Bordered by Church Hill to the North and the James River to the South, Shockoe Bottom is another Richmond neighborhood first conceived when William Byrd II received a land grant from King James in 1737. The area has been a central part of Richmond’s history ever since.
After Richmond was named the Capital of Virginia, Shockoe Bottom became a center for commerce and trade. Its proximity to the river made it easily accessible to both smaller boats and larger commerce ships. The main thoroughfare for travelers to and from Williamsburg also ran through the neighborhood. Warehouses were built throughout to receive and store all sorts of goods… most notably, tobacco.
Shockoe Bottom eventually became the location of the second largest slave trading market (behind New Orleans) in the United States. As such, many wealthy slave traders built their homes and auction houses here. The infamous Lumpkin’s Jail – a holding area for slaves – was built in the northwest corner of the Bottom along with an African American burial ground. It’s this legacy that led to it being named a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2015. The jail and many other structures burned or were demolished over the years, but many of the homes still stand today.
Things changed when Richmond was captured by Union forces during the Civil War. Slaves were freed and much of the area was burned to the ground. But it wasn’t long before the area was rebuilt and businesses were again thriving. By the 1870s, warehouses, offices and retailers dominated the landscape and the Farmer’s Market was in full swing.
After experiencing many ups and down in the years that followed, Shockoe Bottom has evolved to become a place that both business and residents call home. Many of the historic tobacco warehouses have been converted to upscale apartments, condominiums and offices while galleries, shops and restaurants continue to set up shop in the area. In addition, the City has been making some huge investments of its own. The Farmer’s Market is in the midst of complete transformation that will add outdoor dining, improve pedestrian access and significantly enhance aesthetics. $90M was also invested in the the restoration of the adjacent Main Street Station and conversion of the old train shed to a grand, glass-enclosed event space. And that’s not all… several private projects are now underway and more are planned in the near future. Shockoe Bottom has a lot of potential for growth in the coming years.
Here are a few things to do:
James River – Explore. Walk the flood wall. Rent a kayak or paddleboard for an hour.
Virginia Capital Trail – Exercise. 52 miles of dedicated biking / walking / running trail starts in the Bottom and ends in Williamsburg.
Millie’s Diner – An RVA tradition. Go for brunch. Grab a bloody mary and stand in line. Worth it.
LuLu’s – Brunch and dinner are pretty tasty and always on point.
Whisk – How do you feel about cake? I personally have never met a pastry from Whisk I didn’t like!
Bistro Bobette – In a city with limited French options, this is a good one.
Rosie Connolly’s – Richmonds favorite and most authentic Irish Pub. Enjoy a Guinness and chat with the owner Tommy. Live Irish music on Wednesday nights.
Havana 59 – Go Cuban style with ropa vieja and mojitos. Best experienced when the weather is warm and the garage doors are rolled up.
Edgar Allen Poe Museum – Learn more about the life and works of the man as well as his time in Richmond.