“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Petersburg, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)

Architectural Heritage

Architectural Heritage Marker image. Click for full size.
By Bernard Fisher, July 7, 2012
1. Architectural Heritage Marker
Inscription. Petersburg’s architectural heritage has a long and rich history, reflecting centuries of occupation by Native Americans and over 300 years of European settlement. Beginning as a frontier trading post with the Virginia Indians, Fort Henry was established here in 1646. As the Virginia frontier moved further westward, trade and commerce continued to grow in what is now the Old Towne area. The city’s early development was shaped by a network of Indian roads that followed the high ground between ravines and swamps originally leading to Native American settlements along the Appomattox River. Petersburg’s primary streets—Sycamore, Halifax, Old and High—all followed these early roads and trails leading into the heart of Old Towne. This informal layout was long reflected in the nature of the buildings in the town, which for a century remained vernacular structures built of wood and field stone. Few brick buildings were built until after the Revolution.


In the later eighteenth century, a tradition of fashionable brick construction grew up in the close-in neighborhoods of the town. Examples can be seen today at Blandford Church, built between 1735 and 1737, the Georgian house Mayfield, built in 1750, and the Palladian villa called Battersea, built by John Banister III.

The Great Fire
Architectural Heritage Marker image. Click for full size.
By Bernard Fisher, July 7, 2012
2. Architectural Heritage Marker
of 1815

In July of 1815, an event occurred that would change Petersburg’s townscape forever. Overnight, a great fire raged through the center of town, destroying upwards of 600 buildings. Petersburg’s response was just as swift. Fueled by the prosperity of the time, and by insurance money, three hundred new three-story brick structures were built by the end of 1817, mostly in a spare Federal style. Craftsmen came from all directions to join Petersburg’s own builders in this work. These included James Dinsmore and John Neilson, who had been working with Thomas Jefferson on Monticello.

War Takes its Toll

The Civil War, in particular the Siege of Petersburg, which lasted nearly ten months, constituted another major watershed for Petersburg. A few buildings of significance, including the Iron Front Building, First African Baptist church, and the Sutherland-Hite House, were actually completed during the early years of the war. However, at least 800 buildings were struck by Union shells during the Siege. A Union soldier, viewing the town after it fell on April 3, 1865, had this to say about what he saw:

“The lower part of Petersburg was a desolation…the rolling stock of their railroads hopelessly ruined,—cars, wheels, bolts, and rails warped and twisted by the fire. The town was apparently but little injured by the siege, although it has been stated that eight hundred house were more or less scarred by the iron rain. A few buildings were entirely destroyed; roofs were shattered; gutters, blinds, and windows torn away from their places, or bore terrible marks of the conflict.”

20th Century Suburbanization

The early years of the twentieth century brought the automobile and the trolley to Petersburg, creating a new sense of mobility that led many families to begin moving from the city’s central neighborhoods to new areas on the outskirts of the city. This led to the creation of several suburban neighborhoods, both to the north of the Appomattox, in what is today the City of Colonial Heights, and to the south in the area now known as Walnut Hill. The Inter-urban Trolley Line connected the city and its newly-developing suburbs with downtown Richmond, creating new regional opportunities for Petersburg.

Today, Petersburg is in the midst of a promising rebirth. Many buildings have been and continue to be renovated, breathing new life into Downtown. Today, a variety of public and private initiatives are working together to continue this rebirth, which, coupled with the dredging of the Appomattox River, will sustain Petersburg far into the 21st century.
Erected by City of Petersburg.
Location. 37° 13.989′ N, 77° 24.264′ W. Marker is in Petersburg, Virginia. Marker is at the intersection of East Old Street and Rock Street, on the right when traveling east on East Old Street. Click for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 9 E Old St, Petersburg VA 23803, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Arts & Recreation (here, next to this marker); Petersburg’s Natural Parks (here, next to this marker); Petersburg National Battlefield (here, next to this marker); The Revolutionary War in Petersburg (here, next to this marker); African-Americans in Petersburg (here, next to this marker); Pamplin Historical Park (here, next to this marker); Petersburg Museums (here, next to this marker); Old Market Square (here, next to this marker). Click for a list of all markers in Petersburg.
More about this marker. The marker contains several photographs with the captions:

Battersea, built in 1767 in the Palladian style.

265 High Street, a Colonial-era house, circa 1763

Mayfield, built in 1750 in the Georgian style.

“Peter Jones Trading Post,” Market and Grove, 1809

509-511 Plum Street—an early vernacular miller’s cottage

The Federal-style Trapezium house is believed to have been built for Scottish merchant Charles O’Hara by his West Indian servant without right angles to ward off evil spirits.

Historic Blandford Church, one of Virginia’s original Colonial churches, contains 15 stained glass windows designed and installed by Louis Comfort Tiffany. It is open as a City museum.

The Greek Revival-style Hustings Courthouse, as seen in this vintage postcard, is still used by the Petersburg Circuit Court.

Top left: the Greek Revival-style Tabb Street Presbyterian, 21 West Tabb Street, circa 1844. Above: St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 110 North Union Street, built in the Gothic Revival style, circa 1855.

Exchange Building, now the Siege Museum, 15 West Bank Street, circa 1841. An example of the Greek Revival style.

Centre Hill, home of Robert Bolling, played host to President Taft in 1909. This building was originally constructed in the Federal style, but Greek revival features were added later. It is currently a City museum.

The Farmers Bank, built circa 1817 in the Federal style, is now operated as a City museum in partnership with the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities.

The Bowers Building was one of the finest examples of Federal commercial architecture in Petersburg. It survived at the corner of Sycamore and Bank Streets into the 1970s.

The A.L. Scott House, on Market Street, was built prior to 1858 in the Italianate style.

Oak Street AME Zion Church, 25 West Wythe Street, 1879

The Civil War era photograph shows North Sycamore Street and prominently features the four-story Iron Front Building on the left.

The Electric Building was built in 1925 and served as the passenger station for the Inter-urban Trolley Line which ran from Petersburg to Richmond.

Above and left: old postcard images of Colonial Revival houses in Walnut Hill; right: a postcard of Centre Hill Court, with Bungalow-style cottages.
Also see . . .  Petersburg Visitors Center. (Submitted on July 9, 2012, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia.)
Categories. Notable Buildings
Credits. This page originally submitted on , by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia. This page has been viewed 320 times since then and 47 times this year. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on , by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016.
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