The Carillon in Byrd Park, Richmond, VA

The Carillon, Richmond, VA – photo: Tonya Rice

Standing high within the beauty of Byrd Park in Richmond’s West End, visible from various driveways of the city, is the Commonwealth of Virginia’s first memorial to Virginians who served in World War I: The Carillon. An illustrious landmark, this campinale is a beloved gathering area for local residents and visitors.

In 1924, several years after the end of the First World War, the General Assembly formed the World War Memorial Commission to determine the best way to honor those men and women. The City of Richmond donated an area of Byrd Park, located at the southern end of Blanton Avenue. After a lot of public discussion, which changed the initial proposal, construction on the tower began in 1931. It was completed in 1932.

On October 15, 1932, The Carillon was formally dedicated to the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Ralph Adams Cram, a noted Boston architect, had designed the structure, which stands at 240 feet. Cram was a favorite architect to the city, as he had also designed several buildings at the University of Richmond, which featured his trademark Gothic style. The bell instrument was designed by Taylor’s Bell Foundry, the world’s largest bell foundry. Known at the time of The Carillon’s construction as John Taylor Bellfounders Ltd, this company also cast Great Britain’s largest bell in St. Paul’s Cathedral of London.

At set intervals, the bells chime melodic patriotic hymns which sound throughout the park. Concerts at the Carillon usually take place on patriotic holidays, such as Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, Flag Day and Labor Day. Most notably is the Fourth of July celebration with fireworks and the Richmond Concert Band. In the spring, the Carillon Civic Association hosts the renowned “Arts in the Park”, which helps to introduce the work of many national artists and artisans to the area.

The tower is a welcoming presence in the park and to its neighborhood residents. At the edge of a grass mall are crepe myrtles donated by the James River Garden Club. Other trees line the mall and the long, brick walkway. Quaint marble benches commemorate the gesture of 1937.


Prominently and sacredly featured is the grand star leading to the front of the Carillon which was laid in honor of the Gold Star Mothers. Their sons and daughters served from 1917 to 1918.

Visitors are welcome to climb the steps of the tower. Once visitors get closer, they will notice the ornate cast of the Virginia seal. Those marble steps lead to the imposing balcony which provides a dramatic panoramic view of the park and neighborhood. Lined by a stylish balustrade, the balcony allows one to take in the striking details much more closely as well as the opportunity to rest and take in the breathtaking view of the park from one of the benches along the walls.

Behind the tower is the Ha’Penny Stagewhere movies and plays are held. Also, next

Dogwood Dell amphitheatre, Richmond, VA – photo: Tonya Rice

to the tower is the beloved Dogwood Dell Amphitheatre, where many concerts and plays are performed. After World War II, the annual Christmas production of “The Nativity” began on the steps of The Carillon; each year it is held on December 23rd at 7:00 p.m.

This coming Fourth of July, bring your picnic basket, blanket, and/or folding chairs and enjoy the Independence Day celebration, featuring music by the Richmond Concert Band and fireworks, all for free! Events begin at 6:00 p.m.

Originally posted on November 11, 2010 on examiner dot com.

For immediate publishing updates, please stop by my website and sign up for my newsletter. My thanks to you is a FREE story – Without Your Goodbye!


The Robert E. Lee Monument – The First Monument of Monument Avenue, Richmond, VA

The Robert E. Lee Monument, Richmond, VA – Photo: Tonya Rice

The first monument erected on Richmond’s Monument Avenue was the Robert E. Lee Monument. Located in Lee Circle (within the intersection now known as Allen Avenue and Monument Avenue), the statue, commemorating the South’s Lost Cause, was unveiled on May 29, 1890 to much fanfare and controversy. The Lee Monument has been a vital focal point of the city’s landscape since its dedication that day. For many years, until recently, it was featured as the city’s logo.

The decision to erect a monument to honor General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia during the Civil War, had been discussed among leaders of the former Confederate states since his death in 1870. Under the management of the Lee Monument Association, Governor Fitzhugh Lee (General Lee’s nephew), and other state

The Robert E. Lee Monument, Richmond, VA (Intersection of Monument and N. Allen Avenues) – Photo: Tonya Rice

officials, progress was made towards development. By 1887, a location for the monument was determined. Otway S. Allen, owner of the area just outside the city limits west of Richmond, offered a parcel of his land.

