There’s hidden treasure in Richmond. Actually, it’s not hidden (much) but it’s definitely treasure and we owe it to ourselves to uncover and share this wealth. It’s known as the Pump House, below the Carillon, nestled beside the river.

Since 1882, this glorious old Victorian lady has both worked and played with Richmond. An original multi-purpose structure, the granite building originally pumped the city water supply downstairs while Richmonders walzed or Charlestoned (is there such a word?) across the dance floor above. The stunning view of river and foliage must have created an exquisitely romantic setting.

pump house outside

Stilson photo of Pump House exterior, 1925, photo courtesy of Richmond In Sight.

The romance of the Pump House wasn’t lost on my great-grandfather, Harris Stilson. He photographed it, inside and out, and his journal named Jack Proctor and others among those enticed by the serenity and majesty of the Pump House. Yesterday a few more Richmonders were enchanted by the old broad, introduced to her charm by two of her most faithful admirers and protectors: Ralph White and Peter Bruce.

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Peter Bruce, Kitty Snow, Patrick Spraker, Ralph White, Jane Hotchkiss

Ralph White recently retired as City Park Manager/Naturalist but he agreed to meet Jane Hotchkiss and me, along with Randy Jordan and my son, Patrick, at the Pump House. His loyal cohort, Peter Bruce, chief of maintenance, met us, on his day off (!) to be part of the adventure. An adventure, for sure.  Climbing stairs to a sweeping river view and beckoning dance floor or peering into the abandoned equipment or up the graceful spiral staircase, this visit was pure joy. Matching the Stilson photos to the present Pump House face, Ralph most resembled a lover showing off his sweetheart, tenderness in every gesture.

Spiral staircase inside Pump House

Spiral staircase inside Pump House

Peter, meanwhile, checked for damage, noted recent vandalism and echoed Ralph’s admiration for a grand old lady. Neither of these men were paid for braving a fierce wind and biting cold but they were there. Both dream of a day when the dance floor again sweeps couples into a sweet dream-like past.

Shall we dance?

Shall we dance?

The River City needs our Pump House. It’s a charming location for weddings, parties, art shows and more. It’s an example of Richmond’s innovative side, leading the country in public water systems. It was the pride of the city, a destination to visit proudly. Richmonders came to see their utility system in action, sometimes climbing the stairs afterwards to dance, sometimes satisfied to simply bask in a creation that all the country admired.

Stilson photo of Pump House circa 1925

Stilson photo of Pump House circa 1925. Photo courtesy of Richmond In Sight.

Volunteers are the foundation of Ralph and Bruce’s dream. They work tirelessly to repair and restore, one man working a full year to replace rotten framing and more. They haul debris, scrape and paint. The Pump House needs more of us. She needs an elevator and a bathroom first so that events can be held there. Once those items are complete, other restoration can commence and Richmond can acquire a stunning showplace, a revenue-producing facility where people happily pay to slip into a vision of Richmond long ago.

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The “Ladies Necessary”

Couples searching for a novel wedding site can stop looking. With ballroom dancing attracting more devotees, Richmonders would gladly pay to slip into a vision of Richmond from long ago and dance beside the James in the moonlight. It’s romance and charm, history and engineering, all under one roof.


Stilson’s photo of pumping equipment & tools (wrenches displayed on wall)

You can be part of the Pump House restoration. Email me at and I’ll get you to the right people. Once you meet people like Ralph and Peter, their zeal will inspire you. We can make this happen. The Pump House needs you so that someday, somehow the music will play again.