“…it is hereby enacted…that the first mentioned piece of land (Rocky Ridge) lying and being at the falls of James River, on the southside thereof, in the County of Chesterfield,…shall be called and known by the name of Manchester…” An Act of the Virginia General Assembly, 1769
Soon after English explorers made their way to the falls of the James River in 1607, white settlement began along both banks of the river. Although history tends to highlight Richmond’s founding to the north, the settlement of Manchester to the south is equally compelling. Initially part of the Byrd family holdings, the land south of the James River developed from the small trading post of Rocky Ridge into the town of Manchester by 1769. Important politically to Chesterfield County as its seat, and to the entire region for its manufacturing and water and rail transportation, Manchester became an independent city in 1874.
Always competing with Richmond to the north, Manchester’s docks, flour and textile mills, tobacco warehouses and iron foundries helped to expand its economy, population and infrastructure. Manchester also played a prominent role in the importation of African slaves, thousands of whom passed through its docks as part of the international slave trade. Despite its successful economic enterprises, beginning in the late 18th century, Manchester trailed Richmond in size and influence.
While the two cities were connected physically by bridges over the James River and economically through their industries, they did not experience the same level of development.
In 1910, decades of discussion and speculation about consolidating the two cities culminated in the annexation of Manchester by Richmond. On April 15, Manchester Mayor Henry Maurice presented the ceremonial city key to Richmond Mayor David Richardson to solidify this merger. So began the next chapter of Manchester’s history as south Richmond. Since 1910, Manchester has existed as part of Richmond’s southern district, experiencing many of the same obstacles that tested the rest of the city. From the decline of urban retail and the movement of residents into the suburbs to the subsequent concentration of poverty, increase in crime and deterioration of buildings, Manchester’s future looked bleak in the late 20th century. In recent decades, however, renewed interest in urban living has brought entrepreneurs and residents back to historic Old Manchester.
Manchester: From Sister City to South Richmond includes historic and recent photography related to the places and people of this once independent city, affectionately called “Dog Town.”
Settlement to City
English settlement of Manchester began about fifty years after Captain Christopher Newport’s first exploration of the James River fall line in 1607. The area became part of William Byrd I’s vast land holdings in 1674, later passing to his son William Byrd, II. William Mayo laid out the initial street plan for Richmond in 1737. At Byrd’s request, he did the same for the land south of the James River. William Byrd, III inherited the family estate in 1744. By the 1760s, Byrd’s mounting debts required him to sell portions of his holdings in lotteries held in 1767 and 1768.
In 1769, the Virginia General Assembly incorporated the area, then known as Rocky Ridge, as the town of Manchester. Water rights along the James River were divided between Manchester and Richmond to ensure equal control of the region’s central waterway. Manchester operated as the seat of Chesterfield County beginning in 1871. In 1874, the General Assembly granted the town a charter to operate as an independent city.
Manchester played significant roles in both the American Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Its warehouses stored military supplies, many of which burned along with Richmond’s when British soldiers led by General Benedict Arnold and Colonel John Simcoe raided the area in 1781. During the Civil War, Manchester provided soldiers, including the Elliott Grays and the Manchester Artillery. The Confederate Navy Yard and various gun batteries were located to the east. When Union troops threatened to enter Richmond in April 1865, citizens fled across Mayo’s Bridge into Manchester, which soon surrendered to Federal forces.
Manchester’s development alongside Richmond stalled a bit after Richmond became Virginia’s state capital in 1779. In 1785, construction began on the James River and Kanawha Canal along Richmond’s side of the river instead of Manchester’s. This decision threatened Manchester’s trading prominence. The two municipalities depended on and competed with each other, and Richmond outpaced Manchester in political influence, population growth and economic prowess. Despite this, Manchester continued to expand. The city’s population grew from 5,000 in 1874 to more than 9,000 by the 1890s.
Since the 1730s, Manchester residents used the James River to power a growing manufacturing sector. Manchester was known for its many mills and factories, which produced flour, textiles, iron products and tobacco for the local population as well as the world market. Manchester’s docks also brought a variety of imports, including sugar, rum and African slaves, to the region.
Mayo’s Bridge dominates this 1852 view of Richmond from Manchester. The bridge terminates in the foreground adjacent to the Manchester Cotton and Wool Manufacturing Company.