Renowned French sculptor, Marius-Jean-Antonin Mercié, whose work includes the Francis Scott Key Monument in Baltimore, was commissioned to design the monument. His elaborate marble and bronze depiction of Lee atop of his beloved horse, Traveller, was accepted by Association members and other associates close to the project. The equestrian statue stands sixty-feet high, including the pedestal. City Engineer C.P.E. Bergwyn, who also worked as the consulting engineer for the Association, designed the plans surrounding the statue and further development of the area to include sidewalks and trees along the planned street expansion.

As the country strove to reunite within the first twenty-five years after the war ended,

The Robert E. Lee Monument, Richmond, VA – Photo: Tonya Rice

controversy regarding the close involvement of the statue from Richmond and the Commonwealth to honor a Confederate general erupted. Municipal funding was provided for a portion of the monument as well as improvements to the lot around Lee Circle, escalating concern that Richmond may have preferred to return to the antebellum era. John Mitchell, Jr., one of the first black councilmen in Richmond and the editor of the Richmond Planet, declared the venture to be a treacherous act. Additional debates involved the city’s fiscal backing of a project outside of the city limits. In 1892, the monument was brought into the city via annexation.

The Robert E. Lee Monument Circle, Richmond, VA – Photo: Tonya Rice

On the morning of the statue’s dedication, a parade over four miles long, led by Governor Lee, took place through the city to Lee Circle. Thousands of people, including veterans of the Civil War, from across the country visited the former Confederate capital to witness this long-awaited event. Colonel Archer Anderson, whose father headed Tredegar Iron Works, was chosen as the principal speaker of the dedication. In his speech (later published as “Robert Edward Lee: An Address Delivered at the Dedication of the Lee Monument” in the Southern Historical Society Papers), Colonel Anderson expressed his admiration for Lee, as well as encouraging gatherers to regard the monument as “not a record of civil strife, but as perpetual protest against whatever is low and sordid in our public and private objects!”

Soon thereafter, former Confederate general Joseph E. Johnston pulled the cord to remove the enormous cover and Richmond received the Lee Monument.

Originally posted on April 13, 2011 on examiner dot com. 

The Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site in Richmond, Virginia

MLW1 (3)
The Maggie L. Walker House, Richmond, VA | Photo by Tonya Rice

The home of Maggie L. Walker, formally known as The Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site, is located at 110 ½ Leigh Street in Richmond’s Jackson Ward. It has been a part of the National Park Service since 1978 and opened as a public museum in 1985. Preservation of her home as a national landmark presents an esteemed honor and tribute to this African-American woman who, at the turn of the 20th century, emerged as one of the nation’s most astute and influential business leaders.

Maggie Lena Mitchell Walker was born in 1867 to a former slave in the home of Elizabeth Van Lew in Church Hill. The site is now the location of Bellevue Elementary School. Van Lew, a member of a prominent local family and staunch abolitionist, was a spy for the Union forces during the Civil War. Young Maggie was a member of First African Baptist Church in Court End. After her father died, she worked with her mother collecting and delivering laundry for white customers. At this time, she noticed the economic and employment disparities between whites and blacks in the city. This discovery compelled her to later help blacks fiscally improve their lives.

At the age of fourteen, she joined the Independent Order of St. Luke, a benevolent society formed in Baltimore after the Civil War to aid blacks during times of illness and funeral needs. During this time, she taught school and studied accounting at night. After she married Armstead Walker, she stopped teaching, yet continued her mission with I.O. St. Luke and elevated through the ranks of the organization. By 1899, she was elected to its highest position, Right Worthy Grand Secretary of St. Luke, and had later risen to Secretary-Treasurer. Under Mrs. Walker’s skilled leadership, the organization grew into a successful financial institution. To help blacks become economically stronger, she chartered the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank in 1902 under I.O. St. Luke. She became, not only the country’s first black woman bank president, but the nation’s first woman bank president as well. The bank was located at First and Marshall Streets in Jackson Ward. By 1920, over six hundred homes had been financed for African-Americans in the area by the bank, helping to decrease a factor of economic disproportion she witnessed as a child. In 1930, the bank merged with two other black-owned banks forming Consolidated Bank and Trust. For several years, she remained the president of this financial institution, which at one time had several locations in the Richmond and Hampton Roads areas. In 2011, Consolidated Bank and Trust was closed.

In addition to her efforts with I.O. St. Luke, Mrs. Walker also served on several boards of other local organizations such as the Richmond Chapter of the NAACP and the National Association of Colored Women. In 1936, the second public high school in the city for blacks was built and named after her. It closed in 1989 and reopened in 1998 as the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School for Government and International Studies.

