The Virginia Newspaper Project recently purchased two issues of an eight page newspaper entitled The Richmond Progress from a historic newspaper dealer. The issues are not dated but believed to be from 1884 and 1886 and they are printed as Volume I, numbers 4 and 6 respectively. The Library of Virginia previously had just one issue in our collection, Volume 1, Issue 1 which is only 4 pages and appears to be from 1882.
The paper was published in Richmond, Virginia by J. Thompson Brown & Co., Real Estate Agents and Auctioneer with offices at 1113 Main Street. The papers are largely made up of listings for houses, buildings, and land for sale.
The later issues are interesting for their feature articles. In the 1884 issue, one article references the illustrations that had been prepared for the publication. Three etchings depict the growth of the city in 1800, 1830, and 1870. Brief historical sketches are drawn for each period. I enjoyed hearing the population numbers for Richmond; 5,730 in 1800, 16,000 in 1830, and 65,000 by 1870.
There are brief articles about the value of owning real estate, a short history of City Directories in Richmond, articles advocating a bridge between Church Hill and Shockoe Hill and a street railway line to Manchester, largely to promote business and increase real estate values. In recent years, there has been discussion about the City purchasing Mayo Island and developing it as a park. So it is humorous to see on page 5 proposals to develop the same lands. “By opening up pleasure resorts along the route, which is most peculiarly adapted by nature for these purposes, such as boat houses, dancing pavilions, mercantile and mechanics’ pleasure clubs of every variety–that something, in which our city is woefully deficient, to attract business like all other business cities do. And where can you find places more beautiful and nearer our doors, more centrally located, more easy of access for such purposes than these many beautiful islands begeming our still more beautiful river, which are contiguous to Mayo’s Bridge?” Some things don’t change.
Page 8 includes a detailed article on the design of the new City Hall. The design was selected in a competition among 21 architects. The building was designed by Col. E.E Myers of Detroit, Michigan and would be built of “Virginia granite, rock faced broken ashler, with dressed granite trimmings, and polished columns at the entrances.” The four story building incorporated the latest technologies including a skylight above the main corridor, electric lighting, public bathrooms, electric bells, “speaking tubes”, fire-proof construction — “the girders, joist of floors, framing of roof being of wrought iron, with arched brick and concrete filling between them”, a passenger and freight elevator powered by the “same engine and boilers which will heat the building in winter, run the ventilating apparatus in summer, and furnish the power for the electric machines.” A description of the offices to be located on each floor was given. Council Chambers was to be located on the third floor. The project was expected to cost $300,000 and to be completed by January 1887.
Highlights from the 1886 issue include articles on “Public Parks as an Investment”, the Lee Monument, and the Union Depot of Atlantic Coast Line and R., F. and P. R.R. The article on parks as an investment, describes the purchase of the “old Fair ground” and its development into Monroe Park. With this purchase, the city limit was extended in 1869. Again, as in the previous issue the increase in land values is seen as the chief benefit of this investment. The article credits Albert Ordway, J.C. Shafer, Esq., and W.C. Dunham, Esq. will the idea of purchasing the fair grounds for a park. Another interesting item is a chart that shows expenditures on various city parks between 1870 – 1886.
The Lee Monument article describes proposed locations for the site of the monument. The proposed locations included Libby Hill (also referred to as Marshall Park), Gamble Hill, Monroe Park, Capitol Square, 1st and Broad, 5th and Main, and 9th and Broad. None of which were selected in the end. In the third paragraph, the author writes “The Allen Lot, or adjacent property, by all means is the place of all places” which I assume is the location that was ultimately selected as the Lee Monument is located on Monument at Allen Avenue. The author argues against putting the monument “where it could seen” and states that the monument would spur the westward expansion of the city and increase property values.
The article on the Union Depot describes the poor conditions and overcrowding of the previous Depot located at 8th and Byrd Street. A state-owned public warehouse was sold for $53,000 jointly to the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac, and Richmond and Petersburg railroads which allowed the railroads to make improvements including a new passenger station and improved facilities for handling freight.
Though this newspaper is largely a real estate sales paper, there is interesting information here pertaining to Richmond’s growth as a city. This paper also shows the role that developers have played in the city’s development who often included public parks and rail service in their development plans as amenities for suburban families.