Main Street

The burnt District.

–Enterprise in Richmond.–The 3d of April, 1865, will long be remembered by the people of Richmond. The Confederate having evacuated this city, lied to buildings containing to magazines, arsenals so rapid was the spread of total destruction of Richmond threatened. As it was, the best and arrest portion of the city, including many elegant stores, private residences, mills, warehouses and public buildings, became the prey of the fire, and Richmond presented a scene of desolation and ruin to which no description can do justice. From the old State Armory, on the west, down Cary street to a point below Fourteenth, and down Main nearly to Fifteenth on the south side, and to Thirteenth on the north; up Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth, destroying every building on Bank street from Ninth to Twelfth, except the Custom-House; burning the Mechanics Institute building, the United Presbyterian Church, Goddin’s Hall, the State Court- House, the American Hotel, the Petersburg Railroad buildings and bridge, the Danville depot and bridge, and Mayo’s bridge; sweeping away that immense structure known as the Gallego Mills, leaving all this extended area scarcely a building, and in rendering hundreds of persons houseless. Such is a brief description of the ravages of the terrible fire on the 3d of April last. But the destruction did not stop here. The torch was also applied to Dibrell’s warehouse, on Cary, between Twenty-first and Twenty-second streets, consuming that and the County Court-House adjacent. Several hundred buildings were thus destroyed. To add to the excitement of the scene, from early morning until long after midday the air resounded with the rapid explosions of bomb-shells, of which there were a great number in the laboratories of the Confederate Government. By the active exertions of the Federal troops, who entered the city while the conflagration was at its height, the progress of the flames was stayed, and the sun went down upon smoking ruins, naked chimneys and tottering walls, which along marked the places where a few hours before stood many a stately edifice.

[All these sad details are well known to our city readers; but the Dispatch has never before noticed them; and in bridging over the space of time between that dark day, when it, too, sunk amidst the ruins, and this bright morning of its re-appearance, it deems it proper to make this hurried sketch.]

For some days the streets over which the fire swept were almost impassable. The debris obstructed the thoroughfares, while the smouldering ruins continued to send up volumes of smoke, and citizens and visitors gazed upon the scene with a sort of strange interest. Naturally, a disaster of such formidable character paralyzed, to some extent, the energies of our people. But not many months elapsed before a change was visible; and we record it as an instance of enterprise almost miraculous, that in nine months after the occurrence of this terrible fire Richmond has sprung up to new life, and renewed her energies with all the vigor of youth. The hammer and the trowel are heard on every hand; many fine buildings, occupying the sites of those destroyed, are now approaching completion; some are already occupied, and numbers more either commenced or contracted for.

On Main street, a noticeable difference between the houses being erected and the old ones is, that while the latter, in most instances, were so constructed as to be used for private residences, the new ones are to be used for business purposes exclusively. A brief notice of some of the more prominent buildings in progress of construction or completed may not be out of place, as illustrating more fully the enterprise of our people. Mr. Lewis D. Crenshaw is putting up a very fine four-story brick building on the south side of main street, between Ninth and Tenth. Opposite, on the north side of Main, Mr. S. C. Robinson has commenced the construction of a five-story double brick tenement, with iron front all the way up, which, it is said, will be among the finest buildings in the city. Lowes down, on the same square, stands the elegant music establishment of J. W. Davies & Sons. On the south side of Main, between Tenth and Eleventh streets, the foundation for a four-story brick house has been laid for Mr. Benjamin Hart, of New York. Adjoining this, and immediately on the site of the old Farmers’ Bank of Virginia, Mr. Franklin Stearns is commencing the construction of a splendid four-story building, iron front, to contain four tenements. On part of the spot formerly occupied by the American Hotel, the Virginia Fire and Marine Insurance Company are about erecting a handsome four-story brick building, with iron front. On the opposite side of Main street, below the post-office, a fine building is in course of construction for the National Bank of Virginia, and, immediately adjoining, one for Mr. John Wickham. On the corner of Thirteenth and Main streetsstands the magnificent four-story double tenement, with brownstone front, erected by C. W. Purcell–one tenement for himself and one for Messrs. Purcell, Ladd & Co. The rear tenement of this building is now occupied as the publication office of the Dispatch. On the southeast corner of Twelfth andMain streets, Mr. John Græme has a fine four-story building, of four spacious tenements, rapidly approaching completion. On the same square is the new three-story building owned and occupied by Messrs. Steenbock & Co. These are but few of the evidences of enterprise and improvement visible on Main street. Eleven stores have been completed on this street, thirty- five are in course of construction, many of which are nearly completed, and forty-five vacant lots remain to be improved.

On Cary street, nine buildings are completed, six are nearly finished, seventeen more have been commenced, and there are sixty-seven vacant lots. Among the most prominent of the buildings are those of Habliston & Brother, Asa Snyder, (foundry,) Dunlop, Moncure & Co., Major Beckham, Harvey & Williams, F. Brauer, and P. B. Borst. The last named is one of the finest in the whole city, comprising four tenements of four stories high, elegant brick, with ornamental cast-iron fronts. Near Cary street, and fronting on the basin, the foundations have been laid for the rebuilding of the Gallego Mills, which will be one of the most extensive and complete establishments of the kind, in the world. The corn mill has been rebuilt and is in operation.

On Fourteenth street, south of Main, several fine buildings are progressing to completion, conspicuous among which are those of Mr. B. Becher and Mr. James H. Gardner; and on the south side of Cary street, between Thirteenth and Fourteenth streets, Messrs. William B. Jones and Alfred Moses are building two spacious stores upon the site formerly occupied by five tenements.

Surveying the whole burnt district, we think it is not an extravagant anticipation that it will be entirely rebuilt by the fall of 1866. In alluding to the buildings in progress, it is next to impossible to state all of their renters, and the naming of some is not intended to be invidious — it is rather accidental. To give a more accurate idea of what is done and doing, we state that, on the principal streets in the burnt district, there are about one hundred and twenty buildings either completed or in progress.

These remarkable evidences of enterprise and energy reflect the highest credit upon the people of this city. They show a vitality under years of war, and the crowning disaster of fire, which speaks well for the future commercial prosperity of Richmond.


This article was published in the Richmond Daily Dispatch on December 9, 1865. It was the first time that Main Street was mentioned in the Richmond Daily Dispatch since April 3, 1865, the day the Union Army occupied and burned the city. Up until April 3, 1865, Main Street was mentioned in the paper almost every day, whether it was one time or as many as 144 times. This goes to show how widely used and important the street was to life in Richmond.

Main Street was a central hub of the city, and was home to all kinds of shops and businesses. The confederate military had meeting points along Main Street, and the Daily Dispatch even notes that the first visible symptom of Civil War occurred on Main Street, with two citizens of opposite views over secession agreed to disagree on the question of civil war. Main Street was also home to a slave hospital, and contained a package and parcels shipping center for troops serving in the confederate army. Not only did Main Street host traveling astrologists from Europe, it also was used by stray cattle wandering the streets at one point. The Daily Dispatch shows just how widely used Main Street was before it was the city was burned, but it also notes that it was a beacon of hope with the most rebuilding of any street.

-Peter CampoBasso


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