“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.
Photographed 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
Architectural Heritage Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Bernard Fisher, July 7, 2012
2. Architectural Heritage Marker
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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 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
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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
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River, will sustain Petersburg far into the 21st century.

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.

Erected by City of Petersburg.
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in this topic list: Notable Buildings. In addition, it is included in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AME Zion) Church, and the Former U.S. Presidents: #27 William Howard Taft series lists. A significant historical month for this entry is April 1972.
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. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 9 E Old St, Petersburg VA 23803, United States of America. Touch for directions.
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). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Petersburg.
Also see . . .  Petersburg Visitors. (Submitted on July 9, 2012.)

Credits. This page was last revised on November 11, 2021. It was originally submitted on July 9, 2012, by Bernard Fisher of Richmond, Virginia. This page has been viewed 514 times since then and 23 times this year. Last updated on June 10, 2021, by Bradley Owen of Morgantown, West Virginia. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on July 9, 2012, by Bernard Fisher of Richmond, Virginia.

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Jun. 30, 2022