Virginia has one of the longest and richest histories of any state in the nation. Our history is tangible today through homes, markers and museums in nearly every town and city in the state. But to see a comparison of history through the lens of historic photographs next to modern day imagery lends a completely new perspective to past events, people and places. The following 10 images show well-known places around Virginia with a look back at what these places were in the past.
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life as we all practice social and physical distancing. While we’re continuing to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, we don’t expect or encourage you to go check them out immediately. We believe that supporting local attractions is important now more than ever and we hope our articles inspire your future adventures! And on that note, please nominate your favorite local business that could use some love right now:
1. THEN: The Union prison camp at Bell Isle in Richmond, c. 1865
During the Civil War, Belle Isle housed a Union prison camp. This photo shows Major Thomas P. Turner, who at the time was commandant of the "Libby Prison," standing on the hill looking down at the camp. In the background, you can see Confederate guard tents.
NOW: Belle Isle, 2014
Today, Belle Isle is a popular hang-out spot for Richmonders. Open for pedestrians and bicyclers, the island can reached from a suspension footbridge beneath the Robert E. Lee bridge on the north shore of the James River.
2. THEN: Hampton Institute, now Hampton University, showing Native American students working alongside African American students in a carpentry workshop, c. 1900.
On the night of April 18, 1878, seventy Native Americans came to Hampton from Fort Sill, having just been released from imprisonment at the end of the Red River War. They were sent to the institute by General Armstrong, because they were no longer considered “dangerous.” These men and women became the first “American Indian” students at Hampton, launching a Native American education program that lasted over the following 40 years.
NOW: Two Hampton University students received scholarships from Apple, allowing them to intern at Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California, 2015.
Hampton University is, today, a primarily African American school with many prestigious departments and programs. The two students above, Lauren Patterson and Malik Jones, received a one-year college scholarship in addition to the Apple internship.
3. THEN: The capitol in Williamsburg, 1943
Originally built in 1701-1705, the capitol building in Williamsburg was the first meeting place of the Virginia General Assembly and General Court. In this photo, an old British flag flies atop the building by permission of the British and U.S. governments.
NOW: Thanks to incredible restoration efforts by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, not much has changed.
Preservation of Colonial Williamsburg began with the vision and leadership of Reverend Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin, rector of Bruton Parish Church, in 1926. Restoration began after he shared his dreams of preserving the history of Williamsburg with John D. Rockefeller Jr., and since then, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has maintained the cultural and historical significance of our state’s first capital.
4. THEN: The University of Virginia in its entirety, 1856
Founded as an “academic village” by Thomas Jefferson in 1819, the University of Virginia originally consisted of the Rotunda, the lawn, rooms for students and interspersed “pavilions” that housed classes and professors. Note the cattleguard at the south end of the lawn. A “cattleguard” served as a barrier to cattle while allowing the passage of pedestrians.
NOW: This view of “the lawn” from the steps of the Rotunda at the University of Virginia shows how, today, it is a social gathering place for students.
Only fourth year students, who have applied and been accepted, live in the “dorm” rooms along the lawn now. And at the south end, the cattleguard has long been replaced with academic buildings.
5. THEN: Orville Wright flies in to Fort Myer in Arlington in the first military test flight, September 1908.
Unfortunately, the plane crashed and Wright’s passenger, Lt. Thomas Selfridge, died as a result of the crash, making him the first airplane casualty in history. In the second photo (above), medics attend to Orville Wright just after the crash.
NOW: Today, the base is known as the Joint Base Myer – Henderson Hall, consisting of Fort Myer (Arlington), Fort McNair (southwest DC) and Henderson Hall.
The forts combined as a result of the base realignments and closures of 2005. The United States Army runs the base, but it is home to members of the Army, Navy and Marines. The most prominent residents are the Arlington National Cemetery Honor Guard.
6. THEN: This photo of the “new” Cape Henry Light (left) next to the “old” light was taken in 1905.
The new light was built in 1881 after lightning struck the original light and its stability was questioned.
NOW: Standing just 350 feet from the old light, the new Cape Henry Lighthouse remains in service today.
The “old” Cape Henry light was the first lighthouse to be commissioned by the U.S. government in 1792 and stands near the 1607 site of the first landing of the Jamestown settlers.
7. THEN: Twelve-year old Mamie Witt, works in the Cotton Mill in Roanoke to support her able-bodied, dependent father, 1911.
The cotton mills started in 1904 in Roanoke and provided employment for many of the city’s residents.
NOW: Today, the “Cotton Mill” in downtown Roanoke is a luxury apartment building.
The building offers premium lofts with amenities like granite, maple flooring, exposed timber beams, and stainless steel appliances.
8. THEN: The mother of a family about to be relocated after the Shenandoah National Park was formed stands outside her home near Old Rag Mountain in Madison County, 1935
Hundreds of families were relocated from the 193,000 acres of land that now makes up the Shenandoah National Park. Many of these families had been in the area for hundreds of years.
NOW: Old Rag Mountain, located just off the Skyline Drive, is one of the most popular hikes on the East Coast.
Standing at over 3,200 feet, it offers panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.
9. THEN: The Chincoteague Ponies finish their famous swim, 1940s.
The first official pony swim and auction was held in 1925 to raise money for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company after fires devastated the island. By 1937, as many as 25,000 visitors attended the event and in 1947, the ponies were officially acquired by the fire company and moved in their entirety to Assateague until the summer swim and festival.
NOW: The annual event remains increasingly popular, even more so after Marguerite Henry published “Misty of Chincoteague,” a true story of one of the island’s ponies, in 1963.
Every year, tens of thousands of visitors gather from around the world to watch this incredible event.
10. THEN: The John Paul Jones house in Fredericksburg, 1928.
John Paul Jones was a Scottish American sailor who gained recognition as the first well-known naval fighter in the Revolutionary War. Some know him as the "Father of the American Navy." He lived in this house in Fredericksburg with his brother, Paul, a tailor, in the mid-1770s.
NOW: The house has been maintained and still stands today in Fredericksburg.
It’s always fascinating to see which places in the state have changed dramtically, and why, as well as those that have stayed the same. Where are some of your favorite historic places in the state? Do you think they have changed much over the years? We would love to hear your contributions in the comments below!