This Civil War view of Richmond and Manchester shows Mayo’s Bridge closest to the viewer, followed by the Richmond & Danville and Richmond & Petersburg railroad bridges.
Economics on the Southside
Manchester began as an important trading post and developed into an industrial center along the James River. Along the Manchester Commons, tobacco was inspected and stored in warehouses, and mills produced flour, textiles, paper and other products. Entrepreneurs harnessed the power of the James River for these activities through a canal and mill that ran eastward along the shore. Manchester also was an important site for Virginia’s slave trade. Human cargo came through Manchester’s docks before being transferred to Richmond’s auction houses and holding pens in Shockoe Bottom as part of the international slave trade.
By the 1830s, rail lines began to bring coal from Chesterfield’s Midlothian mines to the Manchester docks, further strengthening Manchester’s importance as an export center. Several railways would eventually run through Manchester, crisscrossing the James River with their railroad bridges. Manchester continued to be a transportation hub during the 20th century with one of the country’s largest trucking companies, Overnite Transportation, headquartered on Semmes Avenue.
Today Manchester is home to corporations, such as UPS Freight (formerly Overnite Transportation) and Suntrust Bank, as well as a variety of smaller businesses and retail outlets. While Manchester’s famed mills and warehouses are largely empty, some have been repurposed for residential, business and creative uses.
Processing cotton into cloth or paper was a major manufacturing activity in Manchester. One of its earliest textile mills was the Manchester Cotton & Wool Manufacturing Company (built 1837-1840) along the Manchester canal and millrace (built 1732). From 1901 to 1976, the company expanded into additional buildings and operated as Standard Paper Manufacturing Company. A 1984 fire severely damaged the complex, but visitors to the Flood Wall River Walk can still see a portion of the 1901 addition.
Built in 1853, the Dunlop Flour Mills operated adjacent to the southern end of Mayo’s Bridge and, until 1866, were the largest of their kind in the world. These, along with the Gallego and Haxall mills that operated on the Richmond side of the river, made the region a flour manufacturing powerhouse.
In 1936, the company became the Dixie-Portland Flour Company, which operated until a devastating fire destroyed much of the complex. Today, Southern States Cooperative occupies the site, which includes two original Dunlop buildings.
Virginia’s first railway, the Chesterfield & Manchester Railroad, opened in 1828 to transport coal more quickly than wagons from Chesterfield’s mines to Manchester. Other railways through Manchester included the Richmond & Petersburg Railroad (later Atlantic Coast Line); Richmond, Petersburg & Carolina Railway (later Seaboard Air Line); and Richmond & Danville System. Various rail bridges crossed the James River, carrying trains between Richmond and Manchester.
In 1894, the Richmond & Danville System and the East Tennessee, Virginia & Georgia Railroad merged to form Southern Railway. In 1919, Southern Railway opened this passenger station on Hull Street. Since 2009, the Old Dominion Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society has been renovating the station to use as its museum. The project is slated to be completed in 2010.
During the 1970s, Overnite Transportation Company (now UPS Freight) built its headquarters on Semmes Avenue. Overnite founder J. Harwood Cochrane began to purchase properties and clear lots in Manchester, eventually accumulating 220 parcels bordered by Cowardin Avenue, Bainbridge Street, Commerce Road and Riverview Parkway.
In 1993, Cochrane donated this land to the Virginia Museum Real Estate Foundation as an endowment. By 2005, the foundation had sold the land for a variety of purposes, including the Crestar (now SunTrust) office buildings and Old Manchester Lofts; Riverview Parkway and the widening of 12th Street; and to the Richmond Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church for neighborhood facilities.
Crossing the James
“…for the Public Good there should be another Ferry at the Falls of the James River for the dispatch of great numbers of wagons and travelers.”
