Southside Richmond History


English settlers arrived in what is present day Richmond in 1607 when Captain Christopher Newport planted a cross on the falls of the James River.  A monument to that cross planting stands today on the Richmond Canal Walk.  William Byrd I was awarded tracks on both sides of the James.  To the north of the River the area was known as “Shockoe” and to the south “the Mills.” A canal and two mills were built at the fall on the south side of the river.  In 1730 a ferry was built to run from the Mill’s to Rockett’s on the north side of the river.  This remained the only transportation across the river for over fifty years.

In 1769 the area was incorporated into the town of Manchester.  In the years leading up to the American Revolution, Manchester was a major market in the slave trade.  Because of the wharves and warehouses, Manchester was a staging area for American forces during the Revolution.  John Mayo was granted a charter in 1785 to build a bridge across the river was washed away several times and rebuilt.  When Confederate troops fled the City near the end of the Civil War, they burned the Mayo Bridge behind them. The bridge, located at the site of the current 14th street bridge was the only bridge to connect Manchester and Richmond until 1873.  It is still referred to as the Mayo Bridge.

When the James River and Kanawha Canal was built on the north side of the river, business in Manchester declined.  But as Manchester owned half of the rights to the river and many good locations were available for the building of mills, the lower taxes and land costs helped the economy to revive.

A Methodist group built the Old Plank Church, the first church in Manchester, in 1798.  By the early 1800s, Manchester was a major warehouse and industrial area along the James River.  “Turnpike Road” later to be renamed Hull Street was mapped from Chesterfield through Manchester to the Mayo Bridge.

By 1830, coal was important to the Manchester economy as coal was transported from mines in Midlothian to the Manchester port.  Coal was transported on a tramway powered by gravity, one of the first of this type in the country.  Mules pulled the empty cars back to the mines.  This system was used until 1856.  After the railroads came to Manchester in 1836, the area became and important commercial and industrial area.

After Reconstruction, Manchester had a period of growth and was a strong working class community relying on the trade, the mills and the transportation provided by both the river and the railroads.

Manchester was consolidated into the City of Richmond by an Act of the Virginia General Assembly in 1910.

There are many theories as to why Manchester was referred to as “Dog Town” with the most common being simply that everyone owned a dog.  But Major John Wright believed the name originated with students at John Marshall High School as Richmond and Manchester were consolidated right before the beginning of World War I.  He believed the term was not complimentary.


Manchester’s shipping factories were enlisted to support the efforts of World War I and the surrounding neighborhoods of Swansboro, Springhill, Woodland Heights and Forest Hill began to grow with the areas.  The expansion continued until the Great Depression.  During that time, the WPA built the original Robert E. Lee Bridge which connects to Cowardin Avenue on the south side of the James River.


Hull Street running through Manchester was a major retail strip until the 1960s when South Side Plaza Shopping Center developed further out toward Chesterfield.  That business continued its move westward with the construction of Cloverleaf Mall in the 1970s and later Chesterfield Towne Center.  Cloverleaf Mall saw continual declined and was eventually torn down and replaced by a Kroger superstore and other retail development.

Manchester is seeing an economic revival as businesses such as SunTrust are locating in the south side of the river and buildings along Hull Street are being renovated into apartments and condominiums.