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History

17th St Farmer’s Market Circa 1910

I find it amazing to see pictures like these. To see what our town, neighborhoods, etc. looked like 100 years ago. Things change so fast. The 17th St. Farmer’s Market used to be known as “First Market” as shown in the photo.

The “publick market” (yes, it was spelled that way!) was established by the Virginia General Assembly in 1779. It was part of the deal when the state transferred the Capitol from Williamsburg to Richmond. At the time 17th St was known as First St hence the “First Market” moniker. Main St. was also the main road that connected Williamsburg and Richmond. It was an important thoroughfare and it placed the “First Market” at a great location perfect for trading. In the beginning, it was simply an open shed. Some wooden posts with a roof.

17th St Market – Date Unknown

A market building was completed in 1854. During its 58 years in use the building was a center for commerce and government. It included a police station, courtroom, and a bell that rang out on the hour. During elections, politicians would frequent the market using barrels of whiskey to entice voters.

The original market building, from 1854, was demolished in 1912. Since then there have been multiple structures, groups, construction projects, etc. that have gotten us to where we are today. Open air markets such as these have struggled in the U.S. with the advent of giant indoor grocery stores.

The Market Today

Despite the disaster that has been the latest renovation project I hope we can use this space as a place for the community to gather, get to know each other, and have fun. We’re a far cry from everyone meeting at the market to pick up local produce multiple days a week.

You barely have to leave your house these days with grocery deliveries, uber eats, and the prevalence of online shopping (I’m offender #1). Even though it’s convenient, we need to give some serious thought to what we’re losing. We have to make time to get to know our neighbors, our community, and the people we share this space with that has such a rich, beautiful, and sometimes tragic, history.

Research for this article came from:

https://richmondmagazine.com/news/first-market-11-30-2012/

https://thevalentine.org/

And I was inspired by some photos I found Dogtown Dish

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17 comments

Sophia Wang
Sophia Wang 07/02/2019 at 2:57 PM

This is like the public market in Seattle!

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Michael Nesossis
Michael Nesossis 07/02/2019 at 6:25 PM

Sophia Wang i went to an indoor market in Maine a few years back. It was fantastic.

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Sophia Wang
Sophia Wang 07/02/2019 at 8:47 PM

Michael Nesossis we should totally have this! It will attract so many people!

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Jess Cadwallender
Jess Cadwallender 07/02/2019 at 3:52 PM

It would be so freakin rad if our Thursday night farmers market had the attendance of Birdhouse or SOJ. The vendors are having a hard time justifying it with current turnout.

I’ll try to do a roll call for walking down from the Hill when I go.

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Michael Nesossis
Michael Nesossis 07/02/2019 at 6:25 PM

I wish they had stuck with the plans to do an indoor market.

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Susan Morgan Hoth
Susan Morgan Hoth 07/02/2019 at 6:37 PM

hot and smelly in there, fo’sho’.

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Mark A. Olinger
Mark A. Olinger 07/02/2019 at 9:04 PM

Pity that bldg. ever came down…

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jean mcdaniel 07/03/2019 at 7:24 AM

The Richmond farmers market that was extremely successful was at the old Armory on second street. As a child it was a big treat to go there with my uncle when he bought horse shoes. In the summer heat we would stick our hands down into the oak seed bins because it was always cool in there. There was always fresh fish, chickens and sometimes pigs and ALWAYS an ice creme treat!

Aunt Hannah was the food buyer for MCV Hospital for a number of years. She has told tales of going down to 17th St market twice a week to buy fresh produce. Apparently it was a rough and tumble neighborhood as she would consistently have to break up fights in order to conduct business.

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Aniza Damon
Aniza Damon 07/03/2019 at 3:20 PM

I miss that place where I used vendor of Aniza’s Bonique. ???

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Deanna 07/03/2019 at 3:45 PM

Love it! Now I will never be able to get the image of you, ice cream on your face, with your hands in a seed bin out of my mind 🙂

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Mark H 07/04/2019 at 3:57 PM

Lexington Market in Baltimore is the oldest indoor market in US. Built in 1792 it had a proud history. Was glad to experience in the late 60’s/ 70’s. Last time we went was 3 yrs ago. Never be back to B-more. Wow, sad another great historic icon succumbed to the elements. Guess this is why we can’t have nice things.

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Jason 07/09/2019 at 10:16 AM

Mind boggling to write this article about the history of the 17th st market and somehow not mention the slave trade.” It was an important thoroughfare and it placed the “First Market” at a great location perfect for trading”, eh? Shockoe bottom was the second largest slave market in the United States and the 17th street market was at it’s center. It was filled with and surrounded by slave trade commerce and auxiliary businesses that supported the slave trade. It held the city’s whipping post. The market was literally a stone’s throw away from the slave auction houses where women, children and men were sold. There’s an incredible amount of history there, wondering why it was glossed over.

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David Barrish 07/09/2019 at 11:23 AM

Here’s a model for success from my home town http://westsidemarket.org/

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Jacob C. 07/10/2019 at 3:06 AM

@jason Nothing being glossed over. It was mentioned in the research I did that slave auctions happened right down the street from the market. However, I never read that the market was a place where the slave trade was conducted and my focus was the market itself. There is little question in my mind that slavery was a big and terrible business in Richmond I’m just not an authority to speak about it and wouldn’t want to pretend otherwise.

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Eric Huffstutler 07/12/2019 at 3:00 AM

The article is not 100% correct. There was a much larger building constructed in 1854 which has a public meeting hall on the second floor used for political rallies and revivals. But over time, it had become unsanitary and dilapidated. There were plans to completely tear it down and build a new one on an adjacent vacant lot but instead, in 1906-1907, a contract was awarded to contractor J.W. McCabe, to demolish the second floor and save the first with of course different design embellishments. That included a bell tower in which housed a bell cast in 1831 and recast in 1864 after a crack developed from use to alert Union troops approaching. This tower was there in part because the First Precinct Police Station was also located there for a while. There was a 1942 refurbishing and in 1961 the building was demolished because it too had become in poor shape. The bell was moved and went on display at the Confederate Museum and dedicated in 1962.

The photo above that says c.1910, is actually much later due to the age of the automobile in it… probably at least early 1930s.

In 2012, there were plans and proposals in the works to construct a close replica of the 2-story 1854 style brick building along with public spaces, on the current poorly planned and unfinished slab of nothingness stands today. I too wish that had been realized. It called for an indoor farmers and flea market on the first floor with leased office space on the second floor.

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L 07/13/2019 at 1:26 PM

@ Jason – I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that this market was actually primarily a market for meat, and was generally agricultural. The slave trade was certainly a dominant business in the area, but I don’t know that there was a public slave market per se. Generally slaves were sold by auction if they were sold in a public venue. The historical marker for the slave auction site is nearby, but on the other side of the train station near where the reconciliation memorial now stands. Apparently auctions were mostly held in hotels in the area, and slave traders kept private slave jails. Point is, the farmers market may have indirectly served the slave trade – in the sense that people/businesses involved in the slave trade were located nearby and may have shopped there for meat or produce – but the market has probably always been a farmers market.

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L 07/13/2019 at 1:35 PM

@ Jason – also, you are correct that the whipping post was in the market proper. But whipping was a common and intentionally public punishment for all manner of crimes throughout 18th and probably into the 19th century, used on black and white alike. I’m not as sure about the 1800’s, but in the colonial period, sentencing usually involved a choice between a fine or being whipped or put in the stocks. Typically, the wealthy paid and the poor were publicly humiliated. Not pretty, but not exactly a relic of slavery either.

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