For much of Richmond’s history, all travel between Williamsburg and Charlottesville was dependent on one downtown street. Broad Street, named H Street until 1844, was a commercial hub for Richmonders and travelers alike all year long. Through the centuries, nearly everything has been sold there, from coffins and cattle to voodoo supplies and high fashion.
For this reason, Broad Street has always been a holiday shopping mecca as well as the preferred route for Christmas parades. But in addition to its festive associations, this street also reflected the problems of Richmond society, as it was a physical boundary in the era of segregation. Shops for white patrons dominated the south side of the pavement, while shops catering to black Richmonders opened on the north side. In 1985, in a symbolic gesture of unity, the city constructed a pedestrian bridge joining the two sides. The bridge was a part of the short-lived Sixth Street Marketplace, a city-subsidized mall meant to lure suburbanites downtown.
Perhaps with more accurate symbolism of the issues ahead, the bridge was torn down in 2003. In Richmond’s current era of revitalization, Broad Street – featuring GRTC Pulse and a host of new services and retail shops – reflects the hopes and challenges that still energize Richmond today.
Photos: Richmond Times-Dispatch Collection, The Valentine