John Mayo’s petition to the Virginia House of Delegates, 1785
Until the late 18th century, transportation between Manchester and Richmond was limited to ferry boats operated by the Coutts family at Rocketts Landing. The docks at Manchester received a variety of cargo, from sugar to textiles to African slaves, which merchants brought across the river to sell in Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom. In 1788, Colonel John Mayo announced the completion of a toll bridge that spanned the James River from 14th Street in Richmond to Mayo Island and to Hull Street in Manchester. Although plagued by floods and in need of constant repair, the bridge officially opened in 1796. Residents fleeing Richmond during the evacuation fire of April 1865 crossed Mayo’s Bridge and then set fire to it to ward off advancing Federal troops. After the Civil War, the bridge was rebuilt, although flooding destroyed it multiple times. Eventually, the City of Richmond, which purchased the bridge in 1905, replaced it with a concrete and steel structure in 1912 – today’s 14th Street Bridge.
Competitors attempted to break Mayo’s monopoly on bridge traffic. In 1814, Edward Trent gained permission to build a toll bridge at about 9th Street. By the 1830s, the Mayo family was operating Trent’s bridge. City officials began to discuss a free bridge between Manchester and Richmond in the early 1870s, using the site of Trent’s bridge. In June 1873, the James River Free Bridge opened to traffic. Despite public complaints of its safety and usefulness, the Free Bridge remained in use until 1973, when the Virginia State Highway Department completed the current 9th Street (or Manchester) Bridge.
During the 1930s, federal dollars from the Public Works Administration (PWA) partially funded construction of a third bridge linking Manchester to Richmond. The Richmond Bridge Corporation directed the project, promoting it as an opportunity to put unemployed citizens to work. The Robert E. Lee Memorial Bridge opened on November 3, 1934. The bridge connected Belvidere Street on the north side with Cowardin Avenue on the south side, carrying Routes 1 and 301 and passing over Belle Isle. The city charged a 10 cent toll. By 1946, with the bridge paid for and to the chagrin of city officials, Richmond Circuit Court ordered that the toll be removed. During the 1970s, the city discussed replacing the now aging bridge. In 1988, a new bridge replaced the original.
Mayo’s Bridge was (again) rebuilt after an 1876 flood.
The 1912 concrete version of the Mayo/14th Street Bridge was designed with longevity in mind and was a far cry from its wooden predecessors.
The old Lee bridge is in the foreground, with the new bridge under construction in the background. In 1991, a suspension foot bridge opened beneath the bridge, allowing pedestrians and cyclists easy access to Belle Isle.
Hull Street is the retail center of Manchester. Called Turnpike Road in Mayo’s original plan for the town of Manchester, Hull Street was named after Isaac Hull. Hull was Commander of the USS Constitution warship (nicknamed “Old Ironsides”) during the American Revolution. Hull Street is flanked to the north by McDonough, Perry, Porter and Bainbridge Streets and to the south by Decatur Street – all named after naval officers who commanded during various American wars.
As Manchester evolved from village to town to city, Hull Street developed into its commercial core. Dry goods stores, bakeries and grocery stores served Manchester residents, who lived in nearby neighborhoods or on Hull Street itself. Municipal buildings on Hull Street included the city fire station and courthouse. The local newspaper, The Leader (predecessor to the Richmond News Leader), had its offices at Hull and 10th Streets.
The 20th century saw Hull Street’s continued success as Richmond’s overall population continued to increase and Manchester’s industrial section remained strong. During the early 20th century, Hull Street experienced a surge in commercial construction, including banks and a new post office. Manchester’s white and black communities shared Hull Street, with white stores clustered nearer the river and black stores farther out to the southwest.
The years immediately after World War II were the beginning of the end of Hull’s boom era. Changing living patterns included movement to county neighborhoods, the rise of suburban shopping malls and racial tension resulting from the desegregation of public facilities. By the 1970s, Hull Street’s foot traffic plummeted and many merchants closed up shop. Poverty, especially in the nearby Blackwell and Bainbridge housing projects, created an image of a destitute commercial district.
Public efforts to revitalize some of these housing developments during the 1980s and 1990s were small steps. In recent years, private individuals have increasingly chosen to invest in Hull Street, whether through reuse of buildings for apartments and condominiums or retail and restaurant ventures.
This Hull Street photograph shows the intersection of streetcar tracks and the Southern Railway line.
J. F. Bradley and Ben P. Owen, Jr., founded The Leader in Manchester in 1888. Joseph Bryan purchased the newspaper in 1896 and relaunched it as The Evening Leader. Subsequent mergers created The Richmond News Leader, Richmond’s leading afternoon newspaper until it combined with the Richmond Times-Dispatch in 1992.
