Most of Richmond has probably never heard of Navy Hill. The neighborhood doesn’t even exist anymore but it lives on in the memories of a loyal group of Richmonders, many of whom stood in the rain today to witness the placement of a Virginia historical marker and a stone memorial to the community of Navy Hill.

The “new” home for this memorial is at 4th & Jackson Street. There really isn’t anywhere else for it. Navy Hill, named for a naval war memorial that never became a reality, included the area between 3rd & 10th Streets, north of Leigh to Shockoe Cemetery. It was first a community of German immigrants but evolved into a thriving African-American neighborhood which boasted the first public school in Richmond employing Black teachers (Virginia Union University was the first college here to do so). Navy Hill School graduated many prominent African-Americans, including Maggie Walker.

I-95, along with urban development (court, government buildings, Coliseum, etc.) obliterated Navy Hill as a physical location but it remains cherished by a great number of older Richmonders, as evidenced by their attendence at the dedication. Like Camelot, it lives on and thanks to some persistent folks, its 1993 memorial stone, once abandoned on a storm water cover, is restored and proudly reminds us that a lot of good folks came from Navy Hill.

My great-grandfather’s early 1900 pictures of Richmond include hundreds in the Jackson Ward, Carver, Sheep Hill, and Navy Hill neighborhoods. I was at the dedication today, sharing copies of his pictures, asking for help in identifying locations and enlisting volunteers to record their memories of childhood in this historic part of town. I’m writing a book based on his photos that will be so much richer with the oral histories that those pictures inspire. And I’m having such fun. I’ve met the most amazing people!

One of his pictures is noted on the back as “girl scouts”. I can’t say with certainty that they’re in Navy Hill because he also states that they were waiting to participate in a parade and it could be on Leigh or elsewhere. But they’re adorable. At the dedication, a group of equally charming Girl scouts and Brownies were present so I couldn’t resist…here’s the Girl Scouts 90 years ago and today. And here’s to you, Navy Hill. We won’t forget you.

Girl scouts circa 1922

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