Evolution of a City as shown through Maps in the Library of Virginia Collections

A Plan of Richmond (1736/1742) by William Byrd and William MayoOriginal Source: Library of Virginia

Richmond in the Eighteenth Century

Richmond was established as a town by Virginia's House of Burgesses in 1742 and became the Commonwealth's capital in 1780. Early manuscript plans of the town document its early development.

In 1733 William Byrd II of Westover (1674–1744), one of the colony’s leading landowners, asked his friend William Mayo to lay out a new town to be called Richmond. Mayo called on James Wood, surveyor of Orange County, to assist him in the undertaking.

Byrd used this plat during the first sale of lots in the spring of 1737, listing names of the owners and the lots purchased. The General Assembly established Richmond in 1742 and adopted Byrd’s plan as the official survey.

The town is made up of 32 blocks. There are 112 numbered lots, 14 lots are designated with letters, 2 are without identification. St. John’s was erected in lots 97 and 98 in 1741.

William Byrd II, 1674-1744, George Vaughn Curtis, 1930/1936, Original Source: Library of Virginia
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This three-quarter length oil portrait depicts William Byrd II of Westover, founder of the city of Richmond. He is best known for his diaries and manuscript narratives of land and boundary surveys.

An Exact Copy of a Plan of the Town of Richmond… (1787) by William Byrd and William MayoOriginal Source: Library of Virginia

This is a copy of the original Byrd plan that was filed as an exhibit in the Henrico County, Virginia, chancery cause, Seabrook vs. Byrd.

The Seabrook family probably acquired this as a result of a lawsuit between Nicholas Brown Seabrook and the Byrd family.

Henrico County Court clerk, William Hening, noted that this was an exact copy of Byrd’s plan.

City of Richmond Virginia from the Hill Above the Waterworks (1834) by William James BennettOriginal Source: Library of Virginia

Richmond Before the War

Richmond expanded as a city in the 19th century. It became the political and cultural capital of the state and a leading city in the American South.

Plan of the City of Richmond… (1809/1810) by Richard YoungOriginal Source: Library of Virginia

Richard Young, surveyor for the city of Richmond, compiled at least three early 19th century manuscript plans of the city that show streets, land ownership, canal locks, the downtown area and Capitol Square.

Young included an inset titled “Plan of the 100 acre lots in Byrd’s lottery” that helps to document William Byrd III's 1768 lottery.

Richard Young was a life-long residing resident of the Richmond Virginia area. He owned property in Rocketts and along Bloody Run.

Plan of the City of Richmond Drawn from Actual Survey and Regional Plans (1835) by Micajah BatesOriginal Source: Library of Virginia

Micajah Bates became Richmond’s city surveyor shortly after Richard Young’s death. His 1835 map of the city depicts it before changes were implemented during his tenure as city surveyor from 1832-1861.

Numbered lots appear along with public buildings, churches, banks, tobacco inspection stations, hotels, and markets. The “Public Square” (Capitol Square) is laid out with rows of trees in neat lines.

City of Richmond Virginia from the Hill Above the Waterworks (1834) by William James BennettOriginal Source: Library of Virginia

This hand-colored aquatint from 1834 provides a panoramic view of Richmond. Looking east, the James River is shown as are the James River and Kanawha Canal, the Capitol, city jail, and Richmond’s first City Hall.

Mayo’s toll bridge is in the background as are pleasure sailing vessels, two men transporting logs on a boat, with people and cattle in the foreground.

Plan of Richmond (Henrico County) Manchester & Springhill, Virginia (1849) by Charles S. MorganOriginal Source: Library of Virginia

This plan of Richmond shows topographical and cultural features; the author references several important buildings, such as the State Capitol and Penitentiary. The extensive legend provides detail about each.

City wards and street names are given. Relief is shown by hachures and depths by isolines.

View of Richmond, VA. from Belle Isle (1856) by E. CrehenOriginal Source: Library of Virginia

Map of the City of Richmond, Henrico County, Virginia (1856) by William SidesOriginal Source: Library of Virginia

Moses Ellyson published his city directory of Richmond in 1856, including this map. It lists 95 points of interest and the directory points out Richmond’s “hilly terrain”.

Hollywood Cemetery is a noted feature as are the Richmond, Potomac and Fredericksburg Railroad lines which went down Broad Street, stopping directly in front of the Library of Virginia’s present day location.

Richmond in Virginia (1857) by Aus d. Kunstanst: .d. Bibliogr. Instit: in Hildbh, Eigenthum der VerlegerOriginal Source: Library of Virginia

Richmond After the War

The Civil War caused great devastation in Richmond's commercial district. The city recovered and the following maps help to tell Richmond's story after the war. 

This is a view of antebellum Richmond from the south bank of the James River. Virginia’s Capitol building stands out amongst the skyline.

Map of a Part of the City of Richmond Showinig the Burnt Districts (1865) by Charles L. LudwigOriginal Source: Library of Virginia'

Once it became clear that the city was lost, the Confederate government and defending soldiers abandoned Richmond in April 1865.

Before leaving the city, soldiers ignited arsenals of military munitions that set fire to several buildings. This map depicts the area consumed by the fire before the Union occupation of the capital.

Office Map of the City of Richmond, Va. and Surroundings (1873) by J.F.Z. CaracristiOriginal Source: Library of Virginia

J.F. Zeilinger Caracristi published this map of Richmond in 1873. A Confederate veteran, he returned to Richmond and worked with engraver Fredrick Geese to compile this map of the city.