The Manchester Courthouse (built 1871) originally operated as the courthouse for Chesterfield County and later for the City of Manchester. The 1910 consolidation agreement included a requirement that the building continue to operate as a general courthouse for the City of Richmond, which it continues to do today.
The City of Richmond also assumed control of Manchester’s fire department in 1910, renaming it Engine Company No. 13.
Mechanics & Merchants Bank opened in Manchester in 1876. Richmond native Albert F. Huntt designed the Classical revival building into which the bank moved in 1915. In 2005, the bank building started a new life as a banquet facility called The Bankuet Place.
Soon after the 1910 consolidation, the Manchester Station post office opened at 1025 Hull Street. It operated at this location until 1975. Richmond’s Second Police Precinct later occupied the building, moving out in 1999. The building has been converted into apartments, and today renters can call the post office home.
Benedictine High School cadets marched down Hull Street for this 1966 Armed Forces Day parade. Notice the variety of retail stores that comprised Southside’s main shopping district.
On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. In many American cities, amid an already tense racial environment, riots erupted in reaction to the civil rights leader’s death. In Richmond’s downtown and along Hull Street, properties sustained damage and police made arrests.
By the 1980s, Hull Street was a very different place from its bustling, mid-20th century counterpart. As with Richmond’s downtown retail corridor, shoppers now preferred to frequent malls in the suburbs. Many retail stores became vacant, and buildings deteriorated. Increased unemployment and poverty made the entire district’s future uncertain.
Becoming South Richmond
“We want the population to show the world that Richmond is growing in keeping with other rapidly increasing cities.”
Richmond Municipal Committee (c. 1909)
“Fellow Citizen: Consolidation Concerns YOU! Whatever of ILL there is in it will fall upon YOU! The Manchester Anti-Consolidation League in preparing and submitting to you this pamphlet, are contending for YOUR INTERESTS as much as theirs.”
Manchester Anti-Consolidation League (1910)
Discussions of merging the cities of Manchester and Richmond had been occurring since the 1870s, when petitions first circulated among Manchester residents in favor of consolidation. At this time, Richmond turned down the proposal. During the ensuing decades, the issue arose periodically on both sides, gaining momentum toward the end of the 19th century. By 1895, Richmond City Council went so far as to pass a resolution in favor of consolidation, but with no immediate result.
In 1905, two committees, one from Manchester and one from Richmond, again discussed the possible merger. The General Assembly passed legislation in 1909 that enabled the annexation of cities, paving the way for both cities to enact their own legislation several years later. In 1909, Richmond City Council, backed by business organizations, such as the Chamber of Commerce and Retail Merchants’ Association, approved an ordinance in favor of annexation, which was approved by voters. The Manchester City Council proceeded to take similar action in 1909, and its citizens finally voted to approve the measure on April 4, 1910. Eleven days later, on April 15, election certification and official ceremonies completed the action. The City of Richmond now crossed the James River, with Manchester as its southern district.
Those Richmonders in favor of consolidation sought to benefit from Manchester’s industrial resources; to streamline manufacturing; to control over bridges; and to increase the city’s white population, which was stagnant and increasingly African American. Richmonders opposed to the merger forsaw increased expenses from administering another large district.
In Manchester, citizens on both sides of the issue voiced strong sentiments. Pro-annexationists held a rally at the Leader Building on the evening of April 14, looking forward to expanded services and infrastructure. The Manchester Anti-Consolidation League, which held a concurrent rally across the street, warned that Manchester would not only lose its independence, but would have increased taxes while receiving inferior services.
At 10:20 A.M. on April 15, 1910, Judge Frank L. Christian of Lynchburg declared the election by Manchester voters in favor of consolidation with the City of Richmond.
Manchester city employees then paraded to the Treasurer’s office to receive their final paychecks. Another parade, consisting of five automobiles carrying Manchester officials, crossed the James River Free (9th Street) Bridge and proceeded to Richmond City Hall.
The Richmond Virginian originally published this and the next photograph. The negatives and prints were later destroyed, leaving only these blurry facsimiles.
After the auto parade arrived at Richmond City Hall, Manchester Mayor Henry Maurice presented the ceremonial city key to Richmond Mayor David Richardson.
