“First, What kind of life was lived in this place, that is, Why and how did its builders build as they did?
And second, what rules with general validity and applicability did they follow?”
Carroll William Westfall, Learning From Pompeii.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Richmond, Virginia's City Docks: Antebellum Gateway to the City's Commerce

Richmond's City Docks, completed between 1816 and 1819, were a significant feat of engineering that provided the city with a large body of quiet water unaffected by tides, high water, and most storms, and that was accessible by ocean-going boats.
This important civic improvement helped Richmond maintain its place as one of the world's sources of fine flour and tobacco. Both were renowned for their quality and shipped around the world. Part of the City Docks still survive near the Great Ship Lock Park along the route of the present-day Kanawha Canal tour boats.

The Old Dock at Liverpool (1709-1715), shown in 1723, protected from the tides by wooden gates, was built to the designs of engineer Thomas Steers. It was the first commercial dock [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Dock].
A dock in contemporary British use was an enclosed area of water created by enclosing a natural tidal pool or stream mouth with an embankment or by excavation. When the level of water was controlled, it permitted quicker turn-around of cargo and dramatically increased the potential volume of trade.  Such docks had  first appeared in Britain with the opening of Thomas Steers Dock (the Old Dock) in Liverpool in 1715. This dock, key to the citys commercial success, was the world's first commercial wet dock, It was provided with gates at the entrance to keep the water level  and protect ships as they were loaded and unloaded. The dock was surrounded by warehouses and could hold as many as 100 ships.

Detail of 1738 plan of Town Dock, Boston, Mass., Boston Public Library.
The idea caught on in the colonies. Boston, Massachusetts had a Town Dock provided with a wharf next to the market as early as 1738, created by partially enclosing an inset known as Bendells Cove.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_of_Hull#   Maps showing the Old Dock in the city of Hull (1774) and later interconnected docks opening off the River Humber.

West India Docks: this engraving was published as Plate 92 of Microcosm of London (1810). It shows one side of one of the three large docks, lined with ships and five-story warehouses [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_India_Docks].
In 1773, the Corporation of the City of Hull and city merchants organized the "Dock Company" on the east coast of England. An act of Parliament gave the Hull organization authority to raise capital, making it the earliest dock company in Britain permitted by statute. Soon after, Georgian London and other British ports were marked by the expansion of docks, many of which  were surrounded with walls to prevent theft of goods.

The Richmond Dock Company

As Richmonds position as a center for manufacturing and trade improved in late eighteenth century, conditions for shipping and warehousing goods remained primitive. At early eighteenth-century Richmond, a miniscule port in comparison to Boston, small boats had long been accommodated at the well-known Rock Landing, located on the upstream side of Shockoe Creek just below the falls. Boats probably also could land behind the shelter of Chapel Island in the old channel of Shockoe Creek, which was reserved for the use of citizens as the commons of the city. The principal deep-water port was at Rocketts, immediately downstream from the city.


The Byrd Plat of 1737 shows Shockoe Creek (the narrow creek to the left of the town) flowing parallel to Cary Street, following the channel that would later be enclosed and edged with a stone embankment to form the City Dock of Richmond.


Youngs Map of Richmond, 1809. The map shows the mouth of Shockoe Creek near the west end of Chapel Island at the Rock Landing, the highest point where boats could land in the period before the construction of the City Dock. Here, boats were loaded with tobacco from William Byrds warehouses, located on the west side of the creek, beginning in the 1720s. The 1737 section of the city seen above is to the right side of this image.
Richmonds smooth functioning as a port was foremost in the mind of the Virginia General Assembly when it adjusted and expanded the rules governing the trustees of the town in 1773. The first duty of the trustees was to meet as often as they shall think necessary for appointing a public quay, and such places upon the river for public landings as they shall think most convenient, and if the same shall be necessary, shall direct the making of wharfs and cranes at such public landings for the public use [An Act, to establish and enlarge the power of the trustees of the town of Richmond, in the county of Henrico, and for other purposes. March, 1773, Ch. 6, 8 Stat. Lar. 65.5.] 

