Constructed between 1886 and 1894, this High Victorian Gothic building served as Richmond's City Hall from 1894-1971. It replaced the earlier City Hall and Courthouse buildings on the same site (1816-1875) after the original hall's gallery collapsed. After an architectural competition, internationally noted Detroit architect Elijah Myers' design was chosen for the building. Today, the first floor is open to visitors, while the upper floors house offices leased by Historic Richmond.
History of the Site
The block now occupied by Old City
Hall once held three notable buildings: Governor Edmund Randolph's House, built
around 1800; the first City Hall, built in 1818; and the First Presbyterian
Church, built in 1853 and moved elsewhere in 1873. After a fatal collapse of
the gallery in the first City Hall in 1870, it and the Randolph House were both
demolished to make room for a new City Hall. Wilfred Cutshaw, Richmond's City
Engineer, led the project, holding a national architectural competition for the
design. Elijah E. Myers, designer of the State capitols of Michigan, Colorado,
Texas, and Idaho, as well as the Parliament Buildings of Rio de Janeiro, won,
and his plans were accepted in 1886.
The massive and elaborate High
Victorian Gothic building cost over a million dollars more than estimated to
construct. Supplying the project with materials required the construction of a
special railway along Broad Street. Nearly all the granite was quarried locally
from the James River, the stonework overseen by English immigrant James
Netherwood, who brought British steam-powered saws and polishing tools to the
job. Iron founder Asa Snyder was responsible for the fenestration in the
atrium, while Cutshaw served as the project contractor, hiring both
African-American and white locals for the labor. Unfortunately, there were
racial tensions between the workers, according to local news station WRIC (link
below), foreshadowing the slew of Jim Crow policies passed within the building
after its completion in 1894.
After the present City Hall was
constructed in 1970, Old City Hall was threatened with demolition. Through the
efforts of the Historic Richmond organization, the building was saved and
restored, designated a National Historic Landmark and included on the National
Register of Historic Places.