Marker Logo HMdb.org THE HISTORICAL
MARKER DATABASE
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Richmond, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)
 

Neighborhoods at Tredegar

 
 
Neighborhoods at Tredegar Marker image. Click for full size.
By Bernard Fisher, November 3, 2009
1. Neighborhoods at Tredegar Marker
Inscription. [Three] communities grew up around the Tredegar Iron Works: Oregon Hill, Penitentiary Bottom, and Gamble’s Hill. Today little remains of these communities. A part of Oregon hill still survives, but Penitentiary Bottom and Gamble’s Hill are both gone, torn down after years of decay and neglect. Their evolution mirrored the industrial, commercial and social development of the city and the diversity of the urban experience in Richmond and the nation.

Oregon Hill was once the location of “Belvidere,” the home of William Byrd III. Before the Civil War, the hillside was divided into small lots where workers and builders constructed small brick and frame houses. Early in its development, the area was once described as being far from the city as Oregon, and so the neighborhood became known as Oregon Hill. Those who built their houses on the hill, native Virginians and immigrants alike, created a close-knit community of white, skilled industrial and craft workers. For well over one hundred years, Oregon Hill was home to many of Richmond’s oldest working families. As the fortunes of Tredegar and other industrial employers declined in the 20th century, poverty and neglect took its toll on Oregon Hill. Although the houses closest to the river have been torn down, the western part of Oregon Hill remains.

Penitentiary
Neighborhoods at Tredegar Marker image. Click for full size.
By Bernard Fisher, November 3, 2009
2. Neighborhoods at Tredegar Marker
Bottom
lay between Oregon Hill to the west and Gamble’s Hill to the east. As the neighborhood developed in the shadow of the Virginia State Penitentiary, it covered roughly six square blocks and housed mostly white, native-born workers. Nevertheless, the presence of the Second African Baptist Church, first built in 1846, suggest a considerable African American population from the earliest times. By 1880, African Americans made up nearly half of the Bottom’s population and by 1920 that number had increased to almost seventy percent. Penitentiary Bottom became typical of neighborhood segregation in Richmond in the era of Jim Crow. Confined to an area in which they owned virtually none of the housing, and where absentee landlords had little incentive to make repairs, residents of the Bottom watched as their neighborhood entered a spiral of deterioration and decline. The evolution of Penitentiary Bottom was an example of the results of race-based social policy as African Americans first saw whites move out and then seal off, through legislation and low wages, virtually all avenues of escape.

Gamble’s Hill is now home to the headquarters of Ethyl Corporation. Named after Revolutionary War veteran Robert Gamble, the neighborhood of Gamble’s Hill developed as a middle- and upper-middle class community of managers, entrepreneurs, professionals and city officials.
Nearby African American Monument (front) image. Click for full size.
By Bernard Fisher, November 3, 2009
3. Nearby African American Monument (front)
Hear, Voices journey of tumbleing water laps rocks bald. falls of the James and sand soft enough to leave easy memory spills history filtered ghosts step forward from fragments among the ruins pieced into archeological significance. historians ponder, chin in palm: “What is history made of?” bricks and bones tales entombed unearthed recently will become long ago women’s white teeth stare from faces colors of earth or autumn;
Homes were erected on the hill beginning in the early 1800’s but the major development occurred after the Civil War. Managers from Tredegar and other ironworks called the Hill home. Around the turn of the century, the new “streetcar suburbs” began to lure families from Gamble’s Hill and soon the neighborhood became home to factory employees, retail clerks and service workers living in boarding houses and apartments. After World War II, housing on Gamble’s Hill was badly deteriorated and eventually abandoned. In 1961, Ethyl Corporation began construction of their new headquarters.
 
Location. 37° 32.149′ N, 77° 26.821′ W. Marker is in Richmond, Virginia. Marker can be reached from Tredegar Street 0.1 miles west of South 5th Street. Touch for map. This marker is located outside the Civil War Visitor Center at Tredegar Iron Works. Marker is at or near this postal address: 470 Tredegar Street, Richmond VA 23219, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Industrial Recycling (within shouting distance of this marker); Belle Isle Prison (within shouting distance of this marker); Making Machines at Tredegar (within shouting distance of this marker); Tredegar Rolling Mills
Nearby African American Monument image. Click for full size.
By Bernard Fisher, November 3, 2009
4. Nearby African American Monument
Amazing Messages! of hope in mean fates unerased by flight of congo; torture of gravity & whips tell time’s trek in hewed stone men’s flesh. children whisper in play in whispers breathe anger or Tredegar’s metal dust Gracious past calls home many places where bravery of overcoming and never forgetting is not moved by water’s walk or words in stone as tomorrow unravels before us as dawn or trinkets. njeri jackson© april 29, 1994
(within shouting distance of this marker); Belle Isle and Old Dominion Iron and Nail Works (within shouting distance of this marker); Worker Housing (within shouting distance of this marker); Tredegar in 1951 (within shouting distance of this marker); President Lincoln Visits Richmond (within shouting distance of this marker). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Richmond.
 
More about this marker. On the left are photos of Oregon Hill with the caption,"Although she never lived in the community, tobacco heiress and philanthropist Grace Arents has been called the “patron saint” of Oregon Hill. Her many contributions to the neighborhood stand as testimony to her kindness and generosity. She funded such community landmarks as the Grace Arents Elementary School, the St. Andrews School, the Arents Free Library and the Arents Public Baths. Grace Arents died in 1926. Although she left no personal records, she left her estate, Bloemendahl Farm, to the city of Richmond as the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens."

In the center are photos of Penitentiary Bottom with the caption, "Employment opportunities for African Americans living in Penitentiary Bottom were quite limited. While a few men held skilled jobs such as plasterer, barber or carpenter, most worked as unskilled laborers. The working life of Martin Morris, a resident of the Bottom, was typical. During his lifetime Morris found work as a butler, porter, janitor and laborer in the ironworks. His opportunities for obtaining useful skills were limited both by Jim Crow segregation and the protectionism of white workers. Most African American women found work as domestic servants or as laborers in tobacco factories. This photo was taken in front of the Second African Baptist Church, a community anchor."

On the right are photos of Gamble's Hill with the caption, "One feature at Gamble’s Hill which remains today is the park-like setting of its south slope. Originally purchased by the city in 1851 for a “public promenade,” the park was a popular place to stroll on warm summer evenings and a challenge to young sled riders on snowy winter days. From the park, residents could look down upon the massive Tredegar Iron Works and other industrial sites that lined the river front."
 
Also see . . .
1. Civil War Visitor Center at Tredegar Iron Works. Richmond National Battlefield Park (Submitted on November 11, 2009, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia.) 

2. Tredegar Iron Works. National Park Service (Submitted on November 11, 2009, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia.) 

3. Oregon Hill Historic District. National Park Service (Submitted on November 11, 2009, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia.) 

4. Dr. Njeri Jackson. African American Studies, Virginia Commonwealth University (Submitted on November 13, 2009, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia.) 
 
Categories. African AmericansIndustry & CommerceNotable Places
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on November 11, 2009, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia. This page has been viewed 908 times since then and 26 times this year. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on November 11, 2009, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia.   3, 4. submitted on November 13, 2009, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia.
Paid Advertisement