If you’ve ever been totally absorbed in a history museum or found yourself lost in boxes of old photos in your grandmother’s attic, then you know just how powerful old photographs can be. Unlike a painting, a photo actually freezes a moment in time, allowing future generations to step back into that moment themselves. With such a rich history of Civil War, industrialization and social change here in Virginia, we are fortunate to have photos that preserve that history in a still frame. These vintage Virginia photographs are like a little history tour, taking you back to days gone by, but definitely not forgotten.
1. Front and Back of a Confederate $5 bill, 1864
The Confederate dollar began circulation in 1861, but unlike paper money as we know it today, these bills were actually bills of credit -- only promising to pay the holder the indicated amount -- but not backed by gold. Today, as collector's items, the bills are more valuable than they were in circulation.
2. Virginia Beach - Norfolk Expressway Tollbooth, 1967
Can you remember when a toll on a major highway was only 25 cents?
3. Chincoteague Ponies Finishing the Pony Swim in the 1940s
Probably taken in the late 1940s, this photo shows the already decades old tradition of the Chincoteague Pony Swim.
4. Gay Vacationer Hotel, Virginia Beach, 1950s advertisement
This vintage postcard photo shows a classic 1950s scene at one of Virginia Beach's premium seaside hotels.
5. Alexandria City Hall, 1890
The Alexandria City Hall - also known as the Alexandria Market House and City Hall - was built in 1871 at the site of a former market and courthouse established in 1752.
6. Rising Sun Tavern, Fredericksburg
Originally built as a private home c. 1760 by George Washington's younger brother, Charles, it became a tavern in 1792. Preservation Virginia obtained the house in 1907 and renovations were done in the 1930s, presumably after this photo was taken as the home now has a large porch across the front facade.
7. The Richmond 34, 1960
"The Richmond 34" refers to a group of Virginina Union University students who staged a nonviolent protest on February 22, 1960, at a lunch counter of Thalhimer's Department Store in downtown Richmond. All members were arrested and released on bail, but they all were sent to court and convictions of trespassing were upheld. It was only once their case made it to the Supreme Court in 1963, that the convictions were overturned. This case was a big win for Civil Rights in Virginia.
8, Hungry Mother State Park, Marion, date unknown
There is no date for this photo, but anyone want to take a guess? 1950s maybe?
9. The Orange and Alexandria Railroad, c. 1860s
The O&A Railroad was chartered in 1848 and ran between Alexandria and Gordonsville, with another section running from Charlottesville to Lynchburg. It was a strategic player in the Civil War as it was the only railroad that connected the capitals of Washingon, D.C. and Richmond. It underwent significant damage during the war and subsequent repair in the late 1860s.
10. Vintage Williamsburg. Come to think of it, not much but the hemlines has changed!
11. Mountain Music, Galax 1937
Mountain music has long been a tradition in Virginia. Pictured here is the The Bog Trotters Band, including Doc Davis on autoharp, Alex Dunford on fiddle, Crockett Ward on fiddle, Wade Ward on banjo and Fields Ward on guitar.
12. Richmond after Confederates burned their supplies to hinder the approaching Union Army, 1865
Unfortunately, the fire intended to inhibit Union troops soon spread out of control. Before it could be extinguished, nearly a quarter of Richmond had burned and the city had to be evacuated. It became known as the Evacuation Fire and preceded the end of the war by one week.
13. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Old Dominion University, Norfolk 1974
During their reunion tour, CSN&Y stood on a stage bearing the now iconic Virginia slogan, "Virginia is for Lovers." The slogan had only been adopted in 1969 but is now considered one of the most memorable ad campaigns of all times.
14. Byrd Theater, Richmond 1946
The theater was built as one of the Nation’s Grand Movie Palaces in 1928 and since, has earned both State and National Landmark status. It remains a Richmond icon with $1.99 movies and an original Wurlitzer Theater organ.
15. Post Fire Department at the Marine Corps Base Quantico, c. 1920s
The land at Quantico just off the Potomac River near Prince William and Stafford counties has served as a host to military personnel in some form or another since the Revolutionary War. In 1917, the first Marine barracks were built and today, MCB Quantico, as its sometimes known, is a Marine Corps Base, as well as a training site for both FBI and DEA personnel.
16. Thalhimer's Department Store, Richmond 1914
The Richmond-based chain first started as a dry goods store in 1842 before it became Richmond's first department store and opened in dozens of locations throughout the south. Many Virginians will remember shopping at this store, especially during the holidays. In 1992, Thalhimers merged with the Hecht Company and the iconic name was no more.
17. George S. Patton at Virginia Military Institute, Class of 1907
Although he was born in California, Patton's family had roots in Virginia and he was the third generation in his family to attend Virginia Military Institute. He remained for only one year (1903-1904) before transferring to West Point where he graduated in 1909.
18. Monticello, Charlottesville, date unknown
While this picture doesn't have a date, one can only assume it's from the late 1800s or early 1900s.
19. Convicted spy Rose O'Neal Greenhow and her daughter, "Little Rose", at the Old Capital Prison in Washington, D.C. before she was deported to Richmond, 1862
Rose O'Neal Greehow was a well-known D.C. socialite before she became an infamous Confederate spy. She was held in a D.C. prison for 5 months before being sent south to Richmond where she resumed her spying. On her return from a Confederate diplomatic mission to Europe in 1864, her ship ran aground and she drowned while trying to escape a Union gunboat. She was given a Confederate military burial.
20. Young Girl Cotton Spinner in a Roanoke Cotton Mill, 1911
Next time your kids complain about having to do chores, just remind them that in the early 20th century, they could have been working in a factory from sunup to sundown.
21. Nursing and medical students study at the Tompkins-McCaw Library at VCU, date unknown
I would imagine this photo to be from the 1940s or 50s. Kind of makes you wonder where all of these students are now?
We hope you’ve enjoyed this walk through history. Tell us about some of your favorite photographs of Virginia — maybe from an historical event or even from your own personal archives.