After experiencing a fascinating tour through Richmond with our guide and author Tyler Potterfield, one could quickly realize that the James River was the heart of everything about the historical city of Richmond. It is the centrepiece of Richmond – both historically and scenically.
As with many great cities across the world, such as London, New York, Sydney, and Cape Town, Richmond is right on the banks of a body of water. Water is something that can serve a whole number of purposes to mankind, and will continue to do so for a long time. Water helps with the service of power, the provision of food, usage as a transport route, and simply supply the eye with a pretty picture.
The James River was the reason the original settlers came to reside at Richmond’s location, as they were not able to get past the rapids. Despite this fact, this has clearly become a blessing in disguise as, over time, the River has been and the people use it for many functions – both good and bad, even if the intentions were proper.
The River’s usage has changed dramatically over the 150 years since the Civil War. My bet would be that the younger generations of Richmonders know that the James River has a lot of history and embodies a lot of what the city is about; but they would not know much detail and what the history actually is.
This is why I feel the authorities in Richmond haven’t reaped the full benefits of the river. The James River is one of a very small group of places in Richmond that has not changed physically in the last century and a half. There is not much emphasis on the river today whilst there is huge emphasis on so-called ‘historical’ sites, such as Monument Avenue, which have actually changed their appearance a few times since the Civil War. Being from abroad, I suppose it is natural for me to compare it to places that I am more familiar with and am more accustomed to. Now I appreciate that Richmond is not of the same scale or stature of a London or a Cape Town, but even larger cities put emphasis and great pride in their water. Both London and Cape Town have tours, schemes and events that travail the River Thames and the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront respectively. Ask a true Londoner about the Thames or a Cape Town resident about their Waterfront, I’m sure you would get a pretty interesting response. Going through the city I cannot remember seeing signs that directs one to any River activities that take place. The James River Association (http://www.jamesriverassociation.org/) is clearly looking at widening the public knowledge about the River, something that should have been done earlier.
Having been used as a huge source of power in the Civil War era to power mills and factories, today the river stand on its own, with no reference to what it used to be and the history that it carries with it. There are a number of activities available to do on the River, all these can be found on the website, including Kayaking. As alluded to previously, there is not much signage or enthusiasm to the fact that you can kayak on the James, or any other activity to that matter. There seems to be little emphasis on the purpose of the James River today.
Why doesn’t Richmond make its pride of the James River more known?