In 1780, the same patterns held: access to the Rock Landing, referred to variously as the Shockoe, upper, or Warehouse Landing, much obstructed of late by freshes, and by the natural course of Shockoe Creek being altered  by banks of sand which, if not quickly removed, may render the navigation to the upper landing useless for the profit of both the citizens of the town and the agricultural producers of the back country, was to be reopened by a company authorized to raise private investment for that purpose [An Act, for locating the Publick Squares, to enlarge the Town of Richmond, and for other purposes. May, 1780]. After the opening of the James River Canal in 1790 expanding the potential for shipping through the city, the limitations of the arrangements for loading the produce directly onto ships became increasingly apparent.

John Williamson, Part of plan of the city of Richmond embracing lots in basin of James River Canal and adjoining lots, 1793. Board of Public Works, Library of Virginia. This shows alternate paths for the canal to the new basin below Shockoe Hill and the steep outfall, not long before it was utilized as a power source by the Haxall Mills.
 The James River Company, chartered in 1785, ensured that tobacco, iron, coal, wheat, stone, lumber, and pork from the plantations to the west could be brought by boat directly into the heart of the city at the Great Basin. The canal permitted direct transport around the Falls of the James River for the special cargo boats called "batteaux". All produce that was brought around the falls was unloaded here and placed in warehouses, from which it could be taken by wagon through the city to the wharves downstream where larger ships could be tied up.

Addition of a great canal basin in 1793-95 had not only provided a location for shipping warehouses and wharves, but also supplied water to what would soon become a series of huge merchant flour and lumber mills, beginning with the opening of the massive Haxall Flour Mills in 1798. These produced fine white flour transported around the world as a result of an increase in wheat production in competition with tobacco in the areas west of Richmond.    

In 1816, flush economic conditions at the close of the war with Great Britain encouraged the city to consider improving access by sea-going ships, most of which at this time anchored just downstream at the city seagoing port of Rockets. Direct transfer by water of the citys flour and tobacco products could only be assured by the creation of an artificial harbor or wet dock.

In the European tradition of building sheltered docks to foster water transport, the Virginia Legislature passed a bill in 1816 permitting James River to be cleared from Rocketts as far as Mayos Bridge, and to admit boats into Shockoe Creek and as high in the river as Haxalls Mills [Christian 93]. At this time Ariel Cooley, a canal builder from Springfield, Massachusetts, who had been involved in developing navigation along the the Schulkyll in Philadelphia, was engaged to make locks between the basin and the river. According to Samuel Mordecai, he underestimated the power of the water that he set loose to open a channel to the river and the 13 rubble stone and wooden locks and gates for which he was paid $49,000 were so poorly made that they were sealed shut. New stone locks were opened in 1854 [Mordecai, Richmond in Bygone Days, 1856, 235-6].

The Richmond Dock Company opened its books to investors that same year, 1816, a year of great economic excitement in the city. The citys Common Hall purchased 1,000 shares in the company at a cost of fifty dollars per share. The dock appears to have been completed by 1819. Although the original vision of the James River Canal had been to link the canal terminus at the basin between Eighth and Eleventh Streets with the tidal river and the sea, this was not accomplished right away. The north-south streets of the city were extended south to the docks and a row of new squares laid out on the former city common, suitable for the construction of warehouses on the edge of the wharf. These were named for local and national figures such as Byrd, Washington, Franklin, Carrington, and Henry.


Detail, Plan of the Richmond Docks and James River from Rocketts to Warwick, 1818, Virginia Board of Public Works, Library of Virginia. The design for the new city dock is at the top and the port of Rockets at the bottom.  Mayos Bridge can be seen crossing the basin on its way to the south. Shockoe Creek appears to run under the basin and 18th Street passes over it.  The lower lock is parallel with 24th Street. North is to the right. The plan varies somewhat from what was built.
The new City Dock was laid out by an expert in canal construction who was personally familiar with the latest developments in British dock design. It was designed by the Board of Public Works Principal Civil Engineer Loammi Baldwin, Jr. (1780-1838). Baldwin was the son of Loammi Baldwin (1744-1807), an important early figure in American civil engineering and especially canal building. He designed and built the Middlesex Canal in Massachusetts between 1794 and 1803. Loammi Baldwin, Jr. assisted his father with the Middlesex Canal and soon after 1807 traveled to England to view public projects. He was active in Virginia between 1817 and 1820. The plan seen here was prepared by Baldwin in 1818 for the Board of Public Works shows the dock before construction began.  The dock consisted of two basins fed by a feeder from upstream and a canal to the south that entered the river by a series of locks. The was created by placing earthen embankments around the former route of Shockoe Creek on the north side of a strip of land known as Chapel Island, but originally connected at it west end to the north bank of the river.  Three basins, Upper, Middle, and Lower, were extended to the east and west with canals connecting to the Haxall Mill race above and the James River Below. A great deal of fill was required to extend the main dock basins out into the river in front of the old Rock Landing.