Living in Dog Town
How did Manchester get its nickname “Dog Town”? A variety of stories claim the origin of this moniker. Some say it had to do with the number of dogs that roamed the area. Others recall that the name is due to the district’s shape resembling the head of a dog. Others say it was a phrase used for Manchester students who attended John Marshall High School after the 1910 consolidation. Whether originally used for positive or negative purposes, many former and current Manchester residents now use the name “Dog Town” with affection.
What was it like to live in Manchester? Manchester’s residential buildings clustered on Porter, Bainbridge, Perry and the numbered cross streets. Many people also lived in the area’s outlying neighborhoods, including Oak Grove, Swansboro, Spring Hill, Woodland Heights, Forest Hill, Blackwell and Bainbridge. Southsiders recall the Manchester community as close-knit and “clannish.” Many people were related and everyone knew each other. As a smaller community, residents sometimes felt they were in Richmond’s shadow, and Dog Towners banded together.
Given its unique status as a formerly independent city, Manchester itself had a full range of city services, including fire and police departments, streetcar transportation, schools, houses of worship and civic and social organizations. After the 1910 annexation, some of these institutions, such as police, fire and schools systems, were absorbed into Richmond’s larger departments. Many private entities, like churches and organizations, maintained their locations and continued to serve their constituencies.
Although many of its original families are no longer in “Dog Town,” new residents are now rehabilitating Manchester’s historic houses and moving into apartments and condominiums created from refitted industrial buildings along the James River.
This view of Porter Street shows the predominance of the Queen Anne style that was popular in Manchester residential architecture during the turn of the 20th century. Notice the domed turret of the house on the left side.
Manchester experienced a construction surge that lasted from after the Civil War until about 1920. During the 1890s, almost 200 homes were constructed, and the city laid and began to pave its streets.
Owned by tobacco exporter Archibald Freeland, this Georgian-style house is one of the oldest homes in Manchester. It is uncertain whether Freeland purchased the home from previous owner John Murchie or built it himself after buying the property from Murchie in 1805.
Lewis H. Walton, a machinist who lived on Cowardin Avenue, is shown second from right. In 1926, Hull Street had four confectioneries, as well as a variety of groceries, bakeries and restaurants.
Seated, left to right: Dick Smith, Chief J. A. “Dinks” Lipscomb, and Dick Jones. Standing, left to right: A. S. “Alex” Wright, W. E. “Eddie” Waymack, and M. J. “Mike” Moore.
This portrait shows Manchester’s police officers shortly before the force combined with the Richmond City Police in 1910.
Built in 1888, this drinking fountain provided passers-by with refreshment at Manchester’s busiest intersection. It later moved to Decatur Street, where the fountain’s pedestal stood for many years. The female figure later disappeared; some believe that she was removed during the early 1920s after being damaged during a storm.
The Manchester Railway and Land Improvement Company began to operate horse-drawn streetcars in Manchester in 1873. Company mergers later created the Richmond and Manchester Railway Company, which had two lines that ran between the cities and into Manchester’s suburbs. One line crossed the Mayo (14th Street) Bridge and another crossed the James River Free (9th Street) Bridge. Horse-drawn cars were replaced after 1888, the year that Richmond’s electric streetcar system became fully operational. The last horse-drawn car, on Laurel Street in Richmond, ceased operation in 1901.
Generations of Manchester students entered the doors of Bainbridge Junior High School (built 1915). In 1986, the school building was demolished to make way for a medical building owned by Manchester Medical Associates.
In 1888, the Maury School began offering primary and secondary education for Manchester’s African American community. Principal James H. Blackwell led the school, which was eventually renamed in his honor in 1952. Today, the school operates as an elementary school in a new facility completed in 1999.
The Manchester Gang is “dedicated to the glory of old Manchester and the preservation of her sacred traditions.” Formed in 1956, the organization was originally comprised of men who were born or had lived in Manchester prior to the 1910 consolidation. Today, members simply have an interest in Manchester and its history.
One activity of the Gang is its yearly reunion. Members are shown here in 1969 eating Brunswick stew and reminiscing about Southside life.
A lone musician plays the banjo on Hull Street in 1990.
