Richmond Dispatch, 6/30/1894

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From the Richmond Dispatch, 6/30/1894 (Confederate Reunion Issue)


Prominent Buildings That Have Passed Away Since the War.


Handsome Structures That Fell Prey to Hungry Flames - New Houses Erected on Their Sites - Directory of Confederate Officers.

Those Confederate Veterans who passed through Richmond to join the main body of Lee’s army in April, 1865, when that army was falling back before Grant, and who have not since visited the capital of the Confederacy will, while attending the reunion here, note many changes.

Many of the most conspicuous buildings of war times have passed away, and new ones now stand in their stead. But a few of the old landmarks have survived, and almost a new city will greet the old soldiers, tough the same hospitality which charmed them in the 60’s will be accorded them in the 90’s.

Libby prison, which was one of the most conspicuous buildings in the city, has been torn down and removed to Chicago, and on its site is now a bustling ice-factory. The old Castle Thunder, on the corner of Eighteenth and Cary streets, has also disappeared. The prison was used mostly for the confinement of deserters and disloyal southerners. It was a three-story structure with an iron veranda running the entire length of the second story, and during the war was a most interesting place.


“The War Department building,” on Ninth street nearly opposite the head of Bank street, was swept out of existence and almost out of public recollection by the evacuation fire. Comparatively few residents remember that there was ever any such structure here. It was erected by the Mechanics’ Institute as a school of technology, and its main hall was then the largest and best public hall in the city. For a time the “Secession Convention” sat in this hall. When the seat of government of the Confederacy was moved from Montgomery to Richmond the Mechanics’ Institute building was rearranged to suit the purposes of our War Department, and was thus occupied as long as it remained in existence. It went down with hundreds of other buildings which caught fire on the morning of the evacuation from the warehouses and bridges which had been fired by the retreating Confederates.

The custom-house, in which President Davis and many other dignitaries had their offices may be easily identified though it has been remodeled ad much changed. It is now larger, but not handsomer than it was before the evacuation. The custom-house escaped destruction in the great fire, but this was due to the great open spaces about it rather than to the fact that it was “fire-proof,” the experience derived from great fires in other cities being that granite will not stand the heat as well as brick. President Davis’s office was in this building, as was also that of Secretary-of-the-Treasury Memminger. After the war the first bank started in Richmond was conducted by a man named Suit(?) in the corridor of the custom-house building on the second floor, and Old-Man Wigand, who subsequently achieved fame as the “man milliner,” was its teller.


The residence of President Davis is almost unchanged, but its surroundings have undergone great transformation. New houses have been built up thickly around it. In Mr. Davis’s time the view from his porch northwardly was extensive. He could stand there and see the flash of every gun at Mechanicsville. Now the view is blocked by a row of brick houses.

The Spotswood Hotel, surviving the evacuation fire, was burned, with considerable loss of life, December 25, 1870. The Pace Block (Chesapeake and Ohio office building) occupies its site, and has for its neighbor the imposing building of the Chamber of Commerce. The site of the Chamber’s building includes two lots, on one of which stood in war times Bosher’s Hall, where the fractional currency of the Confederacy was printed. Adjoining this hall was a one-story brick building, where General Winder, military commandant of Richmond, had headquarters for a year or two.


Among the buildings which were destroyed in the evacuation fire was the old armory, a part of the walls of which now stand on the Tredegar lot. This building was in its day one of the handsomest in Richmond. Its architecture was of an armorial type. The main entrance to the building through an arched doorway, which opened directly into a beautiful court, in which were displayed numerous Revolutionary relics. These were all melted during the war and converted into missiles to be fired into the “Yankee” ranks. Shortly after the outbreak of hostilities the machinery from the armory at Harper’s Ferry was removed to Richmond and set up in the armory here, and the guns which were used in the Confederate service were manufactured here. The old armory was one of the first buildings in the city to catch after the bridges were fired, and it was totally destroyed, with the exception of parts of the walls.


The old City Hall, which stood at the corner of Eleventh and Broad and Capitol streets, was one of the most prominent buildings of war times. It was a two-story structure, fronting on Capitol street, the roof being supported by five massive pillars. The City Hall sat in a large yard, surrounded by trees, and was a great place for the congregation of loiterers. In March, 1874, it was deemed unsafe for further occupancy, and, being condemned, was vacated, and the city fathers moved to the barn-like structure running through from Broad to Capitol between Ninth and Tenth streets. This was, in turn, vacated for the magnificent municipal building which occupies the site of the original City Hall and the rest of the block.

Another building, which was conspicuous in ante-bellum days, but which has now passed away, was the old courthouse, which occupied a site within the Capitol Square at the corner of Twelfth and Franklin streets. In this building the Supreme and Circuit courts formerly met. This was also burned in the evacuation fire, and not a vestige of it remains. The building was three stories in height, and was ornamented with large columns on the Twelfth-street front.

The United Presbyterian church, which stood on the northwest corner of Eighth and Franklin streets, was another noted structure that disappeared in the evacuation fire. This church was presided over by Rev. Charles H. Read, now pastor emeritus of the Grace-Street Presbyterian church, and was one of the handsomest sanctuaries in the city. It was surmounted by a tall steeple, which contained a large, sweet-toned bell. The bell was sacrificed to the Confederate cause early in the war, and the church followed on the sacrificial altar very soon thereafter.


The Soldiers’ Home, a place of confinement for soldiers who were in the city without passports, or for those who had no other abiding place, was located on the corner of Seventh and Cary streets. It, too, has passed away, and on its site now stands the large cigarette factory of the Allen & Ginter Branch of the American Tobacco Company.

A vacant lot marks the spot where the Confederate States Iron-yard was located, and where much of the metal to be converted into shells and guns was stored and inspected.

One other notable building which has been obliterated is that in which were located the Farmers’ Bank and the Bank of Virginia in ante-bellum days. This building sat back in the yard opposite the custom-house, on the site now occupied by Stearn’s block, and in front of it was a tall, iron fence.

Of the new buildings which have been erected since the war the most conspicuous are the new City Hall, the Jefferson, the most palatial hotel structure in this country; the new Chamber of Commerce building, the new State Library building, the splendid Masonic Temple, the hall recently erected by R. E. Lee Camp No. 1, Confederate Veterans, and the Confederate Soldiers’ Home.

All of these are constructed in handsome style, and are both ornaments and a credit to the city, which has, like a Phoenix, sprung from its ashes.

Where the Offices Were Located.

The following, taken from an almanac of 1865, shows where the chief offices of the Confederacy were:

[at this point, an 1865 city directory is reprinted, which was not transcribed here]

Page last updated on 01/15/2008