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New Elizabeth Van Lew Historic Walking Tour Celebrates the Civil War Spy’s 200th Birthday

What: Elizabeth Van Lew turns 200

Where: Self-guided tour starting at St. John’s Church

When: Indefinitely, but half price from 10/12- 10/14


Rachel Pater from The Richmond Story House shares:

The Richmond Story House, a certified nonprofit located in Union Hill, will launch their first downloadable audio walking tour on October 12 in celebration of Richmond’s own Civil War spy Elizabeth Van Lew’s 200th birthday.

Who was Elizabeth Van Lew?
Van Lew was an abolitionist who worked to undermine the war efforts of the South during the Civil War. She lent aid to Union soldiers, housed at hospitals and prisons along Tobacco Row, and sent military intelligence to the north though a complex web of spies.

Why should people in Church Hill be interested?
Elizabeth Van Lew’s legacy looms large in Civil War history, but never before have people been able to experience her story in such a visceral way. Richmond Story House has made it possible for community members to learn about her life while walking her own Church Hill neighborhood.

What’s the tour like?
The tour starts and ends at the historic St. John’s Church on Broad Street. Participants can download the audio tour for $8 from and take the 70-minute, self-guided tour on their own at any time. The tour’s audio will both tell Van Lew’s story and guide participants directionally on this 2-mile walk. Driving directions are provided for those with limited mobility.

The audio tour will be available indefinitely but participants can download it for half price ($4) from October 12-14 in honor of Van Lew’s birthday weekend. All proceeds from the tour help expand this Richmond Story House’s workshops in the Richmond City Justice Center.

Why is this important?
The story of Elizabeth Van Lew gives insight into our city’s participation in the slave trade and challenges us to make connections between this history and the insidious forms of racism still alive in our city and world today.

How is the Richmond Story House involved?
The Richmond Story House works to unearth and amplify untold stories in our community. In mobile and in-house workshops, the RSH helps community members frame their personal narrative and experiences in new ways by hosting a variety of storytelling workshops and special events for community groups, businesses, schools and nonprofit organizations.

Contact Richmond Story house for more information at (804) 657-7671,, or visit


Photo Credit: Virginia Museum of History and Culture


SA Chaplin 10/10/2018 at 2:04 PM

Elizabeth Lew is certainly a person to be admired. Those who, in the 1850s and 1860s, took the unpopular anti-slavery view are the true heroes of that era. They are not celebrated, though they should be. But I will have to pass on any tour that proposes to lecture me on “the insidious forms of racism still alive in our city and world today.” (I believe the writer meant to say “invidious.”)

Melinda 10/16/2018 at 8:04 AM

Van Lew should be considered for a statue, if more are put up in Richmond. She did so much good and was reviled by most white people in the city she lived in and loved. My grandmother remembered her, and the stories were pretty awful.


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