I read Selden Richardson’s Built by Blacks in late 2006. This sent me off to find out if his descriptions of Evergreen Cemetery were accurate, to see it for myself: Evergreen is everything that he described and more. This medieval cemetery was my takeaway, but another recent read has sent me back to Richardson’s amazing book and the chapter on the urban renewal that has all but erased the original Fulton from the map of Richmond.
My first exposure to the tale of the demolition of Fulton didn’t really stick. At the time it was more difficult for me to imagine that the city and federal governments, through neglect and demolition, would conspire to take apart an entire community. The lack of almost all visual references hides that the area has any history at all, and the story of old Fulton didn’t really sink in.
A recent tip led me to pick up Scott Davis’ The World of Patience Gromes: Making and Unmaking a Black Community (1988), and this book and it’s people made that Fulton real to me. I was surprised to find in a recent re-read of Richardson’s book that he references Patience Gromes repeatedly; I don’t know how I didn’t follow this up at the time. After reading Patience Gromes, I really wanted to be able to see this Fulton that was being described.
Richmond Then and Now’s archive of Times-Dispatch articles about Fulton show some of the story of the demolition of Fulton, but don’t really show the community before.
A 1935 print by Charles W. Smith, Fulton from Church Hill, tantilizingly shows a dense urban neighborhood, on a regular street grid, with rows of houses and a large central church.
With limited resources available online, I paid a visit to the Valentine Richmond History Center for a look in their archives. I was hoping to find photos of Fulton that would let me see it in the context of Richmond’s neighborhoods that still survive, to maybe see in Union Hill, Oregon Hill or the Fan echoes of the streets of Fulton that are so different now. I found a few resources at the Valentine, and was able to get a few scanned to share out.
All of the images below credited to “Valentine” are from the Cook Collection, Valentine Richmond History Center. All rights to the images are reserved by Valentine Richmond History Center. The photos are arranged oldest to newest as best I can tell. Click to view a larger version if available.
The amazing aerial photo puts authentic detail to the church and row houses of Smith’s 1935 print. The baseball game underway in the center and the horse & carriage in the bottom left corner hint at the life in the community. Looking at the larger version, I feel like if I look long enough, more people will start moving across the photo. Of the images of Fulton that I’ve found, it is one of the few (see also) from before the urban renewal period — almost every other photo was taken later to illustrate decrepitness and decay.
This 1961 photo of the corner of Erin and Nicholson is from a later Richmond Times-Dispatch article. It was used to illustrate “the dilapidated homes” in the area.
These boarded-up Fulton Street storefronts are immediately reminiscent of Main Street in Shockoe Bottom or Hull Street in Manchester.
This could be Venable Street between 21st and Mosby today.
Government Road crosses left-to-right across the top of the photo, the train tracks are at the far right. The former trolley barn, still existent, can be seen just off center at the top.
The 2nd of the two aerial photos above shows the houses just about right up on the James River. Some of this part of the street grid is the same, though the bulk of the neighborhood (and Gillies Creek) has been redrawn as you can see in the 2 maps below.