Appomattox Point & the Indian Trade
In the 1600s, just north of the present day market, the Appomattox River took a sharp turn around a horn of land known as Appomattox Point. The Quaker Indian traders Robert Hix and John Evans set up a trading post there in the late seventeenth century. They were later joined by Richard Jones, the son of Peter Jones who established the trading post a block to the west of here. Jones inherited this land from his grandfather, Abraham Wood, the commander of Fort Henry. Wood had a monopoly on the Indian trade until Bacon's Rebellion in 1676, and during that time had led or dispatched from Fort Henry the most important seventeenth-century explorations in British North America. Fort Henry and Appomattox Point anchored the northern end of the trading path that led southward to the Nottoway, Meherrin, and Tuscarora Indians, and connected just to the west to the trading path that led southwestward to Hillsborough, North Carolina, home of the Cherokees and the Catawbas. In the early 18th century, as increased settlement pushed the colonial frontier westward and southward, trade with the Indians moved followed this movement away from Petersburg.
When Richard Jones moved away in 1705, he sold this land to the well-placed and ambitious Robert Bolling, who, around 1716, constructed, on this spot, a "rolling house" (a tobacco warehouse to which huge hogsheads of tobacco were literally rolled, often for forty to sixty miles). In 1730, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation ordering that all tobacco intended for export had to be inspected at official inspections (owned by private individuals but manned by inspectors employed by the colony). Bolling's Appomattox Point Inspection was among the first designated colonial inspections. The opening of southern Virginia and northern North Carolina to settlement in the earIy-to-mid-18th century made the Petersburg area the center of the North American tobacco trade. There were six others within a half mile, but Appomattox Point became the best-known inspection in all of Virginia. Its store of tobacco was burned by the British during the American Revolution in 1781, and it was eventually closed after a second fire in 1783.
A Gift to the City
This site had probably seen informal use as a market, when in 1791, Robert Bolling and the City agreed that it was to be used, "in perpetuity," as a market free of charge to the vendor, or it would revert to Bolling ownership. The first market building was destroyed along with most of downtown in the Great Fire of 1815. The present market building is the fourth market building to occupy the site. It was built in 1878-79, and was originally known as the Farm Market Center. It was designed by the Baltimore-trained architect B.J. Black, a captain of one of Petersburg's volunteer companies during the Civil War. Generally, meats were sold inside and produce outside. Until blue laws were passed in the 1850s, slaves were able to sell their own meats, poultry, fish, and produce here on Sundays, their day off. The Market appears never to have been used for slave sales. In the third quarter of the twentieth century, it was converted into a supermarket, and in the fourth quarter into a nightclub. It is now being renovated as Petersburg's new Visitor Center.
The Square was defined in 1808, when Cockade Alley was laid out on the eastern edge, and in 1815, when the new market buildings were pulled back to the north, allowing the extension of Old Street eastward to Cockade Alley. Rock Street and River Street were ancient roads. Soon the periphery of the square was entirely surrounded by brick buildings with market-related stores and shops below and dwellings above. In 1854, the South Side Depot replaced the buildings on the northern periphery, and most of the remaining buildings were removed in the third quarter of the twentieth century. In 1977, the McIlwaine House was saved from destruction by being moved to the eastern periphery of the square, and has housed Petersburg's Visitor Center since 1986. The Petersburg Area Art League has occupied the buildings on Rock Street since the early 1980s.