Virginia's Chesterfield County: Historic & Natural
Halfway between Richmond and Petersburg, Chesterfield County, Virginia has figured for centuries in the history of the state. In 1619, Thomas Dale founded the city of Henricus on a neck of land known today as Farrars Island. Dale had the noble intention of establishing a college where whites and Indians would learn side by side. Sadly, three years later the town of three streets was destroyed by Indians who did not welcome settlers.
In 1634, King James established “shires”, or counties, in Virginia. Chesterfield County split off from Henrico County in 1749, with the county seat at Chesterfield Courthouse where it has remained to this day. During the eighteenth century, coal from local mines provided power for the manufacture of cannon, helping to defeat the British in the Revolutionary War.
During the Civil War, Confederates built defensive works near Petersburg that extended far into Chesterfield County. Battles were fought at Drewry’s Bluff, an important point of contention in the struggle for naval supremacy. Railroads, built in Chesterfield County before 1861, later proved instrumental in the fall of Richmond and the Union victory. Get the details and more at www.chesterfieldhistory.com.
With a comparatively mild four-season climate and a location along the James River, Chesterfield County draws pleasure-seekers and outdoor enthusiasts. There are almost twenty developed parks in Chesterfield County, where residents and visitors may paddle, picnic, play sports or commune with nature. At Chester Linear Park, a former railroad right-of-way has become a hiking trail, while at Harry G. Daniel Park therapeutic fitness walks draw wellness proponents. Those toting canoes and kayaks head for Robius Landing Park, situated in a wooded area along the James River. Here, boat slides make launching non-powered craft a breeze, while a floating dock and fishing access promise entertainment for swimmers and anglers. Rockwood Nature Center at Rockwood Park highlights work by local artists and is the only county-run facility.
Nearby Richmond National Battlefield concentrates on the bloody fray between the states. Because Virginia was the home of the Confederate government, stakes were exceptionally high here and both sides brought unusual intensity to their land and naval battles. In April, 1865, shortly before his death, President Abraham Lincoln visited Richmond. A walking tour through the park commemorates his route.
One of Chesterfield County’s most enduring institutions is Virginia State University, founded in 1883 and America’s first historically African-American four-year college. With 4000 students, Virginia State offers 27 undergraduate and 13 graduate programs on its spacious campus in Petersburg. Prospective students are always welcome to tour the campus or sit in on classes, provided they call or go to www.vsu.edu to make the arrangements.
The Chesterfield Theatre and the Swift Creek Mill Playhouse present live plays and musicals throughout the year. Nearby Richmond offers the kid-friendly Metro Zoo featuring a genuine white tiger and an exhibit of nocturnal animals such as sloths and bats. Also in Richmond, the Ice Zone stays open for ice skating and hockey all year.
Elsewhere in Chesterfield County, eight golf courses serve up plenty of playing room. There are two paintball parks for mock warriors. NASCAR fans take pride in Southside Speedway, a one-third mile oval known as “the toughest short track in the South.” Here, up to 4000 fans and families can gather for fiercely competitive NASCAR races every Friday night between April and September. Check schedules and drivers at www.southsidespeedway.com.
Chesterfield County’s central location and easy access via Highway 360 make it a natural for events, and in fact there is something going on every month. History buffs may take van tours of notable Civil War sites or hike the Appomattox River. Domestic types will love the “Colonial Hearth” class that demonstrates how to cook and serve favorite dishes of pre-Revolutionary days. If your youngsters have been pestering St. Nick, sign them up for the “Letter from Santa,” which lets kids talk to or receive mail from that legendary resident of the North Pole. During the “Colonial Christmas” celebration, interpreters in period costume answer questions about daily life four hundred years ago. For gardeners, the “Heirloom Tomato Workshops” offered in the summer months help demystify the vintage fruit and its cultivation. See http://www.chesterfield.gov/events for more information.