The area around you was the site of events that shaped the history and culture of Richmond.
The stone docks (earlier made of wood) were the principal port for the collection and re-export of Virginia slaves. This awful trade was augmented by 5 railroads, several dirt highways and the dock on the other side of the river. Forgotten today, Richmond was the largest exporter of human beings in the nation for the 40 years leading up to the Civil War ? It shipped out as many as 10,000 people in a month.
This area was also the terminus of the first railroad in Virginia. It began as a system of wooden tracks ... and no engine! Wagons loaded with coal rolled by gravity down from the mines in Midlothian. This avoided the bumpy dirt roads, but required mules to haul the empty cars back.
Several hundred yards down stream is the site of the Confederate Shipyard, where the iron clad war ship "Virginia" (Merrimack) was made. It was burned during the Confederate evacuation of Richmond, there are no remains today.
Just beyond that is a concrete boat ramp, it is all that remains of a factory that once built speed boats, one of which set a world speed record on the James River further downstream.
Directly across the river was the main port of Richmond. While both sides of the river were known as Rockets Landing, that side was more developed due to the deeper river channels that ran there. It was once lined with wooden docks that might have looked like the ones straight ahead.
Upstream, on the far shore, was the entrance to the Great Ship lock. This huge gate allowed transatlantic sailing ships access to the same docks reached by canal boats coming from the Great Valley of Virginia via the Kanawha Canal. It is now a park.
The ground you are standing on marks the beginning of the Historic Slave Trail, the route leading to the notorious slave jails of lower Richmond, where enslaved people waited to be "sold down the river". A self-guiding trail brochure is available for $1 from the James River Park System 646-8911 or Metro Visitor Center.
Sign funded by the Sierra Club in memory of Richard Winn