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Monument Avenue, in Richmond, Virginia, is a premier example of the Grand American Avenue city planning style. The first monument, a statue of Robert E. Lee was erected in 1890. Between 1900 and 1925, Monument Avenue exploded with architecturally significant houses, churches and apartment buildings. A tree-lined grassy mall divides the east and west-bound sides of the street and is punctuated by statues memorializing Virginian Confederate participants of the Civil War Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, Jefferson Davis, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, and Matthew Fontaine Maury, as well as Arthur Ashe, a Richmond native and international tennis star.

Monument Avenue is the site of several annual events, particularly in the spring, including an annual Monument Avenue 10K race.[1] At various times (such as Robert E. Lee's birthday and Confederate History Month) the Sons of Confederate Veterans gather along Monument Avenue in period military costumes. Monument Avenue is also the site of "Easter on Parade," [2] another spring tradition during which many Richmonders stroll the avenue wearing Easter bonnets and other finery.

"Monument Avenue Historic District" includes the part of Monument Avenue from Birch Street in the east to Roseneath Avenue in the west, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a National Historic Landmark District. In 2007, the American Planning Association named Monument Avenue one of the 10 Great Streets in the country.[3] The APA said Monument Avenue was selected for its historic architecture, urban form, quality residential and religious architecture, diversity of land uses, public art and integration of multiple modes of transportation.[4]

History[edit | edit source]

Unveiling of the Lee monument

Monument Avenue was conceived during a site search for a memorial statue of General Robert E. Lee after Lee's death in 1870. City plans as early as 1887 show the proposed site, a circle of land, just past the end of West Franklin Street a premier downtown residential avenue. The land was owned by a wealthy Richmonder, Otway C. Allen. The plan for the statue included building a grand avenue extending west lined with trees along a central grassy median. The plan shows building plots which Allen intended to sell to developers and those wishing to build houses on the new grand avenue. On May 29, 1890, crowds were estimated at 100,000 to view the unveiling of the first monument, to Robert E. Lee.[5]


Confederate Parade on Monument Ave, Richmond, Virginia

It would take about ten years for wealthy Richmonders and speculative developers to start buying the lots and building houses along the avenue, but in the years between 1900 and 1925 Monument Avenue exploded with architecturally significant houses, churches and apartment buildings. The architects who built on Monument Avenue practiced in the region and nationally and included the firms of John Russell Pope, William Bottomley, Duncan Lee, Marcellus Wright, Claude Howell, Henry Baskervill, D. Wiley Anderson and Albert Huntt. Speculative builders such as W. J. Payne, Harvey C. Brown, and the Davis Brothers bought lots and built many houses to sell to those not designing with an architect. The street was originally, and continues to be, a favored living area for Richmond's upper class. It (especially the Fan District section) is lined with enormous mansions from the end of the gilded age. The Museum District part of Monument Avenue includes a combination of such houses (especially in the 3100 block), apartment buildings, and smaller single-family houses. West of I-195, Monument Avenue becomes an upper middle class suburban road of no particular note.

Through the decades the avenue has had its ups and downs. As early as 1910, but mostly during the 1950s and '60s, many of the large houses were subdivided into apartments, or interior rooms and carriage houses were let to boarders. A few houses were demolished to make way for parking lots or building expansions and several modern additions were tucked in between earlier existing buildings. But protections put in place by the city by designating Monument Avenue as an Old and Historic Neighborhood have helped maintain the integrity of the neighborhood. In 1969 a group was incorporated called The Residents and Associates for the Preservation of Monument Avenue, led by Zayde Rennolds Dotts (Mrs. Walter Dotts, Jr.),[6] granddaughter of Beulah and John Kerr Branch, who had commissioned a house on Monument Avenue in 1914 by the firm of John Russell Pope. In 1970 the group changed its name to the Monument Avenue Preservation Society (MAPS).

Monuments[edit | edit source]

Robert E. Lee Monument[edit | edit source]

Robert E. Lee Monument

The Lee Monument was the first and is the largest of the street's monuments. In 1876 the Lee Monument Association commissioned the adaption of a painting done by artist Adalbert Volck into a lithograph. The lithograph, depicting Lee on his horse, was the basis for the bronze statue created by French sculptor Antonin Mercié. (The horse was not Lee's favorite wartime horse, Traveller, as some believe.) The cornerstone was placed on October 27, 1887. The statue was cast in several pieces separately and then the assembled statue was displayed in Paris before it was shipped to Richmond, where it finally arrived by rail on May 4. Newspaper accounts indicate that 10,000 people helped pull four wagons with the pieces of the monument. The completed statue was unveiled on May 29, 1890. The statue serves as a traffic circle at the intersection of Monument Avenue and Allen Avenue (named after Otway Allen, the developer who donated the land to the association). Lee stands 14 feet (4.3 m) high atop his horse and the entire statue is 60 feet (18 m) tall standing on a stone base.[7]

The site for the statue was originally offered in 1886. Over some opposition, the offer was accepted and later withdrawn when opponents complained that the $20,000 for the Lee Monument was inappropriate because the site was outside the city limits. Richmond City annexed the land in 1892, but bad times economically caused the Lee Monument to stand alone for several years in the middle of a tobacco field before development resumed in the early 1900s.