Youngs Map of c 1817 showing the proposed canal locks (at bottom center left) connecting the Upper, Middle, and Lower Basins of the City Dock (seen at left) with the Haxall Mill Canal, bringing water into the docks and permitting access to the flour production of the citys principal mill. The old (curved) and new (straight) paths of Shockoe Creek are both shown.

This proposed design for a new, larger dock between Mayos Island and the existing dock involves adding a new locks [one is shown at right]. The drawing documents the existing City Dock, the locks leading to the Canal Basin, and Mayos Bridge (and its bridge over the canal) in detail. North is to the bottom.  [Survey of the James river between the dock and the island, Virginia Board of Public Works,1829, Library of Virginia]. North is to the bottom of the drawing.

Detail of the City Dock as built showing how Shockoe Creek entered directly into the dock basin (bottom center) but was provided with a spillway on the opposite side for overflow during high water. [Survey of the James river between the dock and the island, Virginia Board of Public Works,1829, Library of Virginia].
The James River and Kanawha Company
The state assumed control of the James River Company in 1820. The James River and Kanawha Company, organized in 1835 to connect the trans-Appalachian West with the Chesapeake Bay by means of a canal, took control of the canal above the falls at Richmond. The canal was extended to Lynchburg in 1840 and the Valley of Virginia in 1851.  The canal scheme was under constant pressure to expand the access for both shipping and water power below the falls. The Virginia Board of Public Works undertook a study for another unexecuted enlargement of the docks in 1836 to accommodate as many as 120 ships in a great new dock beside Mayos Bridge. This dock, protected by an earthen wall, was kept filled by ponding the entire river behind a dam that extended across the river parallel to 16th Street. A wide ship canal led from the south side of the pond to enter the river at Warwick, where the river allowed passage for ships of greater size. The plan for a ship canal was never executed.

The canal was enlarged in several stages, from an average initial depth of 3 1/2 feet and width of 40 feet. The canal as far as Lynchburg and including the portion running through the city, was expanded in the late 1830s to five feet in depth and fifty feet in width. Water management and sufficient supply remained a contentious factor between the canal company and the manufacturers who leased the rights [Michael Raber et al., Historical and Archeaological Assessment, Tredegar Iron Works Site, Richmond Virginia, report for the Valentine Museum and Ethyl Corp, 1992].

 Detail, Map and Profile of a Ship Canal from Richmond to Warwick Being the Proposed Plan for the Connexion of the James River and Kanawha Improvement with Tide Water, 1841.  Virginia Board of Public Works. Library of Virginia.
In 1841, the canal company purchased the Richmond Dock Companys property. New plans drawn up in 1841 called for a new canal to run from the arsenal along a new embankment at the river edge, bypassing the old basin and suggesting that the north side of the river would be extended far enough to the south to encompass Mayos Island.  This was never executed.

Map of Part of the City of Richmond showing the James River and Kanawha Canal, 1841, Board of Public Works, Library of Virginia. A proposed route for a branch of the canal is through Mayos Island.    
Instead, the canal company improved and enlarged the city dock to accommodate larger ships by 1845. The ship canal was lengthened and the lowest lock moved east to 26th Street. From 1849 to 1851, the dock was greatly enlarged, five granite locks replaced the old wooden locks in a line paralleling Canal Street up the steep hill to the Great Basin of the canal (the fourth and fifth survive in place). Turning basins were added between 9th and 14th streets; the Great Ship Lock was built further east of the dock, in line with 28th Street, between 1850 and 1854. The new facilities greatly improved transportation to and from the city.  Between 1855 and 1860, the Richmond Dock Company reported that the number of vessels leaving the dock increased from 1,377 to 2,337, including packets for New York, Boston, and Baltimore.

