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More than twenty great books about Richmond or specific parts thereof

Just in time for the holidays, a write-up of some great books about Richmond and/or specific neighborhoods or other areas. Stop by Fountain Bookstore, Chop Suey, Black Swan, or the Valentine Richmond History Center and see if you can pick up a copy in person.

In no particular order…

Carlton McKenney’s Rails in Richmond

A history of Richmond’s horse-drawn and electric trolleys, with photos and maps. Fantastic.




Ann Field Alexander’s Race Man: The Rise and Fall of the Fighting Editor

A fascinating look at Richmond and especially Jackson Ward and the African-American experience at the turn of the last century as seen through the perspective of the life of Richmond Planet publisher John Mitchell. One of my heroes.




Veronica Davis’ Here I Lay My Burdens Down: A History of the Black Cemeteries of Richmond, Virginia




Elvatrice Parker Belsches’ Richmond, Virginia (Black America Series)

120-page book with photos from around Richmond, a good half or more of the book is from Jackson Ward. The 10 chapters of photos include buildings, events, and portraiture (including a young Doug Wilder, and a stunning photo of 95-year-old Edward R. Carter – the only Reconstruction-era councilman who lived to see Oliver Hill elected in 1948). The book is fascinating for the history that is overlaid on almost every building in Jackson Ward, but equally wrenching as many of the buildings are gone or continue to decline (Elks Lodge, Hotel Eggleston, the Hippodrome).




Selden Richardson’s Built by Blacks: African American Architecture and Neighborhoods in Richmond, VA

Richmond’s black architecture and neighborhoods and the founding of Richmond. Essential.




Historic Photos of Richmond

200-page. A nice collection of photos from around the city. The emphasis seems to be on the more common areas, in attempt to provide a portrait of Richmond through the years. There are photos from many of the other neighborhoods, though downtown seems to get the most attention. Lacking in Church Hill images.




Harry M. Ward’s Richmond During the Revolution, 1775-83

A crucial time for the city, with the move of the capital from Williamsburg and the war. Gives a good account of the time prior as well.



Michael B. Ghesson Richmond After the War 1865-1890

The title of the book is very clear about the topic of this book, yes.




Pamela K. Kinney Haunted Richmond




Harry Kollatz’ Richmond in Ragtime: Socialists, Suffragists, Sex & Murder

In the words of the author: “This is a narrative, bricolage style, covering just three rambunctious years, 1909-1911.”




Harry Kollatz’ True Richmond Stories

A collection of 40 or so of Kollatz’ “Flashback” columns from Richmond Magazine. Released in late 2007. The stories span Richmond history from 1607 until just a few years ago, and range across the city.




Mary Wingfield Scott’s Old Richmond Neighborhoods

The one must-have book for anyone interested in the history and development of Richmond’s oldest neighborhoods.




Church Hill Old & Historic Districts Church Hill: The St. John’s Church Historic District

Bon Air, A History

Richmond’s Fan District

Richmond’s Monument Avenue

Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery

Some neighborhoods/districts have their own books with specific detail that you won’t see in the more broad histories. For the real geek enthusiast, get a copy of the DHR application printed and bound.



Mordecai’s Richmond in By-Gone Days

Samuel Mordecai’s 1856 book, “an invaluable resource”, surveyed over 150 years of Richmond’s history.



Silver and Moeser’s The Separate City: Black Communities in the Urban South, 1940-1968

“The districts in which southern blacks lived from the pre-World War II era to the mid-1960s differed markedly from those of their northern counterparts. The African-American community in the South was (and to some extent still is) a physically expansive, distinct, and socially heterogeneous zone within the larger metropolis. It found itself functioning both politically and economically as a “separate city” – a city set apart from its predominantly white counterpart. Examining the racial politics of such diverse cities as Atlanta, Richmond, and Memphis, Christopher Silver and John Moeser look at the interplay between competing groups within the separate city and between the separate city and the white power structure. They describe the effects of development policies, urban renewal programs, and the battle over desegregation in public schools. Within the separate city itself, internal conflicts reflected a structural divide between an empowered black middle class and a larger group comprising the working class and the disadvantaged. Even with these conflicts, the South’s new black leadership gained political control in many cities, but it could not overcome the economic forces shaping the metropolis. The persistence of a separate city admitted to the profound ineffectiveness of decades of struggle to eliminate the racial barriers with which southern urban leaders – indeed all urban America – continue to grapple today.”



Robert P Winthrop’s Cast and Wrought: The Architectural Metalwork of Richmond, Virginia

Richmond’s architectural cast iron is second only to that of New Orleans, yet it is hardly recognized. Over 130 porches and balconies, hundreds of yards of elaborate fencing, as well as scores of cast iron front buildings remain in the city today and make up the bulk of the city’s architectural metalwork.



T.Tyler Potterfield’s Nonesuch Place: A History of the Richmond Landscape

“Potterfield lays out that the 157 page book “is intended as a concise history of the landscape of Richmond”, or at least Richmond up until 1942 (the year that preperation began for Richmond’s first master plan). Given the patchwork growth of the city after 1742, the 1942 boundaries encompass the Richmond formed before the automobile changed everything.”



Scott C. Davis’s The World of Patience Gromes: Making and Unmaking a Black Community

“In 1970, Patience Gromes was an 83 year old widow who lived on State Street in Fulton, one of the poorest neighbourhoods of Richmond, Virginia. This non-fiction narrative traces the life of Patience Gromes, her family, her neighbours from the War between the States to the War on Poverty. Meet Patience’s grandfather who escaped slavery 14 years before the Civil War. Experience the hard years of Reconstruction, the cruelty of De Jure Segregation, the triumph of Civil Rights. Probe the complexities and ironies of neighbourhood life under urban renewal and the War on Poverty.”



Ben Campbell’s Richmond’s Unhealed History

“In a detailed look at the history of Richmond, Benjamin Campbell examines the contradictions and crises that have formed the city over more than four centuries.”

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