Mrs. Walker and her family purchased the house in 1904. The Italianate-style townhouse

MLW1 (2)
The Maggie L. Walker House, Richmond, VA | Photo by Tonya Rice

was built in 1889 by George Boyd, an African-American contractor. It’s a two-story brick structure, which they had updated and renovated by the distinguished black architect Charles T. Russell. Russell designed many homes and businesses in the area. He also renovated Ebenezer Baptist Church on Leigh Street. Her home was expanded to twenty-eight rooms and they added electricity and modern heating units. To accommodate Mrs. Walker as her health declined, Russell later added an elevator. Mrs. Walker remained there until her death in 1934.

MLW1 (1)
The Maggie L. Walker House, Richmond, VA | Photo by Tonya Rice

Sitting in the middle of “Quality Row”, the erstwhile term for the 100 block of Leigh Street, where many affluent blacks of the early, bustling 20th century resided, the home is recognized by the prominent green and white striped awning. Jackson Ward was a very vibrant, busy, and economically sound neighborhood and the Walker family cherished it. Many of the other homes of the block are also noted as a part of the National Park Service, and they’ve been renovated to reflect the charm and prominence of the era. It is a beautiful home, replicating the Walker family lifestyle of the 1930s, exhibiting their furnishings and décor.

Visit The Maggie L. Walker Historic Site. It’s a great opportunity to view a film reflecting the times of Richmond during Mrs. Walker’s life and receive a guided tour of her residence. There is also a gift shop.

Hours of operation are:

  • Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., (Winter Hours: November 1 through February 28);
  • Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., (Summer Hours: March 1 through October 31).

House is closed on Sundays, New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day.

Originally posted on April 15, 2011 on examiner dot com. This article has since been updated.

The Serenity of Monumental Church, Richmond, Virginia


Monumental Church, Richmond, Virginia. Photo: Tonya Rice

During a performance on the night after Christmas, 1811, fire destroyed the Richmond Theatre, killed many citizens, and left this city in mourning. Those who were left dazed by the sudden horrors they’d witnessed and survived acknowledged the heroic efforts of a local slave, Gilbert Hunt. Standing outside of a window under flames and falling debris, Hunt caught several women who were handed to him by Dr. James McCaw, a local physician. Before the building nearly collapsed around them, Hunt pulled McCaw to safety; miraculously, they escaped.

The city arranged to purchase the site and agreed to bury the victims, many of whom were charred or reduced to ashes, at the site. Their remains were placed in two mahogany coffins. It was soon decided to commemorate the lives of those lost by erecting a church over them.

Robert Mills, Thomas Jefferson’s sole architectural student, laid out the plans of this

Monumental Church, Richmond, Virginia. Photo: Tonya Rice

Greek Revival structure. Mills later designed the Washington Monument and the White House of the Confederacy. When the church opened in 1814, it was known as Monumental Episcopal Church and remained such until 1965. Chief Justice John Marshall and a young Edgar Allan Poe were a couple of its well-known parishioners.

The names of the dead are engraved on the memorial stone of the portico, as well as on the tablet next to the entrance of the church.

The VCU Medical Center (formerly Medical College of Virginia) has fully developed around the church. However, while standing inside the cast iron fence and the grounds, it’s easy to ignore the massive structures that now encapsulate it as well as the hustle and bustle of Broad Street that pass by.

The area creates a quiet, serene environment, so one is poised to stop and respect the purpose of the memorial. In 1814, the city decided to mark the resting area of those lost so suddenly and violently; today, those grounds continue to direct reverence.

In 1969, the church, located at 1224 E. Broad Street, was noted as a National Historic Landmark by the National Register of Historic Places. It is now owned by the Historic Richmond Foundation.

Originally posted on September 11, 2010 on

The Aluminum Statue of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson in Richmond, Virginia

Bill “Bojangles” Robinson Statue, Richmond, VA – Photo: Tonya Rice

Bill “Bojangles” Robinson (1878-1949), believed by many to be the best tap dancer of all time, hailed from Richmond’s Jackson Ward. Also known as Shirley Temple’s dancing partner in such movies as The Little Colonel (1935) and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938), Mr. Robinson left a legacy that extends beyond the cameras of Hollywood. In his hometown, his memory is fondly revered; a statue now stands in his honor at the intersection of Adams Street and Leigh Street in Jackson Ward. Made of aluminum donated by the Richmond-based Reynolds Metals Company in 1973, it celebrated his love for children by marking the spot where he paid for a traffic light to be installed, during the 1930s, to protect those who walked to and from Armstrong High School, located across from the busy area.

