Monroe Park is one of Richmond’s oldest and most historically significant parks. Please click the link above for a detailed history excerpted from the Rhodeside & Harwell park master plan. The History was prepared by Tyler Potterfield.
Lt. Col. Albert Ordway, Adjutant General of the Federal Army occupying Virginia after the Civil
War, was a vocal advocate for improving Monroe Square as a landscaped public space. Ordway’s efforts, moved the City to improve the Park. The first fountain, a rock pyramid with rolling water, was donated by Ordway in 1871.
The Virginia State Agricultural Society was organized in 1850 to establish an annual agricultural fair. In 1853 it obtained the cooperation of the City in the development of Western Square as the home for the fair. The Western Square (Monroe Park) was an ideal site because it was large, open, relatively flat, accessible by railroads and turnpikes, and located just outside the city proper. The success of the Virginia fair prompted a national agricultural fair to be held on the fairgrounds in 1858. The fair relocated to a larger site at Hermitage Road and Broad Street after only five years.
The cleared ground known as the Old Fairgrounds was used for military purposes during the Civil War.
Historically, the land that would become Monroe Park was Belvidere, named by William Byrd III, who owned nearly all of Richmond in 1745. Byrd built his country house of the same name in 1758. The house and gardens stood until 1854, when destroyed by fire. In 1817, the Harvie family owned the land and created rural subdivision known as Belvidera. This neighborhood is now called Oregon Hill, located to the south of Monroe Park.
Between 1816 and 1819, a period of real estate mania, created a frenzy of real estate subdivision and speculation around Richmond. The Harvie Family laid out a large subdivision, Sydney, and in doing so planned a majority of the squares (blocks) and streets in the present-day Fan neighborhood. The Sydney plan diverged from the layout of the earlier sections of Richmond, with the street axis running east and west. These subdivisions determined the locations of streets that would eventually shape the boundaries of Monroe Park.
In his 34-year stewardship of Monroe Square, Wilfred Emory Cutshaw, a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute, largely shaped the landscape character of the urban square. In a drawing by Cutshaw in 1877, the arrangement of walkways, with the exception of a few later minor modifications, corresponds exactly to the layout of walks in Monroe Park at the present time. As City Engineer, Cutshaw supervised the construction and maintenance of streets, sidewalks, sewers, public buildings and public grounds. Cutshaw was a farsighted individual who advocated a master plan for the City. The City of Richmond park system has its origins during the tenure of Cutshaw.
Laurel Street, Monroe Park’s western boundary, dates from the early subdivision of landholdings of the Rutherford and Harvie families. The street appears, along with a number of parallel streets also named for trees, in a map published in 1817. The northern portion of Laurel is oriented to the downtown street grid; the southern portion is aligned with the Oregon Hill grid
Checkers House and Plaza
Around 1890, the City constructed a wood frame building called the Keeper’s Lodge, which provided comfort stations for visitors to Monroe Square. It also housed the office and work space for the keeper responsible for maintenance and security of the square. Keeper’s Lodge was replaced with a new structure in 1939. The new park house came to be known as the “Checkers House” because of the regular games of checkers played there. The Park restoration in 2018 added an accessible plaza with low walls for additional seating.
The first fountain, installed in 1871, was a rock pyramid with rolling water. The current fountain was installed in 1906. The presence of tieredtazzo fountains in Capitol Square in 1860 and the tiered Bartholdi Fountain at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876 is thought to have inspired the replacement of the original fountain with the more sophisticated design.
Dominion Energy Pavilion
This structure was added in 2018, to provide cover for Park activities.
In 1891, the Chesapeake and Ohio employees erected a monument to William Wickham in the square. The bronze statute by Richmond sculptor Edward Valentine depicts Wickham in his Confederate uniform.
Gillette WWII Memorial
In 1951, noted landscape architect Charles Gillette designed the Richmond World War II Monument. The monument wall is inscribed with the names of Richmond’s fallen, with Inglenook seats placed in front of the monument.
This Greek Cross, erected in 1911, memorializes General Fitzhugh Lee for his service in the Spanish American War.
The statue of Joseph Bryan, a well known Richmond newspaper publisher, was erected in 1911 . The monument commemorates his service to the community.
The plaque was given by the Daughters of the Society of the Cincinnati in 1932 in memory of George Washington.
The bench was placed in recognition of a school that stood at the corner of Belvidere and Main Streets from 1866 – 1940.