The Blue Raccoon

Monday, October 15, 2007

Reading At Café Gutenberg at 7 p.m. tonight &
Who was Mr. Brown?

Yee-haw! This was not at the National Folk Festival on Brown's Island this
past weekend, but the 8th Annual Cinco de Mayo Festival in 2004.

I hope, near enough members of the billion-eyed audience, that you got out to the National Folk Festival this past weekend, which populated Brown's Island and the banks of the lordly River James with 175,000 people of every shape, size, race, creed and hue during the three days of the event.

While there, Fountain Book Shop's Kelly Justice informed me that True Richmond Stories was doing well, due to the amount of visitors in the town coming by her place.

Tonight, I'm reading and signing at Café Gutenberg at 7 p.m.

But while at the Folk Festival, a gentleman asked me, "So who was the Mr. Brown of Brown's Island?"

And at that point I wanted an ACME Products portable hole that Wile E. Coyote used to try and trap the Road Runner, so I could jump into one. I couldn't answer the person -- and so much for Mr. History.

I've since schooled myself on the Brown of Brown's Island.

Gunsmith Elijah Brown (1781-1850), acquired the land in 1826. For a time, it was called Neilson's Island, after a subsequent owner, but the name Brown's Island proved more reasonable to the Richmond tongue. This was the site of a munitions plant which blew up on Friday, February 13, 1863, killing at least 30 young woman workers. Richmond’s Civil War mayor Joseph Mayo said this was where he wanted to put all the lewd women.

Just east of Tredegar Iron Works, at the bend north of the Haxall Canal, was around 1801 where thrived the Haymarket, a terraced recreational park with “serpentine alleys," perhaps shaped boxwoods. The attractions included a thousand person capacity music hall where masquerade balls were considered “dangerous to virtue,” playing fields for quoits, bowling, and shuffleboard, an organ, and an ice cream parlor. There was the “the Riding Machine or Flying Gigs, wherein eight persons can be conveyed at the rate of two to five hundred yards in a minute…its effects are delightful to the riders and peculiarly efficacious to those of weak nervous habits.” And shades of recent headlines, there were cock and bear fights.

John R. Johnson Co. operated the Richmond Steam Forge on the eastern portion, which was once separate, and called Johnson's Island. The 1972 filling of a spillway made the two islands one.

The island became part of the Richmond's James River Park in 1987 after improvements sponsored by the James River Discovery Program.

I need to visit the Library of Virginia to determine how much Elijah Brown spent in buying that hunk of rock and dirt in the James, and anything particular I could learn about who he was as an actual person.

Labels: , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home