The “Bojangles” Memorial Fund Committee of the local Astoria Beneficial Club lena,bojangles,cab - stormyweathercommissioned John Temple Witt to create the statue. Witt was a local sculptor and art professor at Randolph-Macon College in nearby Ashland. The sculpture captures the engaging image of a smiling Mr. Robinson dancing down a flight of stairs. On the plaque of the sculpture’s front base, Mr. Robinson’s humanitarian efforts are honored with the words: Dancer, Actor, Humanitarian, Native Son of Richmond; Internationally Famous Actor and Dancer Rendered Many Kindnesses to the Citizens of Richmond.

The iconic “Bojangles” statue of a shiny, silver hue is situated on a parcel of land of the intersection designated by the city to accommodate the monument, aptly called “Robinson Square”. In spite of its location in the middle of a constantly active intersection, it’s a welcoming environment featuring brick walking areas,

Bill “Bojangles” Robinson statue, Richmond, VA – Photo: Tonya Rice

floral landscaping, and park benches. A water fountain for horses and smaller domestic animals donated to the city by the National Humane Alliance in 1938 was relocated to the area. The committee members who shaped this tribute are also noted on a plaque on the rear base. They are Carroll W. Anderson, (Chairman), Marion Robertson (Vice-Chairman), George Taylor (Recording Secretary), Herbert H. Johnson, (Financial Secretary), J. Carroll Beard (Treasurer), Wesley T. Carter, Richard W. Foster, Willie L. Loving, Reginald M. Dyson, Bernard L. Jones, and Powell B. Williams. Each year, a festival takes place on the fourth Saturday in June to commemorate the unveiling of the statue dedicated to one of Richmond’s favorite sons.

Originally posted on September 27, 2010 on

What Did for Me

M and R Clock
Miller & Rhoads clock at The Valentine. Photo: Tonya Rice

By the time sent their email on July 1, 2016 to the company’s “Examiners” to announce they were shutting down “on or about” July 10, 2016, I had already drifted away quite a bit from my workload as the Richmond Landmarks and Historic Districts Examiner. That stint was a natural choice for me, but I can’t say I really knew it at the time until I had begun. My mom instilled me with quite an interest in my city’s history. I guess as an elementary school teacher, she gave me that sense of nostalgia I still get from past field trips as a kid to various places around here, as well as in current strolls through places I love to share with my children.

It began without much fanfare. One night a few years ago, I’d stumbled on the site by way of another site, as you do, and noticed they had a list of openings. I sent my letter of interest to them for the historic districts writer spot and was immediately accepted. I was beyond thrilled. Not only that, I was beyond terrified. That meant writing for other people. I had not yet ventured really into the realm of writing online. As much as I wanted desperately to become a novelist, I realize now that I feared having my writing sent out into the world. I love to read. There’s always a book with me. I went to one of the top colleges known for its strong creative writing programs. But I’d graduated decades earlier and had accumulated enough time to settle into the space of thinking that I’ll just dream of having my books along the shelves with my favorite authors. That I’ll just write and share my work with a selected few if any.

About a week after I got the examiner title – it wasn’t really what one would actually call a “position” – I grabbed my kids, my camera, and we played tourist. We took photos of places around town and I later did research on the spots. I’ve got a collection of Richmond history books already, but I needed others. I’d gotten some from the library and the internet proved helpful in some cases. My first article, “The Aluminum Statue of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson”, was soon written, then posted,  and I was on a roll. When I got to the area where much of my family grew up before I was born – the once-renowned “Harlem of the South”, Jackson Ward – something jiggled my spirit. Voices of relatives long gone began talking to me. Some I remembered hearing firsthand as a child, others I remembered hearing about as a child. I walked through their haunts to hear them clearly and I relished every moment.

Years ago, I had a story come to mind as a result of those voices I’d had the chance of hearing back then. I pushed the tale aside. I can’t say I really ever thought I’d sit down to write it or if it would just be in my head talking to me for the rest of my life. About that time I joined a local writing group, Agile Writers, and the story began to form and take an interesting shape. My confidence in writing as a result of had increased. I grew comfortable about having an audience for my fiction. My comfort level with writing online developed so much, I joined Twitter and even created an Facebook page for my work. In addition to that, I created two blogs: this one and “Goosepimply Allover” – in which I share my personal connection to classic films; and I wrote three novellas, each set in Richmond!

A few years before then, I’d begun working on my Master’s in English. After some time away from my studies for a little while, I returned to my graduate school with a new major. In March of this year, I received my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. My thesis is that historical novel based upon the voices I’ve been hearing from my ancestors and their contemporaries in Jackson Ward from the 1930s on. Yay! To make sure I’m my work is as authentic as possible with regards to events and dates and such, important concepts in historical fiction, no doubt, I took the time to scroll through microfilm of old newspapers at the Library of Virginia. That was such exhilarating work! That place is MY Kings Dominion!

