Sunday, December 09, 2012

A Pit Stop in Richmond—Treadgear

We only spent an hour in Richmond so I really shouldn't have very much to say about it. At any rate it should take me less than an hour to finish this post, right? It would be ridiculous to take longer to record our time in Richmond than the time we actually spent there, right? This post shouldn't be too long. I hope.

We stopped at Treadgear Iron Works, which is now a national monument it once was the main producer of weaponry and ammunition for the Confederate States. The inside of the museum was kind of lame (in all fairness we'd gone to the Museum of the Marine Corps just hours earlier so our expectations were high) so we eventually abandoned the museum in favour of the great outdoors.

Fortunately the museum was free, which always helps us decide to abandon certain activities for others. It's easy to abandon a free activity in favour of throwing rocks and rolling in the grass. It's less easy to abandon a paid-for activity in favour of throwing rocks and rolling in the grass. That's why we seek out free activities to do with our kids—because do you know what they really like to do? Throw rocks and roll in the grass.

The most exciting part about the inside of the museum was the glass elevator. The Treadgear factory, you see has three distinct levels. The "massive stonework"—and it really is just a bunch of massive stones mortared together—"on the first floor probably dates to the Crenshaw flour mill," circa 1854, a sign near the elevator told us. The flour mill was then converted into a woolen mill...which is confusing for me because I thought it was an iron factory. But the sign clearly says that they produced "blankets for Confederate troops," and that "the building burned in 1863," which is true. But they also made stuff from iron...or something. I'll just tell you what the sign said:
The brick walls of the second floor show the reconstruction of the building on top of the woolen mill foundation, as the site was transformed into an iron-working complex. The reconstructed building made and stored wooden patterns used in the manufacture of iron products.
The brighter red brick that you see on the third floor is a result of another renovation after a fire destroyed the top floor in the 1890s.
Because the elevator was glass we got a good look at the masonry work on each level, which was pretty fun.

I'm still a little unclear on how a woolen mill supplied the Confederate army with ammunition (it seems they really only started doing iron works during the Civil War, I think, and that this particular building was only used for patterns (there were other buildings elsewhere as the Treadgear company had an extensive campus at one point)) but however that played out it's why the capitol of the Confederate States was moved from Montgomery  Alabama to Richmond, Virginia.

There were a few interesting things to see inside but their signs were too wordy so we mostly ran after the kids answering their questions with quick one-liners: "That's a jacket. That's a flag. That's a cup." If we had stopped to read the signs we would have lost our children for sure—there wasn't anything around to hold their attention.

So, outside we went. The museum has a nice yard in the back of the second floor with a statue of Lincoln.

We also went into the front to look at the water wheel.

We saw a train go across a bridge, right over us!

And then we went to explore Brown's Island (which is just across the street from Treadgear).

There's a series of bridges crossing from the mainland over the (stinky) Haxall Canal to Brown's Island, where you can then look out over the James River.

Today it's a lovely park with statues and and benches and fields.

During the Civil War, it was home to yet another munitions factory—where an explosion killed 45 people (mostly young women who worked in the factory) in March of 1863.

There's also a walkway from the island that takes you out over the river. It is decorated with a timeline of the Civil War and some of the slats on the bridge have famous quotes about the day the Confederacy lost Richmond to the Union.

Lincoln died just days after the capture of Richmond.

Richmond was taken by the Union in April of 1865 and when the Confederates saw they were about to lose their capitol they literally burned their bridges and fled. They destroyed their factories and warehouses and much of the city.

Below the Manchester Bridge (the intact bridge) you can see some of the wreckage of "The Evacuation Route." 

The crumbling support pillars are from the Richmond & Petersburg Railway, I believe, which was a Confederate supply route. It was destroyed in 1865.

The sunset was quite beautiful—probably thanks to the amount of smog in the city (it had a lingering sulfuric smell, especially in the south)—and there were bridges everywhere we looked, which added a nice dark contrast to the bright orange sunset.

We had to get back to the museum to retrieve our car (the museum and parking lot close at 5 and we got there at 4—parking is also $3 unless you visit the museum (in which case it's free)) but then we pulled over a few streets down the road so that I could feed Benjamin and so that we could get the girls settled.

Richmond is about halfway between Durham and Alexandria so it was a good place to stop. We thought that by breaking up the trip we'd have better luck with Benjamin (not screaming in the car) but apparently the trip was still about forty miles too long for him and he screamed for the last forty miles or so on the way home (just as he did on the way up). 

We had a wonderful time on our first "road trip in America with only our little family." We realized after we'd been driving for about an hour that it was our first one! All our other road trips have either a) not been on this continent or b) been mooched off either set of our parents. 

1 comment:

  1. You should maybe try feeding that baby lip balm while traveling in the car. I understand that feeding that to babies keeps them quiet--you may need quite a large container if the baby cries a lot. Or you will run out after ten minutes.

    Oh...but you know that! :o)