Set The Way-Back Machine!

The Library of Virginia is the home of the Virginia Newspaper Project. In 1997, the Library of Virginia moved to a new building at 800 East Broad Street in Richmond, Va. The building takes up the entire block between 9th and 8th street going east and west and between Marshall and Broad Street looking north and south.

The Library of Virginia.

The Library of Virginia.

When a Project colleague mused that he remembers taking a bus from a station he thought was near the Library’s current location, we scrambled to do a bit of research. And sure enough, on the north-west corner of 9th and Broad Street sat the local Trailways bus station.

It stood there for decades until the late 1980′s when Greyhound established a centralized depot at a new location in Richmond. The colleague reminisced about catching a bus at the old Trailways station at 9th Street, which got him to Staunton, Virginia where he often cooled his heels for hours waiting for a connection to take him north toward Winchester and Woodstock. Here is a photo from the late 1950′s. The local Trailways bus station stood at the same location as where the Library of Virginia stands today.

    Broad Street looking west. But what does this have to do with newspapers? We're just making a momentary stop as we travel back to around 1888.

Broad Street looking west. But what does this have to do with newspapers? We’re just making a momentary stop as we travel back to around 1888.

We’ve talked about the 1950s, now let’s go back 125 years ago. Back then, the Swan Tavern occupied the East 800 block of Broad Street. Built in the late 1780′s, the Swan Tavern managed a remarkably long life until it was demolished in 1904. And, yes, notable people such as Thomas Jefferson and Edgar Allan Poe were known to have slept there and most likely to have enjoyed an evening cordial or two.

But more to the point as it relates to newspapers: In 1888, after purchasing an electric printing press, editor and publisher, John Mitchell, Jr., moved his struggling newspaper, the Richmond Planet, to offices located at the Swan Tavern. As Ann Alexander points out in her excellent Mitchell biography, Race Man, “He rented a room or two in the basement just below street level, and shared the building with an assortment of businesses: a Chinese laundry, a tailor’s shop, a scouring and dying establishment, and a hatter’s shop. Aside from Mitchell, the only black men in the building were lawyers-James H. Hayes and E. A. Randolph.”

Swan Tavern

Swan Tavern

This remained the Planet’s HQ for a number of years until Mitchell moved the Planet to an old boardinghouse on North Fourth Street in 1897.

In 1895, for their Christmas issue, the Planet offered a number of photos of the Planet offices including a photograph of Mitchell and staff standing proudly on the steps of the Swan Tavern. Click here to go directly to the issue (page five) that offers fascinating photos of a dynamic African American enterprise located in the heart of Richmond, Virginia. The link takes you to just one of thousands of issues of Virginia imprint newspapers that are currently available at Virginia Chronicle, the Library’s text searchable online newspaper database.

For the purpose of full disclosure, there are no plans to hire Ghost Hunters to conjure up the spirits of Jefferson, Poe, or the intrepid staff of the Richmond Planet. But consider: a block with its own bit of Virginia history is now the home of invaluable books and documents produced by the likes of Jefferson, Poe, and John Mitchell, Jr.

Many thanks to our colleagues at the Library of Virginia’s Prints and Photographs Collection in Special Collections and the Photographic and Digital Imaging Office.

 

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