By John C. McAuliff
In 1957, this photo was taken of the beginnings of construction for the I-95 overpass across Franklin and Fifteenth Street, according to the Valentine Richmond History Center. Without knowing that, the centerpiece of the picture looks like a boxcar on stilts. The absence of people and the general messiness of the construction site could lead someone to believe that the project was abandoned, but knowing that to be untrue it is worth questioning why the overpass looks the way it does and what can be gleaned from it. Despite being in Shockoe Bottom, the site looks far removed from the city. At the very least, this notes how much space was likely used up and cleared by the contractors to build the Richmond-Petersburg turnpike. The dunes of dirt and scraps indicate just how much space was cleared.
It is not a stretch to suggest that because the overpass was being built on Fifteenth Street that its part of town, the former slave trading district known as Lumpkin’s Alley, was not of much value to the city’s inhabitants. Nearby tobacco warehouses certainly were important, but the look of the street outside a tobacco factory would have been of much less consequence than the price of the real estate cheapened by I-95 moving in. More evidence of this theory comes in that Fifteenth is still a cobblestone road, fully unpaved even in 1957. With just this picture to consider, it is possible that Fifteenth Street had fallen out of favor in this era, and so was fit for demolition.