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76 Years of Neighborhood Tours!

The Claiborne Robins, Jr. Director of Public Programs Liz Reilly-Brown discusses the history of the Valentine’s neighborhood tours.

FIC.031797; “Carrington Row Tour”; Oct 28 1967; The Richmond Times-Dispatch

In the fall of 1942, the Valentine and historic preservation champion Mary Wingfield Scott launched a series of walking tours exploring Richmond. The Valentine had recently opened the exhibition Old Richmond Neighborhoods, a project that grew out of Scott’s efforts to document the city’s vulnerable historic neighborhoods and architecture. These early walking tours brought Richmond citizens together to explore their city, visiting areas such as Gamble’s Hill, Church Hill, Oregon Hill, Jackson Ward and Hollywood Cemetery.

Tours were among the methods utilized by Scott to spread the gospel of historic preservation. Scott educated residents about important examples of architecture and historic places in their own backyards, sites she believed were in need of saving from ongoing threats of demolition, disrepair and development.

V.85.37.4033; “Group Tours Restoration Project in Church Hill”; 1972; The Richmond Times-Dispatch

Thus, the Valentine’s tour program was born (though not always offered consistently and stewarded for a time by Historic Richmond Foundation). Today, the museum continues Scott’s work by providing Richmonders with opportunities to explore their city by foot, bus and bike, with the goal of sharing diverse stories of Richmond residents and exploring the ever-changing landscape.

In my personal experience organizing the tour program, some of the most rewarding moments have occurred spontaneously as tour takers share their own stories. On a tour of Battery Park last spring, our group discussed the shifting demographics of the neighborhood in the last seventy years, and two attendees recalled their personal experiences during school desegregation. They soon discovered that they were former elementary school classmates, one white and one black.

2018 will mark 76 years since the first Valentine walking tours, and we have many exciting things in the store for the coming season.  Favorite tours will be back, such as Hollywood Cemetery, our downtown City Center Walks and beloved areas like Church Hill, Jackson Ward and Scotts Addition. New additions to our tour program will take attendees to different parts of the city and provide new perspectives, such as a stroll along the Floodwall exploring the history of Richmond and the James River, a walk through the Broad Street Arts District, a tour and work day at Evergreen Cemetery and an exploration of Carytown’s LGBTQ+ history.

We hope that by continuing to explore our city and unearth the important stories of its residents, we honor the legacy of Mary Wingfield Scott, and the numerous people who have contributed to the diversity, culture and history of Richmond.

On behalf of the Valentine, I invite you to join us for tours, April through December. More info can be found at thevalentine.org/tours.

Liz Reilly-Brown is the Claiborne Robins, Jr. Director of Public Programs at the Valentine

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