Much of the land that makes up Shockoe Bottom was part of Colonel William Mayo’s 1737 plan of Richmond. As a result, it’s one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods. Shockoe Bottom was the site of various key structures for Virginia’s thriving tobacco industry, including a public warehouse, tobacco scales, and the Federal Customs House. The neighborhood was also the center of Virginia's trade and commerce; its prime location along the James River allowed trading ships to dock and unload goods.
Yet because of Shockoe Bottom’s location along the James River, the area played a major role in American slavery. It was one of the largest slave trading centers in the United States, akin to New Orleans in Louisiana. The trade and sale of human beings drove Richmond’s economy.
Confederate soldiers burned much of Shockoe Bottom’s buildings and tobacco warehouses on the eve before Richmond fell to the Union Army, but the neighborhood quickly rebuilt in the late 1800s. The buildings that were built during this time period still stand today, and show a variant of the Italianate style, an architectural style that draws meshes elements from 16th-Century Italian Renaissance architecture with picturesque aesthetics.
The Edgar Allan Poe Museum is Shockoe Bottom’s most famous attraction and draws all sorts of literary and macabre fans. The museum opened in 1922 after 13 years of grassroots efforts to have Richmond honor the author. Even though the king of gloom and doom never stayed in the museum’s 18th Century building (but who knows, perhaps a raven quothed at him), the museum still serves as a celebration of Edgar Allen Poe’s residency in Richmond throughout his youth and adult life.
Post cover photo from Doug Kerr via Wikimedia Commons.