His map reflects the expansion of Richmond’s wards from three to six, and lists important places by ward. Caracristi’s map does not emphasize Richmond’s hilly terrain.

It does not reflect the damage to the James River and Kanawha Canal locks nor the devastation wrought by the April 1865 fire set by fleeing Confederate soldiers.

Map of Richmond Manchester and Suburbs from Surveys by Jas. T. Redd, County Surveyor, Henrico County, Va. (1877) by F. W. BeersOriginal Source: Library of Virginia

Frederick W. Beers, a surveyor by trade, originally prepared surveys in Pennsylvania and began working on county atlases in the western part of the state. He later moved to New York City to work in his family’s firm.

Beers worked with James T. Redd, a well-known Henrico County surveyor, in compiling and publishing this map of the city of Richmond twelve years after the end of the American Civil War.

Richmond City boundaries are outlined in purple, while the color blue identifies Manchester’s political boundaries. The jurisdiction of Richmond City’s Hustings Court is shown in red outline.

City wards are identified as well as political districts in Henrico County, Virginia. Street names are clearly delineated as are the names of property owners in the county. The area’s important water features are also shown.

Cities of Richmond and Manchester, Va. (1886) by J. Thompson and Brown Real Estate Agents and AuctioneersOriginal Source: Library of Virginia

Maps are often used to promote the purchase and sale of real estate as indicated by this 1886 map of Richmond and Manchester by J. Thompson Brown and Co. Real Estate agents.

The city’s political wards are identified in pink and it is possible that this map was once included in a city directory for Richmond.

City of Richmond Virginia and Environs Department of Public Works 1923 (1925) by Richmond Department of Public WorksOriginal Source: Library of Virginia

Early Twentieth Century Richmond

The city of Richmond continued to grow and annex territory during the first half of the twentieth century. 

Map of the City of Richmond Va. (1907) by Clyde W. SaundersOriginal Source: Library of Virginia

Clyde W. Saunder’s map of Richmond shows streets, numerous place names and Richmond City’s boundaries as of 1906. Each ward is named and color is used to show where each is located.

Numerous ads promoting local companies and neighborhoods surround this map of Richmond including Lewis Ginter Land and Improvement Company, Cowardin's Addition, and Bellevue Park.

Clyde W. Saunders was a well-known and active Richmond City printer. During the 1920s he was president of Pepsi-Cola Corporation in Richmond and was acting U.S. postmaster at the time of his death in 1939.

Map of Richmond Virginia Showing Street Layout and Area Covered by Topographic Survey 1921-1923 (1923)Original Source: Library of Virginia

The City of Richmond decided that a topographical survey of the city was needed in light of its early 20th century annexations.

The surveyors from the firm R.H. Randall and Company conducted the actual surveys and they worked in conjunction with the Richmond Board of Public Works.

This index sheet which identifies by color and number the areas surveyed is based on one published by the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company of Virginia.

Topography Area Surrounding City of Richmond (1923) by Richmond City Department of Public WorksOriginal Source: Library of Virginia

This is just one of 78 sheets that comprise this 1922 topographical survey of the city of Richmond.

Contour lines are used to emphasize height and it shows a fortification that existed along Spring and Hopkins Road for many years. Maury Cemetery is noted, too.

City of Richmond Virginia and Environs Department of Public Works 1923 (1925) by Richmond Department of Public WorksOriginal Source: Library of Virginia

This map shows the nine completed annexations by the City of Richmond since 1742. Using color, the Richmond Department of Public Works illustrated which sections were added and when.

View of Richmond (1920/1929)Library of Virginia

This view of downtown Richmond is a snapshot of the city before the Great Depression. Familiar buildings included are the Federal Reserve building, the Capitol building, and Old City Hall.

Map of Richmond/ Capital of Virginia (1937) by Elmo JonesOriginal Source: Library of Virginia

Pictorial maps, otherwise known as illustrated maps, present areas with an emphasis on artistry rather than technical detail.

Vignettes of Richmond buildings and monuments surround a map of the city’s major thoroughfares. The Founder of Richmond, William Byrd, is highlighted along with other historic events.

Important local industries and fields at the time were featured in yellow tiles: Tobacco, Law, Medicine, Banking, Paper, Printing, and Manufactures. Illustrated maps served almost as an advertisement to prospective businesses or tourists.

Elmo Jones was a Richmond-based illustrator working in the early 20th century. He illustrated this map, and also worked with several local authors.

A Pictorial Map of Richmond Virginia (1937) by W.M. LewisOriginal Source: Library of Virginia

Illustrator W.M. Lewis used drawings of buildings, structures, and people to highlight Richmond’s tourist attractions in this cartograph, or illustrated map, from 1937. This genre of maps was very popular during the Great Depression.

Historic moments such as "Capt. John Smith Stopped by Falls in James River May 24, 1607" are shown alongside modern achievements such as "Longest Steel Viaduct in World - 2.8 Miles" or "Triple Trunk Line Railroad Crossing - Only one in World."

Maps such as these played to local pride, encouraged tourism, and may have served as a souvenir.

City of Richmond Virginia from the Hill Above the Waterworks (1834) by William James BennettOriginal Source: Library of Virginia

Richmond, Virginia continues to evolve as an American city and maps provide witness to the changes that have taken place.

Credits: Story

Research, text and arrangement by Cassandra Britt Farrell. Editing and assistance from Sonya Coleman, Digital Collections Specialist.

Imaging by Mark Fagerburg and Ben Smith Photo & Digital Imaging Services department.

All images from Map Collection, Picture Collection,
Manuscripts & Special Collections, Library of Virginia.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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