Mijacah Bates Map shows the form of a portion of the City Dock in 1835., including the entry lock next to 26th Street. Comparison with earlier maps indicates that the original ship canal ended in a lock at 23rd Street, where the canal widens. This map makes it clear that the canal was lengthened and the ship lock rebuilt between the initial construction and the rebuilding about 1850 (see below).

Map showing the fully developed City Dock complex of pools, locks, drawbridges, and basins just before the Civil War [Adams, I.H. Map of the City of Richmond, Virginia, 1858, published 1864].
As part of the new design, Shockoe Creek can be seen to pass in a culvert beneath the canal. The former site of the Rock Landing is where the Gas Works is shown. At about this time, the area at the north end of Chapel Island as far as the mouth of Shockoe Creek was expanded into the river. It incorporated a small island called Mayo Island and Toll House Island on the Board of Public Works plans of 1818 and 1829, as well as the riverside ground occupied by the Vauxhall pleasure garden. The edge of the reclaimed land was protected by a substantial granite embankment and housed the Richmond and Danville Railroad yard and terminal.

New warehouses were built into the bank beside the renovated stone wharf of the City Dock, beginning in the mid-1840s, to receive goods and produce. In particular, a series of fourteen large brick warehouses was built between the dock and Cary Street, just as in other urban docks, by a private investor, John Enders, for lease or resale to others. The three that were used for the famous Libby Prison were at one end of the long block, most of which burned soon after they were built. Enders and Gen. J.B. Harvie were active in the building of the dock. Other warehouses and tobacco factories were constructed on nearby blocks, which was transformed into an industrial district. When, after 1880, the train replaced the canal along the north bank of the river, the industrial tissue was renewed on a larger scale with the long row of tobacco factories filling the squares between Main and Cary Street.

Libby Prison (one of Enders Warehouses) and the City Dock from Benson J. Lossing. Harpers Encyclopedia of the United States, vol. 7, 1912.

Detail, A. Hoen and Co, City of Richmond, Virginia from Manchester ,1876. A range of boats in various positions are seen behind the embankment of the City Dock. The gap towards the right is the outflow of Shockoe Creek during periods of high rainfall [Valentine Museum].

Enders Warehouses in the City Dock after the Civil War.

This view from Harpers Magazine in 1863, shows the dramatic slowdown in traffic during the war years. Mayos Bridge and the mills are seen in the distance.

Another view of boats pulled up at the wide wharf along the north side of the City Dock also shows the line of warehouses to the north and the vast mill structures to the immediate west [Richmond Quay, London Illustrated News 1862].

The Virginia Steam Sugar Refinery was opened at 17th and Dock Street on the City Dock in 1860. Boats, both steam- and sail-powered, are seen taking on cargo in this advertising card published many years later in a city paper, c. 1938.

Detail, Beers Map of Richmond, 1876. Mayos Warehouse is seen here next to the railroad depot.

The City Dock in the late nineteenth century, showing a sea-going ship and the revolving bridge that carried 17th Street over the canal [City on the James, 1893].

This illustration shows the opposite end of the 17th Street bridge and the railroad depot that was built on added fill between the river and the dock. It permitted the ready movement of goods between ships and trains [City on the James, 1893].
With the closure of the canal in 1878, the City Dock was acquired by the Richmond and Alleghany Railroad. The railroad later sold it to the William R. Trigg Company, which developed a ship-building industry along the south side of the dock on Chapel Island. The Trigg Compnay specialized in the building of boats for industry and of torpedo boats and destroyers for the government, which they launched from the side into the canal. The company employed two thousand workers and occupied as much as a mile of the ship canal. After the death of William R. Trigg in 1902, with three boats under contract, the business failed and the company went into receivership. The city acquired the dock facilities east of Seventeenth Street in 1912, built new warehouses, and attempted unsuccessfully to re-establish the city as a major port [Mordecai, John Brooke in Richmond, Capital of Virginia, 1938, 274-275, 283-284].  

View on board deck of USS Dale while bring outfitted at Trigg Shipyard, 1902 [Naval Historical Center]. The three-masted schooner John S. Beacham is on the other side of Dale. They appear to be located below the Great Ship Lock.

Launching of a destroyer at the Trigg Shipyards [VCU Library]. The launching of the USS Shubrick in 1899 brought President William McKinley to Richmond.