I’ll continue to play Peter Parker in my hometown snapping pictures and divvy up research on various spots and areas. The voices of my thesis will never leave me as long as I do this and I crave the connection. In fact, I have another historical novel brewing in my head as a result of all this research. I love learning it and I love sharing it.

Shoes and hat box from Montaldos, at The Valentine. Photo: Tonya Rice

So, looking back, while I only earned about $30.00 from in my six years with them, I realize that I earned so much more than money. I gained confidence in my writing and even discovered my value as a writer in this world. I always knew it was what I wanted to do. It made me do it and I am extremely grateful to them for that.

To those of you who’ve continued to stick by my Richmond Landmarks and Historic Districts Facebook page and to my new fans of the page – a huge heartfelt Thank You! I appreciate your support very much! The current links to my articles are now dead – HOWEVER, I will soon repost my work along with new posts about different areas in town. I’m still an Examiner of my hometown, so the fan page name will remain.

Filling in the Blanks – Research for my historical novel

by Tonya Rice

Recently, I finally made it to the Library of Virginia to fill in some of the blanks left in my novel. It sounds like a trek across state lines, but for me, it wasn’t. It’s in downtown Richmond, about a fifteen to twenty minute drive from home. I had to plan the time and the days I made it offered the moments I required. I have to return soon, but for the most part, I got pretty much what I need for this book AND the other historical stories shaping in my head.

I’ve been there before. It had been a while; I had to renew my card. :-/ No problem at all – it’s the research geek’s paradise and I fit right in.

My novel has been built upon memory, oral history, and a great deal of imagination. Authenticity is very important to me and with tackling a historical piece set in my hometown, I’m sure there will be readers familiar with Richmond history with equally scrutinizing eyes who will expect a fine sense of some type of accuracy along with my creative license.

Back in the mid-70’s, a pivotal event happens to the main characters. All I could see was the two of them standing on the steps of a particular building. However, I needed to know if the building was indeed there on that particular day. Of all the things you can find online, that was one that I couldn’t. Not even through Wikipedia (which one must take with a grain of salt anyway). So, I approached one of the reference librarians who went straight to a book with the information I needed. Walking around the stacks pertaining to Richmond’s history, which included city directories of oh-so-many years, I exclaimed, “This is a wonderland”. She laughed and agreed. It felt so nice to be understood. Armed with my new information – the building in question didn’t exist then – I had to determine just where their activity on that day would have taken place instead. For that, I simply asked my mom.

By Smash the Iron Cage (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
A different building in the city that I had envisioned another character driving to in the late 1950’s needed verification of its existence at that time. For that, I decided to search the microfilm for advertisements and sure enough, there it was – a full-page ad in an old Richmond Times-Dispatch. At one point, I needed the name of a building of a college campus. I couldn’t just add it to the book – I needed to make sure it was actually there in the mid-1970’s. I got a hold of the college’s student handbook of that year and found what I needed. This place is AWESOME!

In an important moment of my story set in the 1970’s, a character is watching television. Since dates are noted in the book, it was absolutely crucial that the show she had on represented just what was on the air at that time. I remembered the beloved “Green Section” – the Saturday pull-out television section – of the now-defunct Richmond News Leader (it used to be our evening newspaper) and jotted it down to locate in my research. Through my search across those scores of the newspaper’s microfilm, I, again, found just what I was looking for.

In the late 1930’s, there’s a horrific event that I penned. In order to make sure I tackled the reporting of the incident the way I imagined it to be in a particular newspaper, I combed through headlines of the old Richmond Planet, the black newspaper, of that period. I was on par and therefore relieved. There’s no better way to research history than to take a look at what was going on during a certain era. History books have been helpful, even some documentaries along with my memory and oral history, but those direct resources and contemporary materials triggered additional memories of more things, along with questions about subsequent and even earlier events. Such research wound up offering suggestions as to how I could settle my folks around those times as well as settling those moments around them. It also delivered a lot more meat for other stories shaping up in my head. So even if I don’t use all of it for this one, the information and my time aren’t wasted.

I sincerely do hope that my story teaches a bit of history and culture of an earlier time to my readers, the way historical novels enlighten me. I am actually blessed beyond measure to be so close to a spot with so many of the details I need to fully tell my stories. The internet is not enough for me. I knew it wouldn’t be. I can certainly visit there more often. I made excellent use of a good three hours there each day, so once a week or so will be easier than I thought. Parking is free there too!