Highlighting Henrico’s Lesser-Known History

by Julian Charity, Director of History, Heritage & Natural Resources Division, Department of Recreation and Parks

Note from the Editor: In honor of Black History Month, we wanted to highlight a way our employees have created to raise awareness and educate others about the lesser-known history of Henrico County, including our rich Black History. We encourage everyone to learn and recognize the enormous cultural contributions and civil rights achievements of African Americans. You can visit your local library to peruse a Black History Month-themed display in February and find related reading and research material year-round at HCPL in print and online. You may also join in with Recreation & Parks’ Black History Month programming across the county, and it’s all free!

Henrico County is well-known for its history. Whether it’s the founding of the County in 1611 or its numerous battlefields from the American Civil War, Henrico’s history is all around us. Unfortunately, the history of Henrico County’s previously underrepresented communities may not be as well-known. The Recreation & Parks Division of History, Heritage & Natural Resources is working to change that daily. During the COVID-19 shutdown of 2020, the History team sought a new way to connect with audiences who needed an outlet from the daily news of positive COVID cases. The solution was to create a Henrico History Progress newsletter along with a history Facebook page to safely engage the public from the comforts of their own homes.

The Facebook page began by posting information about Henrico County’s history. Dates, anniversaries, and commemorative events were highlighted when those dates arose each year. But as simple a format as Facebook can be, it spurned into some complex research and deep diving into amazing topics. For example, a post about the R.F.& P. Park in Glen Allen and how it came to be, became a newsletter article and a YouTube video about the history of the R.F.& P. railroad, which grew into more information about the Pullman Porters who worked the trains! Our history team also understands that history can be a weighty topic at times, so the newsletters also contain a bit of levity for readers of all ages. 

The Down on the Farm entry tells stories from the point of view of the animals from Meadow Farm. There have been entries from the cows, pigs, turkeys, and, of course, the sheep! They are as much spectators of history as we are.

Over the past three years, the history team has released seven newsletter editions. Still, one thing remains the same through them: the team remains committed to sharing the facts (and sometimes gossip) of lesser-known Henrico History. The team has recently been working very closely with the community of Bungalow City to record oral histories and scan photos and documents. Where is Bungalow City, you ask? Bungalow City is a tight-knit community of Eastern Henrico off Nine Mile Road. It was created as an alternative to the racially exclusive Highland Springs, and stories of great strength and resilience come out of this small community. 

Famed Civil Rights photographer Louis H. Draper grew up in this small community. His work features celebrities like James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Malcolm X, and Jackie Kennedy. Still, his passion was showing everyday people in everyday moments. The team’s work with Bungalow City will be featured in an upcoming newsletter and translated into historical markers and access to archival content about the neighborhood.  

The newsletter and the Facebook page have been great resources to inform and engage the public in the History team’s programming. Whether it is lectures, children’s programs, scavenger hunts, tours, or history-focused presentations, our history team has something for everyone. Also, the team is always looking for more subject matter to cover. At times, topics arise naturally, but often they are brought to the forefront by a need from the community or their respective board members.

In addition to our programs and historic signage program, henrico.us/history/landmarks/, the County owns and operates six National Register Properties and four landmarks of early 20th-century history. Some are easily accessed or have regular visiting hours, while others are open by appointment. To inquire about a tour, please email [email protected].

 With support from leadership, coworkers, and peers, the work of the History Division is possible. We invite everyone to participate in our programs, tour our properties, and engage with us in the virtual world by following us on Facebook and signing up for our digital newsletter. Access past editions at henrico.us/rec/history/.