“Old Manchester is still evolving, still growing. The spirited community has made new residents feel welcome, and those with special needs cared for. It was this strong community spirit that got Old Manchester to where it is today, and it will be this spirit that will lead it into the future.”
Old Manchester Neighborhood Plan (Part of the City of Richmond Master Plan), 1996
Today, the City of Richmond defines “Old Manchester” as bordering the James River to the north, Cowardin Avenue to the west, I-95 to the east, and Decatur and Maury Streets to the south. Efforts to revitalize this section have made headlines since the 1970s. Residents lamented the symptoms of urban poverty – crime, vandalism, vacant buildings – that were increasingly common in south Richmond. While Richmond’s overall population declined by 8 percent during the 1980s and 1990s, the decline was much swifter in Old Manchester: over 30 percent during the 1990s and another 3 percent since the 2000 U.S. Census. Although median income is currently slightly higher than other downtown Richmond neighborhoods, home values are comparatively low and about half of the population is unemployed or out of the work force.
Public housing in the adjacent Blackwell and Bainbridge neighborhoods was built as part of city-wide redevelopment efforts during the 1960s. By the 1980s, these communities faced high crime and deteriorating facilities. During the last two decades, the Blackwell housing project was demolished, and the HOPE VI program plans to provide new affordable housing for area residents. Another housing project, the Oscar E. Stovall Apartments in Bainbridge, reopened in 2009, after extensive renovations that included environmentally friendly modernizations.
In the private sector, citizens have recently begun to return to and invest in Manchester. In 2002, the Manchester Residential and Commercial Historic District was accepted onto the National Register of Historic Places, allowing for historic tax credits. Houses along the old residential streets are being renovated, old warehouses are being converted into lofts and offices, and Hull Street and other commercial areas are now the sites of art galleries, restaurants and retail stores. Manchester continues to work toward being a vibrant, diversified community and making progress to achieve its vision of being “one of Richmond’s most desirable urban villages.”
Hull Street continues to be an area in flux. Vacant buildings are now side-by-side with new retail and restaurants.
Manchester’s earliest Baptist congregation was the African Baptist Church, founded in 1821 by free blacks. After the consolidation with Richmond, the church was renamed First Baptist of South Richmond. Today, Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones is First Baptist’s senior pastor.
The Manchester General District Courthouse is the only existing public building in Old Manchester dating prior to 1910. In January 2010, the courthouse was rededicated after a $23 million expansion that more than doubled the size of the 1871 court building. The court-ordered expansion stemmed from a 2001 lawsuit filed by Richmond city judges over the poor condition of courtrooms in the basement of the Public Safety Building. The renovation maintains the courthouse’s original architecture, but reorients its entrance from Hull Street to East 9th Street, looking towards the James River to downtown Richmond.
In recent years, Manchester has become an increasingly popular neighborhood for the area’s art community. Plant Zero Art Center, located on East 4th Street, houses an event space and Artspace, a non-profit gallery for visual and performing arts. Also housed in the Center is Art Works, which rents studios and display walls for artists. In 2007, local developer Tom Robinson announced the expansion of his “Vacant Spaces, Artful Places” project to Hull Street. The project enlists local artists to provide art for display in empty storefronts.
The site of the historic Manchester Docks is also known as Ancarrow’s Landing, named after Newton Ancarrow’s 1950s speedboat manufacturing company. Today, the area is used as a recreational site for fishing and boating. Accessible via Maury Street from Interstate 95, the former Manchester Docks site is also the starting point for the Richmond Slave Trail, which is maintained by the Richmond Slave Trail Commission. From the Docks, the trail continues across the James River to the slave markets of Shockoe Bottom. The trail then passes the international slave trade Reconciliation Statue, the Lumpkin's Slave Jail site and the Negro Burial Ground site. It ends at First African Baptist Church on East Broad Street.
Meghan Glass Hughes — Curator/Director of Archives and Photographic Services
Kristi Austin — Museum Technician
Richard Klemm — Operations Assistant
Jackie Mullins — Registrar/Collections Manager
Ken Myers — Director of Operations and Capital Projects
Edward Ragan — Historian
Suzanne Savery — Director of Collections and Interpretation
Tesni Stephen — Museum Technician
Brianna White-Gaynor — Museum Technician