Day 4-5/ Mar 2nd-3rd – Quinton, VA to Richmond, VA: Recession and religion

 

Our first city today, and quite a substantial one too: Richmond is the state capital of Virginia, and was the capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War.  It seems to have been all downhill since then; Richmond, sadly, is not a place to cheer the soul.

Even only a few miles from downtown, there was little sign that we were approaching a substantial city.  Occasional housing developments gradually coalesced into continuous suburbia, and eventually we saw a shabby industrial skyline of rain and brick.  We walked into town through Oakwood, a tough neighbourhood where the only functioning businesses were Baptist churches and liquor stores.  It was effectively walled off from the centre of the city by Interstate 95, which runs straight through it on top of a thirty-foot high rampart.  We collected a new entrant for our Least Appropriate Street Name contest when we crossed Tulip Avenue, a short stretch of boarded-up shops and houses built around a disused public lavatory.

It’s fair to say that Richmond, Virginia has little in common with its namesake and twin town in Surrey.  The latter is an affluent suburb favoured by investment bankers and dotcommers; this Richmond is a struggling blue-collar city in which entire blocks of downtown shops have closed down, leaving gaping storefronts and empty windows.  We walked five blocks from our hotel to a diner for breakfast and passed three open premises.  Nail shops, car washes, hairdressers, shoe shops, book shops and dollar stores: all of them were closed, and closed for good.

Richmond, Virginia

A view over a rainy Richmond

The only organisations visibly having a good recession are the churches.  On the roads around the city, tiny one-man churches have opened up in dozens of abandoned corner shops, strip malls and empty commercial premises.  For three miles along the road out of Richmond to the west, there are at least two of these churches on every block, with names like the Cathedral of Judah, A Mother’s Cry Ministry, Agape International Ministries, Jesus Saves Ministries, the Christ Worship Centre, the Bible Believing Baptist Church and my favourite, the Destiny International Holistic Ministries.

Church in Richmond

One of hundreds of 'pop-up churches' in Richmond

We had a day off in Richmond, and I walked across town to visit a much older church – the oldest in the city, in fact – St. John’s Episcopal.  It’s famous as the location where Patrick Henry, the first governor of Virginia after Independence, gave his ‘give me liberty or give me death’ speech to an audience including Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.  The speech is popularly credited with swinging the balance of opinion in Virginia behind going to war with the British, and thus with Changing History.

Richmond historical marker

We're not the first Brits to come through Richmond

Henry had the unusual trait of being a magnetic and powerful speaker whose audiences were nonetheless often unable after his speeches to recall precisely what he had said – a sort of eighteenth-century Tony Robbins.  Jefferson said of him that “it was difficult, when [Henry] had spoken, to tell what he had said, yet, while speaking, it always seemed directly to the point.”  The text of this most famous of his speeches wasn’t published until more than forty years later, and even then was based almost solely on the recollection of a single audience member who warned that “in vain should I attempt to give any idea of his speech”.

After twenty rain-soaked blocks, I got to the church and found it closed.  On the way into the churchyard, I met the parish administrator, who, despite being a professed Anglophile (“I’m a bit like Alice Tinker from  the Vicar of Dibley”) was unmoved by my pleas to let me look around the church (“we’ve had thefts.”)  So I poked around the churchyard instead, found the grave of Edgar Allan Poe’s mother, and then walked back another twenty blocks in the rain.  And who could fail to be content with that?

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One Response to “Day 4-5/ Mar 2nd-3rd – Quinton, VA to Richmond, VA: Recession and religion”

  1. Meade Says:

    Richmond is definitely NOT a blue collar city! Its very old money-ish and snobby. Did you even bother see Monument Ave?
    These are real Richmonders here:

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