The Lee Monument is a focal point for Richmond. (Most popular online maps depict the "Lee Circle" as the center of Richmond, although the Virginia Department of Transportation uses the state capitol building as its center.) In 1992, the iron fence around the monument was removed, in part because drivers unfamiliar with traffic circles would run into the fence from time to time and force costly repairs.[citation needed] When the fences came down, the stone base became a popular sunbathing spot.[citation needed] In December 2006, the state completed an extensive cleaning and repair of the monument. However, in April 2011, an unknown vandal spray-painted the words "NO HERO" on the base of the monument, highlighting existing racial tensions in Richmond.[8]

Matthew Fontaine Maury Monument[edit | edit source]

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Matthew Fontaine Maury Monument

The "Pathfinder of the Seas" monument of Matthew Fontaine Maury is located on Monument Avenue at Belmont Avenue, closest to the Arthur Ashe monument. The Maury monument is not a Confederate war monument per se, demonstrating little indication of his role in the Confederate war, which included serving as Chief of Sea Coast, River and Harbor Defences and acquiring ships and supplies for the Confederacy through his work in the Confederate Secret Service in Europe, mainly in Ireland, France, and England. When the Sons of Confederate Veterans celebrate Confederate History Month or Lee-Jackson Day by parading in period military costumes from east to west on Monument Avenue, they make a turn before they get to the Maury monument, a further indication that Commander Matthew Fontaine Maury's monument is not a Civil War monument. Most of the Confederate veterans were gone when Monument Avenue turned to the sciences with the 1929 statue to Maury.

The figure of Maury faces eastward, toward the Atlantic Ocean that the "Pathfinder of the Seas" charted. He holds in his left hand a pencil and compass and in his right hand a copy of his charts. Beside his left foot is his book, Physical Geography of the Sea, as well as a Bible, indicating the central role that faith played in Maury's life. A globe of the Earth is tilted slightly on its axis behind his head. It represents both land and sea and the lady standing calmly is a representation of "mother nature" between the land and the sea. Around the base of the globe are depictions of people clinging to a sinking boat in bad weather representing the dangers of the sea with a woman in the center and on the right (north) side of the globe there is a farmer, boy, and a dog representing Maury's work promoting land weather service which dates back further than 1853. Maury attended the International Meteorological Organization in Brussels, Belgium on August 23, 1853 where Maury, leading the way for this conference with his ideas of land and sea weather predictions, and representing the United States, promoted his ideas of safety on both land and at sea to many nations which agreed to follow his ideas. Every maritime nation had its ships reporting to Maury at the National (later Naval) Observatory in Washington D.C. These elements represent Maury's work with atmospheric science, to the benefit of all mankind and their enterprises on land and on the sea. Weather warnings and reports had been dreams of Maury during his lifetime up until when he died and he was successful in his work. He thought of the ships at sea as "a thousand temples of science for all of humanity" and believed these brought men and nations closer together in a common self-protection against storms and deaths. There are fish, dolphins, jellyfish, and birds around the monument's perimeter.

This statue was originally to have been placed in Washington, D.C., but was rejected because Commodore Maury, along with many other military leaders from Virginia, abandoned their careers with the Union military to support the Confederacy. The monument was placed in Richmond instead.

Arthur Ashe Monument[edit | edit source]

External video
Monument Avenue (5:34), C‑SPAN[9]

The decision to place the statue of Arthur Ashe on Monument Avenue was controversial.[10] Detractors pointed to a lack of correlation between the Richmond native tennis star and Confederate leaders. The monument became a focal point of racial tensions in the city around the times of its commission and its unveiling. Many of the city's majority African American residents cited Ashe's distinguished place in the modern history of the city as a reason for inclusion, while some residents and other parties rejected it as inappropriate for Monument Avenue, which until 1996 only contained statues of men with a relationship to the Confederate States of America. The controversy over the statue may have also been driven by design and placement choices. The statue depicts Arthur Ashe holding a book and a tennis racket, with children below him reaching up to him. Ashe's statue is much smaller than those of most of the Confederate leaders, and is the farthest from downtown Richmond, situated just outside of the city's Fan district. It is also the only monument which faces away from the center of Richmond.

Images[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Further reading[edit | edit source]

  • Driggs, Sarah Shields; Richard Guy Wilson and Robert P. Winthrop (2001). Richmond's Monument Avenue. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press. 
  • Williams, Frances Leigh (1963). Matthew Fontaine Maury Scientist of the Sea. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. 
  • DuPriest, James E., Jr.; Douglas O. Trice (1996). Monument & Boulevard: Richmond's Grand Avenues. Richmond Discoveries. ISBN 0-941087-03-4. 

External links[edit | edit source]

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