Discover Petersburg, a Historic City in Southside Virginia

Author: Attorney Elizabeth Morrell Allen

Conveniently located at the intersection of Interstates 95 and 85 and Virginia Route 460, the City of Petersburg overlooks the falls of the Appomattox River just 25 miles south of Richmond, Virginia. Petersburg is an old city. Its origins date from the establishment of Bristol Parish in 1643 and Fort Henry in 1645-1646. The town itself was established in 1748. Before the Civil War, Petersburg was one of the largest cities in the South and derived much of its wealth from the tobacco trade.

Today, Petersburg beckons travelers headed south to the Sunbelt or north to the busy Northeast Corridor. It attracts local Virginians who want to learn more about their state’s rich and varied history. Petersburg has broad appeal.

The Civil War Buff Petersburg National Battlefield incorporates a variety of Civil War sites involved in the nine month siege of Petersburg. One of the Civil War’s best known battles happened here, the Battle of the Crater. Today you can see both the crater and the mine shaft Union soldiers dug to reach the Confederate line. The crater marks the spot where they lay the explosives and lit the fuse that caused a massive conflagration and a furious pitched battle. The fall of Petersburg on April 2, 1865 led directly to the end of the Civil War when General Robert E. Lee retreated from the city, yielding it to Union soldiers. He surrendered his army four days later at Appomattox Courthouse.

The Art Lover Petersburg’s greatest art treasures are the fifteen Tiffany windows which adorn Old Blandford Church. Commissioned by the Ladies’ Memorial Association of Petersburg to honor the Confederate soldiers buried nearby, Louis Comfort Tiffany and members of his studio designed and installed the windows from1901 to 1912. The thirteen Confederate states and several border states each sponsored a memorial window. The Ladies’ Memorial Association commissioned an additional window while Mr. Tiffany himself donated the fifteenth window, the resplendent “Cross of Jewels”.

Also worth a visit are two museums, Centre Hill Museum, with its display of nineteenth century decorative arts and the Siege Museum, which is housed in the ca. 1839 Exchange Building and showcases artifacts documenting the ten month siege of Petersburg.

The Preservationist For decades, admirers of historic houses and old commercial buildings have come to Petersburg seeking eighteenth and nineteenth century properties to buy and restore. Many of the buildings are ante-bellum. Others date from the latter part of the nineteenth century and display the ornamental flourishes and detail typical of the Victorian period. The inventory of buildings in need of renovation is substantial and best of all the prices are among the most reasonable on the East Coast.

The Military Historian At Fort Lee, a military installation sandwiched between Petersburg and Hopewell, more than 70,000 visitors a year tour the Quartermaster Museum which presents the history and heritage of the oldest logistic branch of the United States Army, the Quartermaster Corps. Exhibits describe the Corps’ present and former missions as well as its historical evolution.

A recent addition to Fort Lee’s tourist attractions is the United States Army Women’s Museum. It houses artifacts and archival material honoring the service of women in all branches and organizations of the U.S. Army.

The Revolutionary War Expert Because there was so much military activity in and around Petersburg during the Civil War, many people don’t know that the Virginia militia saw action in Petersburg during the Revolutionary War. On April 25, 1781, the British, led by Major General William Phillips, launched an attack on a greatly out-numbered Virginia unit commanded by Major General Frederick von Steuben. Although the militia lost the battle, its heroic stand gave Lafayette an extra day to prepare for a British assault on Richmond. Sadly, shortly after the engagement Major General Phillips contracted a sudden illness and died a few days later. He was buried secretly in Blandford Cemetery. The whereabouts of his grave is still unknown.

The Shopper A stroll through Old Towne can be a shopper’s delight. In the last decade, numerous specialty shops and antique stores have opened in downtown Petersburg, stores with names like Purple Passion, Second Hand Rose, River’s Edge Gifts and Antiques, Grateful Soles, and Chic Cheap Unique. Tired? Relax as you browse through Minerva’s Books on Bartow Alley. Take a break for lunch at Longstreet’s Delicatessen or enjoy a specialty coffee at Java Mio which presents live entertainment on Friday nights. If you’re in Petersburg for the monthly Friday with the Arts, eat dinner at the “British” pub, Brickhouse Run, enjoy South American fare at Andrade’s or eat at pizza at Maria’s on Old Street.

There’s something for everyone in Petersburg. Come visit!

About the Author: From 1988 to 2004, personal injury attorney Beth Allen served as a branch manager of Allen & Allen’s Petersburg, Virginia office.