, led an all-day bus tour of Richmond neighborhoods and landscapes. We began at Shockoe Bottom—between the 1830s and the Civil War, the largest American slave-trading hub outside of New Orleans. Largely erased during urban renewal, the site is overshadowed by Route 95. It has recently been recognized as a threatened site important to the story of enslavement in Richmond.

Shockoe Bottom was placed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of ‘Most Endangered Historic Places’ in 2014. Efforts are underway to preserve and interpret the site. / image: R. Flemer

The bus took us up to Libby Hill Park overlooking the James River, then to the East End Cemetery, originally incorporated as Greenwood Cemetery in 1891 by an association of prominent African Americans. Recent effort by volunteers have uncovered over 3,000 graves.

East End Cemetery / image: R. Flemer

At the Virginia War Memorial we ate box lunches overlooking the city. Back on the bus, we continued to Monument Avenue where Confederate figures have recently been removed after protests in 2020. The lone remaining statue is of Arthur Ashe. Later at the Valentine Museum, we saw the graffitied remains of the Jefferson Davis statue displayed as part of the “This is Richmond, Virginia” exhibit. Organizers are encouraging the public to offer feedback on what’s next for the statue. We had a chance to explore the museum and its exhibits before a cocktail reception in the Valentine Garden.

Saturday we were back at the Richmond Public Library for more presentations. The first session on Indigenous Landscapes of Memory, Visibility, Intervention, and Preservation was followed by two concurrent sessions featuring works in progress: Culture and Context: Neighborhoods and Transportation Networks: Roles in Urban Landscape Connections and Contemporary Treatment Issues.

After lunch we split into groups for a walking tour of Jackson Ward guided by Gary Flowers, a faculty member of the Valentine Museum tourism department and past Board Member of the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia. The tour highlighted the historic educational, economic, religious, and social institutions that inspired the name “Black Wall Street,” and “The Harlem of the South.”

Gary Flowers leads a tour of Jackson Ward. / image: R. Flemer

The conference wrapped up at Julip’s Restaurant. Martin Holland, ASLA, President of the AHLP, gave us a preview for next year’s conference in Toronto. Look for announcements here on The Field regarding the conference and Call for Papers.

Rebecca Flemer, Affiliate ASLA, serves as secretary of the Alliance for Historic Landscape Preservation (AHLP). She lives in Philadelphia where she works as an independent researcher and board member of several organizations involved with historic landscape preservation. Rebecca also serves as a volunteer leader for ASLA’s Historic Preservation Professional Practice Network (PPN).

Leave a Reply